How to Clean a Burnt Pan

You’ve just left a pan on the stove for way too long, and now you have a burnt pan to clean. Kitchen Expert Jacob Cummings explains the best way to clean it.

Stainless chainmail scrubber on a cast-iron pan.

Stainless chainmail scrubbers are durable and easy to rinse off after use. Photo by Jacob Cummings

In 2015, I had this great opportunity to live in the woods in the middle of winter near Carson, Washington. The cabin was beautiful, secluded, and off the grid. A few weeks into my one-month stay, I developed a love of cooking my own popcorn on the mantle of the fireplace. I used one of the stainless-steel stock pots for cooking popcorn. At the time, I didn’t fully understand that the cabin’s owner said it was to be used exclusively for boiling water.

Well, I tried making kettle corn and didn’t realize exactly how hot the mantle was and burnt the sugars and kernels, causing blackened stains across the bottom of the pot. In the following days, I tried everything I could think of to get the staining out of the pan without any help from the internet. I wasn’t able to figure it out on my own. Next, I tried to boil water and found myself scrubbing with a sponge with no success for more than 20 minutes.

When the property owner arrived, I showed them what had happened, and they were disappointed that I didn’t understand that the pots were to be used only for boiling water on the stovetop. They told me they preferred popcorn to be cooked in their cast iron dutch oven or just about any other cookware in the house. But they also forgave me and showed me where they kept a few things in the cupboard to resolve what I had done.

Why Do They Even Call It “Stainless”?

I’m encouraging you to go easy on yourself. Stainless is more work to clean than regular cast iron, while non-stick pans are the easiest to clean. In my experience, stainless steel is the easiest type of pan to burn ingredients in, and as a result, it becomes covered in stains that sometimes even a scouring pad can’t resolve.

I’m always surprised how a simple meal will still require soaking the dishes in the sink with dish soap and scrubbing with a sponge and warm soapy water to get all the stuck food grime off the bottom of the cookware. And yet, it’s often just not enough to get it back to how things used to be.

Is Discolored Stainless Steel Safe?

The discoloration is fairly normal and will happen to almost any pan at some point. The pan is perfectly safe to use, and the discoloration can hopefully be reduced or returned to “like-new.”

Remedies to Clean a Burnt Pan

The following remedies work under different circumstances; I hope one of them works for your burnt pan.

Deglazing Cookware

Sometimes, before we know for sure if the pan is burnt, we might just need to get some of the stuck food off the bottom. There is a quick process called deglazing for this.

Deglazing is a simple trick of adding a liquid to the pan while it’s under heat and then stirring to release the stuck ingredients. Next, you can use this new mixture you’ve created to add flavor to a sauce or a dressing among many other possibilities!

What you use to deglaze the pan is essentially limitless. You can simmer the bottom of the pan with an acidic liquid like wine, beer, spirits, lemon juice, and white vinegar. Sometimes people will also try ketchup, bbq sauce, or just about anything they might want to use that could add flavor to their dish. Indeed, if you’re really into cooking tasty foods, deglazing is the first thing to do with a burnt pot. Especially if you’re trying to get all the tastiest bits out of the pan, deglazing is a great way to make a quick sauce or a cream with the ingredients stuck to the bottom. You can have a more flavorful meal and a cleaner pot in a few steps.

Steps for Deglazing

  1. Cook your food.
  2. Empty all ingredients and drain excess fats from the cookware.
  3. Add a deglazing liquid of your choice.
  4. Scrape with a wooden spoon or something that won’t damage the cookware.
  5. Make a sauce with the contents, or pour it over the food you just made!

When you’re trying to clean the bottom of the pan after the meal, adding hot water and stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula can be simple enough to scrape out what is stuck to the cookware. If deglazing wasn’t enough to clean up the pan, then it’s time to get the real movers and shakers of kitchen cleaning supplies to deal with the burnt area.

Boil With Hydrogen Peroxide and Baking Soda

If your pan is severely burnt, you can use a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. It’s a simple process of adding them to the pan and letting it soak for up to six hours. You might find pieces of the burnt material naturally lifted on their own, and you might need to scrub a little bit to get the rest. Generally, this one will work very well on stainless steel, but it’s not recommended for cast ironware.

Steps for Cleaning a Burnt Pan With Hydrogen Peroxide and Baking Soda

  1. Remove the food and clean the pan as you normally would. Deglazing is a great first step.
  2. Pour about 1/2 inch of hydrogen peroxide into the bottom of the pan.
  3. Add about 1/4 cup of baking soda. There will most likely be some fizzing.
  4. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat, letting it sit for 10-30 minutes or more with the contents in the bottom.
  5. During this time, you can stir with a wooden spoon to break up anything that might be pulling loose.
  6. Scrub the pan as you normally would to see what has lifted away.

If you tried this, but it wasn’t enough to get everything, you can repeat the process. The next couple of ideas might help, as well!

Bon Ami

Two cans of Bon Ami sit on a wooden chair.

Bon Ami is the simplest non-toxic powder tough scrubbing. Photo by Jacob Cummings

This non-toxic powder is great for cleaning many things around the house! It’s cheap and can be found at almost any grocery store. Generally, people agree it works better than scrubbing with baking soda, although it is one of the main ingredients. Bon Ami is great for cleaning a pan with many oils that have hardened onto the sides of a skillet. However, it might not be enough for the heaviest jobs. It’s worth a try, though; the more you use it, the more you’ll find the precise time to use it.

Bon Ami can scratch enameled cast ironware, so it is not recommended for those surfaces.

Steps for Cleaning a Burnt Pan With Bon Ami

  1. Deglaze the pan and hand wash it with dish soap.
  2. Rinse the pan and sprinkle Bon Ami over the remaining burned area, leaving enough moisture in the pan to make a paste.
  3. Scrub the pan with a scouring pad and see if any improvements are made.

If that didn’t work, you can also try this last one. Be aware that it contains oxalic acid, which is corrosive and toxic, so it should only be used as needed.

Bar Keepers Friend

This little jar of powder is excellent to have around for getting the grime and crud off the surfaces of your kitchen. But it’s also really good for cleaning the interiors of your cookware! I recommend using this last because it has oxalic acid, which is considered corrosive and toxic, so it should only be used as needed. I encourage people to have limited chemicals around their cooking spaces! Here’s a great link to their tutorial: How to Clean a Scorched Pan.

Bar Keepers Friend can scratch the enamel on cast iron pans and is not recommended for that cookware.

In Conclusion

These are the best options I have for you! I hope these ideas help, and whatever cleaning technique you choose will hopefully be enough to clean your burnt pan. If there’s anything else you might want help with, please feel free to reach out to a Curated Expert in the Kitchen Department, we’re here to answer any questions!

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As a kid I didn’t understand the privilege I was being given when mom asked me to pick the several pounds of blueberries from out in the garden. I actually resented it, but after a couple seasons I began trying the different shapes and sizes of the berry and began to fall in love with their variety...

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