4 Brilliant Tips for Cleaning Any Pan You Think You’ve Ruined, According to Professional Chefs

published Sep 9, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

If you cook, it’s inevitable: Sooner or later, you’re going to find yourself dealing with a burnt pot or pan. There are plenty of ways to get your cookware back into fighting shape (and we’ve tested lots of them!), but we wanted to know how the pros deal with crusty, burnt, and downright disrespected pots. We polled chefs around the country and found that their secret techniques were all really similar. In fact, most of them followed the exact same steps!

Here are the very best tips for cleaning a burnt pot, according to chefs.

1. Wipe the pan first.

“Remove any oil first,” says Juan Hernandez, executive chef of Gjelina Group. While your pan may look like a total mess, just going over it with a paper towel or scrubbie will do a lot to improve things. Plus, this helps to keep fat and oil out of your pipes. For any stuck-on bits that won’t come loose with a towel, Hernandez suggests using a spatula to scrape them off.

2. Keep the pan warm.

All of our chef sources agreed: When it comes to cleaning a burnt pot, start right away while it’s actually still hot. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to clean it. (This is pretty standard cleaning advice for most crusted-on food debris.) That said, if dinner is waiting, you can leave your burnt pot until later. Just be sure to heat it back up before you tackle the job. “Put it on the burner over medium heat with hot water and soak to soften the burnt residue,” explains Oliver Plust, head of culinary R+D for Tender Greens. You don’t have to completely fill the pot with water — to the “burn line” will do just fine.

It should be said that this requires care and caution! There’s a sweet spot between “easier-to-clean-hot” and “first-degree-burns-hot.” Tip: Wearing dish gloves helps, and so does keeping a few absorbent restaurant-approved towels close by for handling the pot. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

3. Soak the pan with vinegar.

Einat Admony, chef and owner of Balaboosta, has an easy solution involving vinegar: “Combine a few tablespoons of white distilled vinegar with water and boil it for a few minutes and everything’s gone.” Well, it will at least get you almost there! A tiny bit will do the trick when combined with heat and hot water, confirms Rachel Heagerty, chef and kitchen manager at Pastabilities.

4. Use a heavy-duty scrubber.

Although the chefs all had different picks for the best scrubbie, they all agreed: A heavy-duty one is required. (Flimsy cellulose sponges just will not cut it!) Plust prefers nonabrasive sponges, explaining that not only is it “what professional kitchens use,” but it also eliminates the risk of steel or copper sponges contaminating food. 

On the other hand, Admony loves stainless steel scrubbers for their take-no-prisoners approach to crusted-on food.

Heagerty is an enthusiastic cheerleader for the snazzy-looking Euroscrubby: “My favorite item that has changed my cleaning game in the kitchen was a stocking stuffer from my mother of these super-cute fabric sponges. It has a texture almost akin to steel wool. But soft. It’s the best ‘sponge’ ever. Plus, they have cute designs and last forever. A four-pack has lasted me six months and counting.”

What’s your secret for tackling a burnt pot? Tell us in the comments below.