These easy steps get burnt food off pots and pans without soaking or using a dryer sheet. They’re safe for all types of cookware, too.
The method below assumes that you don’t like the “let it soak until someone else deals with it” approach. That was the default solution in our house when my husband or kids did the dinner dishes.
Our rule is that the cook doesn’t have to clean up after a meal, but I’d go to shut down the kitchen before bed and find the sink full of pots and pans with burned-on food.
So, I wrote down these steps and posted them near the kitchen sink. Voila, no more “soakers” left for Mom to scrub!
Steps to Clean Burnt Food off Pots and Pans
The Quick Way to Get Crusty Burned Food off of Cookware
- Add water, vinegar, and dish soap. (Omit vinegar for aluminum pots and pans.)
- Put it on the stove to simmer for 15 minutes.
- Scrape burned bits with a wooden spoon.
- Remove from heat and let it cool for a bit.
- Dump the liquid and sprinkle baking soda in the wet pan.
- Scrub with a nylon pad or dishcloth.
- Rinse, wash, and dry.
Step 1: Water, Vinegar and Dish Soap + Heat
Adding water and white vinegar to the pan, along with a little dishwashing liquid, helps begin loosening the bond between the cooked-on food and your scorched pot.
You don’t need to fill the pan. Usually, a cup of both vinegar and water to cover the mess is enough for saucepans. Large pots or skillets may need more.
Step 2: Simmer It
Although you don’t notice it when cooking, metal pots and pans expand when they get hot. As they expand, food gets into the metal’s “pores.” When the burnt pan cools, food gets stuck to the surface as the metal contracts.
As you reheat the pan, the water and vinegar can get between the cooked-on food and the metal and begin lifting it away. The added drop or two of dishwashing liquid also helps dissolve the bonds between the burned food and metal pot.
Step 3: Gently Scrape the Pan
When you’re dealing with a crusty, scorched pot or pan coated with burned-on food, it’s tempting to reach for a scouring pad or even steel wool. Unfortunately, while those might get rid of the cooked-on food mess, they can also cause permanent damage.
So, while the crusty pan is simmering on the stove, use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to gently scrape the burned-on bits from the bottom of the pan. (Think of it as “deglazing the pan,” like you would when cooking.)
Step 4: Let it Cool a Bit
Hot pans and bare skin aren’t a good combination. Take the cookware off the stove and let it cool for a couple of minutes, so you don’t risk injury.
Don’t leave it too long, though — it’s important to continue getting the burned food off of your pan while it’s still fairly warm.
Step 5: Prepare for Foaming Action
Dump the contents of the pan then immediately sprinkle in some baking soda (bicarbonate in the UK). Since the surface of the crusty pan is still a bit damp from the vinegar, you’ll see a bit of foaming action as they combine. That foam is helping lift away the burned-on food and sparing you the use of elbow grease.
Step 6: Gently Scrub the Rest
Add a bit more baking soda if you need scouring power. Then gently scrub away the rest of the mess with a dishcloth or plastic scrubbing pad. (I like these pads because they’re cheap and easy to rinse.)
Step 7: Rewash and Dry
Baking soda can leave a gritty, dull residue. So, once you get the burnt food off of your pot or pan, rewash it with hot soapy water then rinse it well. (Yes, you can wash cast iron pans in soapy water and you should — just re-season as needed.)
Towel dry the pan immediately, so you can make sure you’ve removed all the burned-on food then put your clean, shiny cookware away.
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