Help! Can I Clean This Wok? Is It Ruined?

Good Questions

Q: I was given a wok a few months ago and I cleaned and seasoned it according to an article on this site. I noticed from the beginning that around the top edge of the wok there was this syrupy-looking residue that was solid but would get a little sticky when the pan was heated.

Pin it button big
Pin it button big

Every time I clean the wok I try to wash it off with a brush and some soap (I don't use either of these when I wash the rest of the pan) but it doesn't seem to be coming off and when I dry the wok on the stove there is a noxious smell like burned plastic. I'm afraid this residue is some of the coating that was originally on the pan and it is now stuck on and possibly poisoning my food or air. My next step is to get a stronger cleaning utensil, like steel wool.

What I want to know is this: will using steel wool or another similar tool ruin the pan? Is this the best tool for removing that residue? Is the residue toxic? If so, is the pan already ruined and should I just get another and clean it more carefully from the beginning?

Sent by Robin

Editor: Robin, I showed the photos of your carbon steel wok to Grace Young, stir-frying guru. She says that, given the smell and the appearance of the wok, she suspects that all the factory coating was not removed when the wok was first seasoned. "It's easy to miss the top edge," she said. "I recommend using a stainless-steel scrubber with liquid detergent and scrubbing it several times as vigorously as possible."

Grace also recommends giving the wok a "facial" with oil and kosher salt (see directions here on how to do that). Then season it again with scallions and ginger.

"The wok is beginning to get a nice coating," said Grace, "and should be fine."

So, all will be well! Just give it another go with scrubbing and seasoning, and wok away!


Related: A Beginner's Guide to Superb Stir-Fry: Quick, Healthy Meals from a Wok

(Images: Robin via The Kitchn's submission form)