And the secret trick for removing stuck-on food.

By Katie Holdefehr
April 21, 2020
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From pro chefs to home cooks, it happens to all of us from time to time: You left dinner on the stovetop a little too long, and now you have a burnt pot to clean. Typically, this dreaded cleaning task means lots of scrubbing. Want to spare yourself the extra elbow grease? Follow the steps below for how to clean a burnt pot, starting with the gentlest method and working your way up. Instead of soaking in soapy water overnight, let white vinegar and some added heat lift away burned bits. Then, grab our editor-approved tool for tackling stuck-on food. Using this method, your pots and pans will look shiny and new in no time.

Before you get started, double check what material the pot or pan is made out of. The methods below work well on both stainless steel and enameled cast iron, but since aluminum is a reactive metal, you'll want to skip the vinegar technique on this material. If you're dealing with a burnt cast iron pan, follow the cleaning and seasoning instructions here. No matter what material you're dealing with, it's always a good idea to start with the mildest, least abrasive cleaning technique first.

What You'll Need:

  • White vinegar
  • Spatula
  • Scrubber sponge
  • Pan scraper ($3, target.com)
  • Baking soda

How to Clean a Burnt Pot:

1. Deglaze with water: That's right, deglazing isn't just a cooking technique, it can be used for cleaning, too! Add a layer of water to cover the bottom of the pan, then heat on the stovetop. Let the water simmer for a couple minutes, then turn off the heat and carefully use a spatula or spoon to scape away burnt bits (grab the spatula you typically use with that pan so you know it won't scratch the surface).

2. Try it with vinegar: If deglazing with water didn't work, you can try the same technique with white vinegar on stainless steel or enameled cast iron pans (skip this step if you have an aluminum pan).

3. Scrape off stuck-on food: To remove stubborn burnt-on food, reach for these durable, dishwasher-safe pan scrapers ($3, target). Made of hard polycarbonate, they quickly scrape away the toughest grime, but they won't scratch the surface of enameled pots or pans. They may even allow you to skip the steps of soaking and deglazing the pan first.

4. Now get to scrubbing: Hopefully the steps above have helped remove most of the food and char, but there may still be some brown discolored areas. For stainless steel and enameled cast iron (not aluminum), mix up a paste of one part baking soda to one part warm water and use it to scrub away the stains.

The Dos and Don'ts of Cleaning Pots and Pans:

  • Do soak your pans. When you're done cooking, get in the habit of letting your pots and pans soak in hot, soapy water while you eat. By the time dinner is over, the pan will be much easier to clean.
  • Don't scrub with steel wool (or a knife). This abrasive scrubber may scratch pots and pans.
  • Do keep an eye on your cooking. To prevent burned pots and pans in the first place (and for fire safety), always keep an eye on what you're cooking. Stir to make sure the food isn't sticking to the bottom of the pan, and lower the heat if necessary.
  • Don't procrastinate. Try to clean, or at least soak, the pan soon after using it (always let the pan cool slightly first). As cooked-on food gets cold, it becomes much harder to remove.