There are two materials that the most popular models of wok are made from, cast iron and carbon steel. These are completely different materials with similar but not quite the same ways to clean them properly. To learn how to clean a wok, keep reading!
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How to Best Clean a Cast Iron Wok
Cast iron woks are some of the best woks out there, many cooks prefer them over carbon steel woks. Cast iron woks are heavier and a bit more work to take care of, but they tend to heat the food more evenly and you will get more flavor (some say) from cooking in a cast iron wok.
Cast iron is a porous material that needs to be seasoned before you use it, and you must be a bit more careful when cleaning it to avoid damaging it or removing your seasoning layer. If you are serious about taking good care of your wok, make sure to learn how to best season your wok!
Remember before you start cleaning your cast iron wok that the goal is not to remove all the oil but simply to remove all the food and bacteria. This material is not meant to be scrubbed with a cleanser!
1- Soak your wok in hot water for 10 minutes
Your wok is going to have a layer of vegetable or olive or coconut oil on it from cooking. The oil is not a bad thing, and you want to keep that layer there. The first step is to simply take your wok and let it become completely submerged in a sink of hot water.
The hot water soaking allows the water to soften any small food particles that may be sticking on the surface of the wok. Leave your wok soaking in the hot water (very hot is best, but don’t burn yourself!)
2- Wipe Your wok with a soft cloth
Now that your wok is nice and hot and any food or bacteria is loose, take a soft cloth and start rubbing down every inch of your wok. You want to use a cloth that has is able to be very lightly abrasive not a scrubby pad or plastic scrub ball. The cast iron is a hard metal, but it will begin to flake off and the oil and seasoning will come off if you use too hard of a cleaning rag. Rub the wok until you have covered the whole thing.
Rinse your wok off with water. Make sure all the particles and debris are completely removed and the water is running clear.
4- Wipe with a cloth once more
Simply repeat the process of wiping it down with a soft rag once more. This second cleaning is just to make sure nothing was missed. Since we are not using any detergent, we are relying on the physical force of the rag to remove any bacteria or food particles. Because of the lack of chemicals to help us, extra elbow grease is completely necessary.
5- Final Rinse
Rinse your wok one last time with running water. Make sure you get everywhere and keep rinsing until the water coming off the wok is clear.
6- Dry off the wok
Now that your wok is clean, it is time to dry it. Use a soft towel for this step. Gently pat your wok down with the soft towel. Get the inside and the outside as well as the handle if it has one. Once the wok is completely dry, dry it again. The thing about cast iron is that it is prone to rust, and you must make sure all water is gone before you store it.
7- Safety dry on the stove
This step is optional but recommended. Even the slightest drop of water left behind can cause your cast iron wok to rust. To avoid this possibility, place your clean wok on the stove and heat it up over medium heat for ten minutes or so to kill any remaining bacteria and dry up any water.
That’s it! Your cast iron wok is clean and ready to store until its next use.
How to Clean a Wok – Carbon Steel
Carbon steel woks are the most popular kind of woks by far. They are more economical, easier to take care of, lighter, and made of durable material. There are many cooks who will not use any other kind of wok than carbon steel. The same can be said for cast iron woks as well. The point is cooks get attached to their woks and have strong opinions both ways.
Carbon steel woks, like cast iron, need to be properly prepared and seasoned before use. However, once they are properly seasoned and have been used a few times you will need to clean them.
1- Soak your carbon steel wok in the sink
Like a cast iron wok, once a carbon steel wok is properly seasoned, most cooks prefer not to take off the oily season layer by using detergent or soap. However, with carbon steel, this is not as much of an issue because it is not as porous and if you use some soap on it, you can easily re-season it.
To start off, just fill your sink with hot water and soak your wok for five to ten minutes to loosen up any grime or food that may be sticking to the pan.
2- Wipe it down with a nonmetallic scrubby or dish towel
Carbon steel woks are not as sensitive to abrasion since they are made of a smoother material. However, you still want to take it easy and not scratch off the seasoning layer or damage the finish. Take a nonmetallic scrubby or dish towel and scrub the wok all over. Be sure to get any stuck-on food or grime.
Nonmetallic scrubbers will take off any food but will not scratch the pot.
During this step, if you have an extremely dirty wok, or it has burned on stuck-on food, you can use a small amount of soap to help clean it off. Just keep in mind if you do use soap, you will need to re-season your wok.
3- Rinse off the wok
Use your sink or a spray bottle to completely rinse off the wok. Be aware of both sides of the wok and get any remaining soap or debris off the wok during this step. If you had to use soap, take extra care while rinsing that any soap residue is completely gone.
The drying process for a carbon steel wok is nearly identical to that of a cast iron wok. You want to use a soft towel and pat it dry all over first, getting off any moisture. After you have patted it down, gently rub the wok all over with the towel until it is completely dry and shiny. You may still have some discolored spots on the inside of the wok, that is OK, it is just how it goes with woks.
Once it is dry you should heat it up on the burner on medium heat for about ten minutes to makes sure any remaining germs or bacteria are completely gone. After this step is completed, if you had to use soap to clean your wok, now is the time to season it again before you put it back into storage.
When is it Time to Replace my Wok?
Many woks have handles to make it easier to move them around and flip and toss the food you are cooking. These handles are usually not replaceable. If your wok handle is starting to sliver and is burned or chipping, it is time to replace your wok and upgrade to a new one. You can see some of the best cast iron woks here!
The other tell-tale sign that it is time to replace your wok is if it is dented in. These cooking pans are made of extremely durable material, but occasionally things happen, and they may be dropped or otherwise damaged. Once your wok is dented, it will be very annoying to cook with, and will not heat your food evenly anymore. If your wok has become dented, it is time to replace it.
Wok Cleaning FAQ
Q- How to Clean the Burned Bottom of a Wok?
- You can simply scrape the bottom of the wok with your spatula while adding some boiling water to the wok while it is on the burner. This boiling water and scraping motion of the spatula will remove most of the burned stuff. Any remaining burned material should come off during the normal process of washing it.
Q- Is a Cast Iron Wok Easier to Clean than a Carbon Steel?
It depends on how dirty the wok is. Carbon steel woks are easier to clean once they have been used for several years because they have a thick layer of seasoning and oil that will prevent anything from sticking. However, when they are not yet aged, both cast iron and carbon steel woks take about the same amount of effort to clean.