It happens to us all. You put some food in a pan, set it on the stovetop or in the oven, and then get distracted. The food burns and leaves a mess that can't be solved by just sticking the pan in the dishwasher. What to do?
How you clean away the burned-on food is largely dependent upon what type of finish is on the pan's interior and exterior. While the main objective is to remove the burned-on food a nearly equal objective is to leave the pan in the best condition possible.
Luckily, most pans can be cleaned with supplies you have in your kitchen pantry and cleaning supply stash. Those supplies, a bit of time, and a little elbow grease will leave your pans ready to use again.
Equipment / Tools
- Sink or large bucket
- Wooden or plastic scraper or spatula
- Nylon dish scrubber
- Table salt
- Dishwashing liquid
- Vegetable oil
- Paper towel
- Baking soda
- Lemon slices or lemon juice
How to Clean a Burnt Cast Iron Pan
Since cast iron pans can rust if left in water too long, you cannot rely on the "leave it to soak" method to lift away the burned-on food.
Empty the Food From the Pan
If you smell food beginning to burn in a cast iron pan, empty as much of the food as possible.
Sprinkle With Salt
While the cast iron pan is still warm, sprinkle the burned-on residue in the bottom of the pan with salt. Use a generous amount to cover the entire surface.
Cool the Pan and Scrape
Allow the pan to cool completely. Use a wooden or plastic scraper to scrape out the salt and the burnt food.
Wash and Reseason
When you have removed as much residue as possible, wash the pan in a solution of hot water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid. Rinse well with hot water and immediately dry it completely with a microfiber cloth. Reseason the cast iron with a teaspoon or so of vegetable oil.
How to Clean a Burnt Non-Stick Pan
It may sound like an oxymoron but you can have burned-on food left in a non-stick pan. Precautions must be taken to prevent any damage from occurring to the non-stick finish or the next time will be worse! The fact that the food stuck to the pan after burning may indicate that the damage to the pan's surface is beyond saving.
Never use any type of abrasive cleaner, scouring pads, or sharp tools to remove burnt food from non-stick pans. Once the surface is damaged, it cannot be repaired and may continue to flake off into your food.
Wipe Away Food
Begin by emptying the pan of any food and wiping away as much residue as possible with a paper towel.
Add the Cleaning Solution
Add enough water to completely cover the bottom of the pan to a depth of about one-inch. Sprinkle in one-half cup of baking soda.
Heat the Pan
Place the pan on the stovetop and heat the solution to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow the pan to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Keep an eye on the pan so it does not boil dry!
Scrape Away the Residue
Remove the pan from the stovetop. Use a wooden or plastic scraper to loosen the burned-on food from the bottom of the pan. Empty the cleaning solution and wash the pan as usual in hot, soapy water.
How to Clean a Burnt Stainless Steel, Aluminum, or Copper Pan
Soak Away the Burned-On Food
If you have time and don't mind having a dirty pot sitting in the sink, the easiest cleaning method is to allow time to take care of the problem.
- Empty as much food as possible and wipe away any residue from the pan with a paper towel.
- Fill the pan with enough water to cover the bottom to a depth of one inch. Add a dishwasher tablet or one teaspoon of dishwasher detergent liquid or powder.
- Bring the water in the pan to a boil. Turn off the heat. Cover the pan and allow the cleaning solution to soak overnight.
- Use a wooden or plastic scraper to loosen any food on the bottom.
- Empty the cleaning solution and wash the pan as usual. You may need to use a nylon scrubber to loosen any remaining spots.
Baking Soda and Lemon Slices
If you don't have time to soak the pan, lemon slices and baking soda will help break down the burnt food.
- Empty the pan of any food and wipe away any residue with a paper towel.
- Add enough water to completely cover the bottom of the pan to a depth of about two inches.
- Add several lemon slices or one-fourth cup fresh or bottled lemon juice.
- Place the pan on a stovetop and heat to boiling. Reduce the heat and allow it to simmer for 10 minutes.
- Empty the lemon solution into the garbage disposal leaving about one teaspoon of water in the pan.
- Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with baking soda. The remaining water will turn the baking soda into a gentle abrasive paste.
- Use a nylon scrubber to remove any stuck-on bits of food. Wash the pan as usual.