Overhead view of a metal pan with burnt food stuck on bottom

No More Soakers: How to Get Burnt Food Off Pans

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These easy steps get burnt food off pans without soaking or using a dryer sheet. They’re safe for all types of cookware, too. So, if you don’t like the “let it soak until someone else deals with it” approach, read on.

Our house rule is that the cook doesn’t have to clean up after a meal. But despite that rule, I can’t tell you how many times I’d start my nightly shutdown routine and find the sink full of pots and pans with burned-on food.

So, I wrote down these steps to get burnt food off pans and taped them to the window above my kitchen sink. Sure, it’s not the most aesthetic sign, but voilà—no more “soakers” left for Mom to scrub!

Step 1: Add water, vinegar and dish soap.

Fill the pan about 2 inches deep with equal parts cool water and white vinegar, then add a couple drops of liquid dish soap. This combination helps loosen the bond between your burnt food and the pan.

Step 2: Bring it to a simmer.

Put the pan on the burner, turn it to medium, and bring the mixture to a simmer. This opens the “pores” in your metal pan and loosens the burnt food.

Pro Tip

When you cook, metal pots and pans expand and food gets trapped in their pores. Cooling causes the metal to contract, locking the food in. Heating the mixture helps reverse the process to clean out those pores—like a facial for your cookware.

Step 3: Scrape gently.

While the crusty pan summers, it’s time to scrape up the burned-on bits. Think of it as “deglazing the pan” like you would when cooking. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula for this—unlike a scouring pad or steel wool, they won’t scratch your pan.

Step 4: Now add baking soda.

Dump the cleaning mixture out of the pan and immediately sprinkle in some baking soda (bicarbonate). The foaming reaction this causes will help lift away the burnt food mess and spare you some elbow grease.

Step 5: Rewash and dry.

Use a dishcloth or kitchen sponge, wash the pan in hot, soapy water and rinse thoroughly to get rid of the burnt food and gritty baking soda residue. Then towel dry and put away your clean, shiny cookware.

Liked that easy solution? Now, check out my tips to get baked-on grease off of aluminum cooking sheets.

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