The Beauty of a Seasoned Wok

(James M. Thresher - For The Washington Post)
Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My wok's first stir-fry tasted of machine oil and ended up in the garbage, but a 20-minute scrubbing session was only half the battle. I had another month of failed dishes to get through while ingredients stuck like glue to an unseasoned surface. But each failure added another thin layer of opal that slowly progressed to a rich black patina, and soon I had a Teflon-slick surface on carbon steel.

Large pans often are ill-suited for cooking in small batches, but a rounded bottom ushers ingredients inward right over the heat source. (Mine sits slightly precariously on my burner without a wok ring, but flatter-bottomed carbon-steel woks perform almost as well.) A 16-inch diameter gives me plenty of space to work with, keeping ingredients off my stovetop no matter how enthusiastically I stir and toss.

And I'm not restricted to Chinese. With high heat, I can quickly put color on meat and vegetables of any style. I've kicked out some decent weeknight fajitas when I can't get to my grill, and roast pork stir-fried with scallions and cilantro makes some pretty killer carnitas. The thin metal heats quickly, making it the fastest way to toast spices, and with some onions and tomatoes, my wok-turned-karahi yields a top-notch curry.

With a little peanut oil, some freshly whisked eggs and scallions, I can use my wok like an Asian omelet pan. A bamboo basket and a large lid give me a massive steamer perfect for dumplings, vegetables or even tamales, and it's certainly the largest frying pan I own. Looking at fancy stainless steel saute pans, skillets and steamer baskets that run hundreds of dollars, I have to grin. My humble wok is worth many times that to me, and it only cost 26 bucks.

-- Scott Reitz, freelance writer

Carbon-steel wok, $26, available at Asian supermarkets, such as multiple locations of H Mart (, or online at

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