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: Fill it.

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. Starting with cool water is important for the next step.

Step 2: Simmer Gently.

Put the pan on the burner, turn it to medium, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Since you started with cool water, bringing it to a simmer will take time — that’s a good thing!

This slower process gives the mixture time to continue loosening the burnt food as the warmth opens the pan’s pores.

Step 3: Loosen the Grime.

When the crusty pan starts simmering it’s ready for you to loosen the burnt-on bits. This part is just like deglazing the pan when you’re cooking: use a wooden or rubber spatula and gently scrape the burnt parts toward the sides. Continue until you’ve loosened it all.

Step 4: Dump and Fizz.

Dump the cleaning mixture out of the pan and immediately sprinkle in some baking soda (bicarbonate). There will be enough vinegar left in the pan to cause a bit of foaming. That fizzing reaction can finish lifting away the burnt mess.

Step 5: Rewash and dry.

Now, give the pan a good wash in hot, soapy water and repeat if needed. Otherwise, rinse and dry it well and be proud of yourself for not leaving it to soak.

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

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