Oh no. You were cooking some food, and you had the heat on the stove turned up a little too high. Or perhaps you got distracted and your food cooked too long, or you didn't use enough butter or non-stick spray. Whatever happened, you're practically desperate to know how to clean a burnt pan in ways that don't require hours of scouring. Nobody has time for that.
Fortunately, there are ways for how to clean a burnt pan that will save you time and energy. With some methods, there's not much scrubbing at all to do. With today's pace of life, knowing how to do things properly but quickly and easily is an absolute must.
Why Everyone Should Know How to Clean a Burnt Pan
Even if you don’t do a lot of cooking, you should know how to clean a burnt pan. Unless you’re buying pans that are so cheap that it somehow costs less to toss them every time you burn food onto them, knowing how to clean all that gunk off will save you money (and probably time).
It’s also a good idea to understand this because sometimes you’ll cook something that appears to char the metal of the pan itself. That may not harm your cooking any, but it’s also not really fun to cook with a pan that looks dirty.
Cleaning burnt pans might sound like it involves a ridiculous level of work. It’s true that, no matter what you use, you’ll have to use some elbow grease somewhere. But once you’ve learned how to clean a burnt pan, you’ll have gained a valuable skill whether you cook regularly or not.
Materials you need
What do you need to clean a burnt pan?
Well, that depends on what happened. Generally, though, you need hot water, dish soap like Dawn, a scrub brush, and possibly a hard plastic scraper.
You may also want to have some dryer sheets, white vinegar, and baking soda around. If you have cast-iron cookware to clean, having coarse salt handy is a good idea, too.
How to Clean a Burnt Pan
Fantastic, isn't it? Now you really want to know how to clean a burnt pan without spending hours at it and killing your hands, arms, and back in the process.
Use Dish Soap and Hot Water
If your pan is stainless steel or enameled, put it on the stove and turn on the heat. Once you can make a drop of water sizzle on the surface, pour one cup of hot water in. Then let it sit until the water simmers.
You can add a little bit of dish soap, too, if you like. Just a few drops should be enough.
Let the water simmer for a couple of minutes. Then grab a wooden spoon and gently scrape at the stuck-on food.
Once you’ve successfully removed the burned-on food, turn the heat off, put on an oven mitt, and dump the water into your sink. Take your spoon and make sure that the pan has no remaining food stuck to it.
When you’re sure that you’ve removed all the food, wash it as usual. This approach may be the easiest method for how to clean a burnt pan because it requires very little in the way of supplies and effort.
We should note that you should not use this method on non-stick pans.
You can damage the non-stick coating that way, which ruins the pan and releases dangerous chemicals into your food.
You can also use white vinegar in place of water. Again, though, don’t use these methods on non-stick pans.
The Baking Soda Approach
If you’re like me, your mother used baking soda to clean everything. Knowing how to clean a burnt pan with baking soda may serve you just as well as the method listed above.
Mix equal parts baking soda and water, turning it into a paste. Then scrub the burned areas with a scrubber pad, scrub brush, or scraper. Don’t scrub too hard, though; the goal here is to work the mixture into the burned-on food to release it.
This method takes a bit more elbow grease than the one above. You’ll need to rinse with warm water and repeat periodically as you work on each area of the pan.
Try A Dryer Sheet
A dryer sheet? Say what? Yes. It sounds strange, but apparently, it works. Start off with soaking the pan in hot water with a few drops of dish soap. Put a dryer sheet in the mix, push it all the way down, so it gets saturated, and let the whole thing sit for about an hour.
When the hour’s up, remove the dryer sheet and gently scrape the pan using the dryer sheet as a scrubber. The food should come right off. This method may even leave you with a pan that looks brand-new.
Why does this work? Not a clue. There are people who swear by this method for their worst messes, though.
Soak In Hot Water
This one is my favorite method, and as long as you’re careful to wash and dry your pan as soon as all that burned-on food comes loose, you can even use this method on cast iron cookware.
Fill the pan halfway with hot water, and put it the stove. Bring the water to a boil, and then turn the heat down, so the water simmers.
Let the water simmer for 15 minutes and then turn the heat off. Cover with a top and let soak for two to three more hours. (I know, this sounds like a recipe. In a way, it is, though.)
The heat and the water soak into the burnt-on food and loosen it, and the boiling water agitates things, which further loosens the stuck-on gunk.
You may still need some kind of scraper, like a nylon spatula, a wooden spoon or a plastic scraper, but the food should slide right off.
Try Vinegar And Baking Soda Together
Remember how we used to make volcanoes “erupt” with vinegar and baking soda back in grade school? It turns out that this same thing can help you clean a pan for which other methods may not work.
Pour enough white vinegar into the pan to completely cover the burned area. Add one cup of baking soda and let it fizz until it stops. Then pour the mixture out and scrub the pan. The burned-on food should come off far more easily.
If that’s not enough, bring the vinegar to a boil and then reduce the heat on the stove till the vinegar simmers. Let it simmer for about five minutes, remove the pan from the heat and add the baking soda. Let the fizz die down, pour out the liquid, and scrub.
Alka Seltzer And Club Soda
Vinegar and baking soda aren’t the only bubbly things for cleaning burnt pans. You can also use Alka-Seltzer. Add one or two tablets to hot water in the pan and let it sit until the bubbling action stops and the water is cool.
You can also use club soda. Fill the pan until the burned areas are completely covered, then turn on the heat. The carbonation will help loosen the muck in your pan.
How to Clean a Burnt Pan Made from Cast Iron
Cast iron pans require different treatment because they get rough when mistreated, and they rust easily to boot.
All is not lost, however, even if you have to re-season it after you’re done cleaning it. There are several ways to clean a pan that’s made of cast iron, and guess what? They don’t involve taking a scrubber and working for half a day.
It sounds absolutely absurd, doesn’t it? If you live in snow country, you know salt can destroy metal. Why would you want to use salt on your beloved pans?
Because salt is also abrasive. Especially coarse salt and rock salt (avoid regular table salt, as it's too fine for this job).
Sprinkle a good helping of coarse salt onto the surface of your pan. Then use a damp washcloth to rub the salt over the burned-on food.
Yes, this method sounds like it takes a lot of elbow grease, and it does take some. But salt is a lot less likely to remove your seasoning. That means less work having to re-season it when you’ve finished cleaning it.
Find a Good Plastic Scraper
You can use a plastic scraper or spatula, too, either by themselves or with the salt. If you have stoneware, you should already have a scraper.
If not, you can find them in many stores that sell kitchenware.
While using a scraper, be gentle, because you can scrape off your seasoning if you work too hard.
Also, avoid using metal scrapers, including metal spoons, spatulas, and metal brushes. You won't just destroy your seasoning, but you run the risk of abrading a surface you may have spent years smoothing. Or maybe your grandmother and mother spent years getting it so smooth you don't even need a light coating of butter to keep it non-stick.
Use A Gentle Detergent To Clean Off Burnt-on Food Or Rust
You should avoid harsh detergents, too. Regular dish soap, like Dawn's original blue dish soap, is about as harsh as you want to get.
You can fill the pan with hot water and a couple of drops of dish soap. Set it on the stove to heat for 30 seconds to a minute. Don't let it sit for too long because as the water heats up, it evaporates, and that will leave you with rust spots.
Remember, you're looking for how to clean a burnt pan more easily, not how to make it harder than it has to be.
Once you see steam start coming off the water, turn the burner off and use a stiff-bristle brush to scrub (you might want to find a good brush with a built-in scraper for this).
Wear an oven mitt to protect your hand from what may well be a hot handle. You may have to work a little longer than you'd like, but ideally, the burnt-on food will come right off.
Try Something Like Easy-Off
Easy-Off is a caustic cleaner you generally reserve for your oven. Since it's so harsh, why would we list it as a method for how to clean a burnt pan right after we said not to use harsh cleaners?
Cast iron cookware often gets carbon and grime built-up inside it. That grime can lead to burnt food particles sticking to the inside of your pan.
In this case, you need to strip your pan entirely and then reseason it.
First off, do this outside. Easy-Off has fumes that will choke you if you don't have extremely good ventilation.
Place a cinder block upright on a flat surface and cover it with a heavy-duty garbage bag you've turned inside out. Make sure you're wearing gloves, and then place the pan on the block.
Coat it entirely in Easy-Off, and then turn the pan over and coat the other side. Pull the garbage bag up over your pan, tie it off, and leave it in a safe place for 24 hours.
Once it's sat for 24 hours, put your gloves back on and pull the skillet out from the bag. Take it inside and scrub it with warm water, dish soap, and steel wool. Scrub the entire pan this way, both inside and outside.
When you're finished, rinse the pan very well. Fill the pan with equal parts of white vinegar and water. Let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour, and then dump the solution out. Thoroughly dry the pan with paper towels immediately.
Re-seasoning the pan
Now that you've completely stripped it, you need to reseason it, or all that work will go to waste. If you already know your reseasoning method, then use that.
If not, use paper towels to rub vegetable oil over the entire surface of the skillet, inside and out. Use the absolute minimum you need -- you want to work a very thin coat into the metal, not something that's going to drip. Wipe off all excess oil to the point where the surface appears dull, not shiny or glistening.
Now, turn your oven on to 500 degrees, place your pan inside, and bake it for an hour. Use oven mitts to pull your pan out of the oven, and let it cool completely.
You Don't Have to Kill Your Hands and Arms to Clean a Burnt Pan
It's not hard to learn how to clean a burnt pan. No matter what your skill level in the kitchen is, or how much you cook, everyone can learn how to clean a burnt pan in such a way that it doesn't kill them.
And guess what's even better? You can pass the methods that work best for you onto your friends who break their backs scouring their burned pans.
If you have children and you have them do the dishes, you can always teach them how to scofur. However, you can also teach them how to clean a burnt pan the easy way, so the dishes get done faster and with slightly less fuss.
You're not only teaching yourself a valuable skill, but these methods are also so easy you can teach everyone around you how to do this.
Cleaning a burnt pan doesn't have to be a nightmare. And who knows? Maybe you'll get them clean enough for people to ask where you got your new cookware!
Do you have a favorite way to clean a burnt pan? Share your thoughts in the comments!