Seasoning a Wok is less of a mundane task and more of an art. Allow me to explain.
A Wok isn’t like your run of the mill cast iron pans. It has curves. That means your seasoning medium (fat or oil) tends to flow to the center of the pan instead of giving you a nice, even coat over the entire surface of the Wok. Clearly, you don’t just want to stick this in the oven as you might do with a cast iron frying pan. The difference in contours means that you will want to season your Wok in the open air, rather than closing it up in the stove. It also means that the process needs a little more babysitting than that of a cast iron skillet.
I suggest using a low-carbon steel Wok over any other kind. The traditional recipes seem to come out very well in this kind of metal. It also takes well to treatment. Stainless steel looks beautiful, and there’s no need to season it… but these just aren’t the same. They reflect too much heat instead of absorbing it, the amount of oil you need is different, the amount of liquids that you add tend to be different… it’s a whole other world.
Your Wok should be of medium depth, or medium-high depth. Shallow Woks are next to useless, because of the heating properties and the inability to shift ingredients properly. What’s the point of using a multi-heat-level surface if there’s no surface area to work with?
Here’s what you’ll need to season your Wok: A fine heat-proof cooking brush (AKA a barbecue brush), a bottle of peanut oil, a good stove top, paper towels, and excellent ventilation. If you can, use a natural gas stove. The ability to instantly heat, and remove heat, will be of great use in this process.
Heat the Wok until even the outer edges are nice and hot. Then, using the brush, coat ever inch of the inside of the pan with a thin layer of peanut oil. Only a thin layer should be used, enough to make the surface shine upon application, and not a drop more. This is where the artistry comes in. It’s tempting to just slather a bunch of oil into the pant and hope that it will turn out OK in a couple of burn-ins. Believe me, that won’t work. Go through the whole process for best results.
Turn the ventilation fan on high, and tilts the Wok in all directions as the oil bakes in. After about four minutes, turn the heat off and leave the Wok alone. It needs to cool back down to room temperature before the next round of seasoning starts. When it’s cool, wipe out the excess oil with a paper towel.
NEVER cool your Wok with cold water! Not only could you damage it and undo all the work you’re about to do in the seasoning process, but the steam and spitting oil that might result can easily burn your skin. When seasoning, just allow your Wok to air cool. And during the course of regular use, ‘cool’ the Wok with boiling or very hot water, and clean it with a bamboo brush. Cold water is the bane of Woks.
Patience is a virtue!
Repeat this process at least three or four more times. You’ll note that each level of oil that gets burned into the surface will turn the Wok a deeper shade of black. You want an even coat of blackness for aesthetic reasons, but it isn’t a big deal if that doesn’t happen. Eventually, with proper use, a beautiful and full black sheen will happen. Trust me.
You’ll know that your Wok is ready for use when it looks almost wet whenever you heat it up. Now you can use the Wok properly: Heat it up until it is smoking hot, THEN add the oil. You’ll notice that the pan sops some the oil right up, like it was a living thing that needed a drink! That’s how you know that the pores of the Wok are properly treated.
I use all wooden tools with my Wok. Others are less paranoid than I am. Either way, you’ll note that a seasoned Wok is nearly non-stick when properly used and cared for. If you ever DO manage to burn food to the surface of the Wok and need to clean it with a steel-wool pad, you need to go through the whole seasoning process again, sadly. Remember, normal cleaning with hot water and a bamboo brush is usually enough! Some will lightly coat the inside with peanut oil before storing, though I’ve never seen the need to do that, personally.
Enjoy the fruits of your labors!