Your Cooking Companion

Posted in Fixes & Tips, New Methods
February 19, 2020

How Do I Get That Stuff Off the Bottom of My Favorite Pan??

As my son was preparing to move out on his own, I of course reminded him that lots of his favorite recipes were here on the website, and he could listen and create one any time he was missing mom’s cooking.

It turned out that what he really wanted was info on how I get my pans clean after cooking up something dramatically messy.

I have burned tomato sauce into a 1/8″ black crust on my cast iron skillet, burned caramel (well, it was supposed to be caramel) onto my ceramic pan, and I once had the fire department arrive at my house because I boiled a large pot of artichokes–with olive oil and parmesan–completely dry, sending thick smoke throughout my home, setting off all the smoke alarms. The pot was burned completely black and crustified, inside and out, and I was about to throw it away when my inner cheapskate realized it would need to be replaced and I decided to try scrubbing it first. That pan is now silver again, and in regular use.

For my son, and for you, here are my Secrets to Cleaning Pans:

1.  If you burned something or boiled something dry and the crust on the pan bottom is black and thick, boil some water in the pan for a while. Much of the worst stuff will come off with the bubble action from the bottom of the pan. Dump out the water, wait for the pan to cool, and then wash it as usual. (See photos below.)

2.  For normal gunk, or to clean what remains after step 1, fill the crusty or stubbornly dirty pan with warm water to just above the highest crusty places. Leave it to sit on your counter for 15 to 45 minutes. (Yes, cast iron too.) After the soak, use a sturdy scrubbing pad (I highly recommend this one for its effectiveness and longevity) and just a little elbow grease to scrub out the now-softened gunk. If you are cleaning a well-seasoned cast iron pan, that quick wipe should do the trick. Notice that I didn’t suggest using soap. Let it air dry or warm it on your stovetop till the water has evaporated. Re-season as necessary. (See more about cast iron here.)

3.  Stainless steel, ceramic, and aluminum sometimes get stained by sauces, or the starch in rice or pasta. If the steps above didn’t remove all of the crust or stains, pour a thin layer of vinegar (I use white, but cider vinegar is fine) into the pan, and then sprinkle baking soda over the entire inner surface. Let it foam for a few minutes, then swirl the mixture around in the pan till it stops bubbling. Use your scrubbing pad to work on stubborn spots, then rinse the pan clean. This will remove discoloration from a clean pan surface and make it look shiny and new. You can now wash the pan with dish soap, or just set it out to air dry. (See more photos below.) If all you have is some whitish spots that tend to remain after cooking starches, sometimes a quick swirl with vinegar alone will get rid of them.

4.  If you STILL have spots that haven’t come clean, pour a small amount of baking soda directly onto the trouble spots, moisten your scrubbing pad with water and rub the spots hard till they are gone, using the baking soda like scouring powder. Then wash the pan by hand with regular dish soap and air dry.

5.  If you’ve done all these steps and the pan still has spots or stains, it’s time to look at the stains as Art, and to welcome them into your life. Though they may annoy you, they probably won’t affect your cooking.

If you know other great pan-cleaning tips, please leave them in the comments for others to find!

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