how to clean a burnt pan: stainless, nonstick, aluminum, cast iron, or enameled
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The best way to clean a burnt pan depends on a few factors, including what it’s made from and what’s burned on. But these tips will help you clean burnt food off of most all your pots and pans.

Whether it’s a busy weeknight full of distractions, a first attempt at a new meal in a new piece of cookware, or a small gathering in which playing host and attempting to create a meal has gotten a little too hard to balance, burned food happens. It’s one of the things that can ruin date night, a family meal, or even your budget—a burned dinner.

But, something burned food won’t have to ruin is your cookware. If you have a scorched pot, burnt residue on your skillet, or other burnt cookware, here’s how to deal with it.

Nonstick Pans, Aluminum & Enameled Cast Iron

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Nonstick pans, one of the most widely-used kinds in the kitchen, are designed to prevent stuck-on food and burned bits, which allows them to be cleaned with little more than dish detergent, even if the pan looks like it has seen better days.

Start by filling your nonstick pan with hot water and dish soap and giving it a good stir to ensure the mixture is combined. Then, bring this mixture to a boil for about 10 minutes. Let it cool for 20 minutes and then most of that burned-on food should come off with a rinse and wipe. If it still doesn’t look quite so clean to your eye, a bit of white vinegar and baking soda — the saviors of the kitchen — should complete the rest of the job. This is also a great way to clean a grungy baking sheet.

Related Reading: More Places in Your Kitchen You Can Clean with Vinegar

The same trick above should also work for aluminum or enameled cast iron, but according to this Chowhound thread, baking soda and boiling water can also be a top contender when getting burned food and stains off cookware, including Le Creuset.

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Boil a quart of water and then add in two tablespoons of baking soda (more if you have a bigger pan). Stir with a wooden spoon or other non-abrasive utensil and allow the mixture to simmer for a few minutes. Rinse the scorched pan with hot water and dry thoroughly. The process may have to be repeated if the burns are very bad.

However, there are some types of pans that can be a bit trickier to clean when something is, well, burnt on there really well. Some of these include stainless steel and cast iron pans, all of which need a bit different of an approach.

Cast Iron

Cast iron can be used on all cooking surfaces, from stoves to campfires. So, one would think this workhorse of a material wouldn’t be susceptible to burnt-on food particles. Not true, explains Will Copenhaver, VP of sales and marketing at South Carolina-based Smithey Ironware.

Eggplant and Mushroom Polenta Bake

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“Cast iron is a little different – it won’t burn like an enameled pot in the sense that it won’t stain an enamel brown, but you can definitely get a thick layer of gunk stuck in there,” he says.

Copenhaver says that in order to get the burned bits off of a cast iron pot or pan, giving it tough love — which it is built for — is the way to go.

“Take a flat edged metal spatula and scrape any burned food bits off. Or, If you have one, a chain-mail scrubber is another great tool – use just enough pressure to get the burned-on food bits to release. Then rinse the pot with warm water and soap and wipe out with a sponge. People are afraid of soap and cast iron, but a little bit is not going to hurt anything as long as you rinse quickly after you’re done and then dry thoroughly,” he says.

Related Reading: Dive Deeper into Cleaning Cast Iron

Stainless Steel 

There is a reason that stainless steel cookware is the chosen cookware of professional chefs, says Bobby Griggs, vice president of American-made cookware company Heritage Steel. He says the multi-clad cookware is designed to combine heat distribution and responsiveness of aluminum with the rigidity, strength, and stability of stainless steel.

stainless pan clean how to

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“High quality stainless is an inert stable cooking surface that is hard and less porous than many of its competitive alternatives,” he says.

Additionally, it may be hard to burn stainless steel cookware due to its capacity for heat, but just in case there are burned bits stuck on, Griggs explains that good dish soap and a sponge or cloth that has at least one side with some a coarse texture (scratch resistant) will also help to remove any stuck on residue. Steel wool can scratch stainless cookware, so no need to go that hard.

To continue the cleaning process, including any hard water spots, protein residue and heat stains, he recommends using a powdered stainless steel cleaner.

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“Wet the pan and pour out the water leaving a damp surface. Add the powdered cleaner and wet two or three paper towels or a washcloth, squeezing the water out after wetting.  Then, take the damp cloth and create a paste with the powdered cleanser.  It will create a dark gray paste. Rub the pan in a circular motion and this will remove most anything from a stainless pan leaving a beautiful luster and shine. Then wash with dish soap and dry thoroughly,” he says.

stainless steel pan how to clean

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However, Griggs adds that keeping those pans looking sharp and preventing burning and scorching actually begins before cooking.

“Always pre-heat your stainless steel before adding your fat or oil. Try to minimize over oiling a pan and try and keep pan from overheating.  Adding cold liquids to the browned bits after searing vegetables and proteins will help immediately remove those particles and can be used a flavorful base for pan sauces, reductions, and more,” he explains.

Related Reading: Should Copper Pans be Polished or Have Patina?

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