We’ve all made a meal that leaves our best 10-inch stainless steel pan covered with a thick layer of caked-on char. Don’t throw that burnt pan in the dishwasher (or, heaven forbid, the garbage). You can save a burnt pan from a forever-singed fate with water, your stove, and a bit of elbow grease. Perhaps your first thought was to shake out half a cup of that extra strength powdered kitchen cleaner into your burnt pan? Hold on there, tiger. Save the expensive cleaners for your last resort; depending on how singed this pan is, you may get there. Removing most, if not all, blackened bits from the surface of a skillet can actually be achieved with no soap at all.
Scrape any easily lifted pieces of leftover food from the burnt pan into the trash. And place the pan in question on the stove and follow this plan. (Depending on how badly burned you pan is, you may need to move onto the next step.)
Option 1: Boiling Water
Pour enough water into the pan to fill it a little less than one third of the way up the pan. Turn the heat up to medium high and bring the water to a boil. As the water boils, use a firm silicone or plastic spatula to gently pick at the black bits on the pan. Slowly, the pieces will begin to lift. Drain the pan, throw out the charred bits and wash the pan normally.
Option 2: Baking Soda Paste
If the boiling water method fails you, empty the pan and pour in a generous layer of baking soda. Add water by the teaspoon to create a thick paste. Now comes the hard part: Resist the urge to start scrubbing and instead walk away to let the pan soak. Clean up the rest of the kitchen, have some dessert, do a bunch of jumping jacks—anything to keep your paws away from the pan. After about 15 minutes, wipe the paste from the pan with a scrubby sponge, lifting the burned bits along with it. Rinse and hand wash the pan.
Option 3: Boiling Vinegar and Baking Soda
If the baking soda paste method doesn’t work, fill the pan with 1 cup white vinegar and ½ cup water. Bring this mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Once the mixture is bubbling, take the pan off the heat and sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Squeal with delight as the pan replicates your fifth grade volcano. Leave the pan to sit for at least 2 minutes, then dump the excess liquid. Rub the pan with a scrubby sponge until all the burned pieces have lifted. Wash the pan with soap and water.