Now that the weather has turned from chilly to cold and the holidays are approaching, it's officially time to break out your stockpot and roasting pan. Just the idea of a savory something simmering in the oven or on the stove all day is enough to warm your bones! Unfortunately, it only takes a little recipe miscalculation or a slightly longer cook time to end up with a scorched pan — and those caked-on burnt bits are notoriously hard to get off.
Before you break out the big guns, keep this in mind: Depending on what your pan is made of (most of the ones on the market are made of stainless steel, enameled cast iron, or aluminum with or without a nonstick coating), you can damage it if you use a too-scratchy scrubber like steel wool or an ultra-strong cleanser. So start with the gentlest possible fix and work your way up to something stronger only if necessary.
Here are a few methods you can try to remove those burnt bits from a scorched pan.
1. Use hot water to deglaze it.
If you have a stainless steel or enamel pan, put it on the stovetop and turn on the heat (skip this method for a nonstick pan). Once the pan is hot enough that a drop of water sizzles on it, pour in a cup of water and let it simmer for a bit (add some dish soap if you'd like). Then use a wooden spoon or nylon spatula to scrape away at the burnt areas while the water loosens it.
2. Use vinegar to deglaze it.
This is the same method as above, but with vinegar instead of water (again, skip this method for a nonstick pan). Once the pan is hot enough that a drop of water sizzles on it, pour in a cup of vinegar and let it simmer for a bit. Then use a wooden spoon or nylon spatula to scrape away at the burnt areas while the water loosens it.
3. Soak it with soap.
Also known as the Procrastination Method: Squirt a few drops of dish soap into the pan, add hot water, and let it sit for a few hours or overnight. Then empty it out, start running fresh warm water, and use a nylon scrubbie to chip away at the burnt bits.
4. Try a dryer sheet.
A fabric softener sheet is a surprising miracle-worker for burnt bits — I've seen it in action! Fill the pan with warm water, add a dryer sheet (push it under the water to get it fully saturated), and wait a few hours before using the fabric softener sheet as a scrubber as you loosen the debris.
5. Scrub with baking soda.
Try this for stainless steel or enameled bakeware (but not aluminum): Make a paste of equal parts baking soda and warm water, then scrub it into the burnt areas to gently release the caked-on mess. Rinse with warm water and repeat as you work on it area by area.
How do you salvage your burnt pans?