It’s possible to burn anything on a stove – even water. When fixing supper turns into an exercise in carbon-dating, there are some things you can do to salvage a burnt pan.
Soak and Scrub
Scrape out any loose food, then fill the pan with hot water immediately. Let the pan soak for 20 minutes, then gently scrape the remaining residue. Repeat if necessary. When the residue is reduced to just a thin layer, use a non-abrasive scrubber or baking soda to finish up.
Cook It Again
This is one of the preferred ways of cleaning stainless steel pans. Fill the pan with enough water to cover the burnt-on food. Heat until boiling and let it simmer for ten minutes or so. Let the pan cool until the water is safe to touch, then try washing the pan. Any crust should have cooked off the surface.
Scrape out any loose material, then gently scrub the pan. Apply a paste of water and baking soda to the crusted areas, then add vinegar. The vinegar and baking soda will react and foam up. This will loosen the burnt food. Repeat the process for any areas that did not get clean. CAUTION: do not use this method on aluminum pans. Aluminum will react with the acid in the vinegar, potentially damaging the pan.
Scrub it with Salt or Baking Soda
This is a time-honored method for cleaning cast iron, but it works on other materials. Salt and baking soda dissolve in water and are less likely to scratch a pan than abrasive cleansers. Rinse and drain the pan. Add a generous amount of ordinary table salt (not kosher salt). Scrub with a slightly damp rag or paper towel.
Rinse and Repeat
If you have a truly nasty burnt pan, you’ll need to clean it more than once. Think of it as a penalty for not turning the stove down.
The best way to clean a burnt pan is not to burn it in the first place. But when it happens, don’t panic. Just take the clean-up one step at a time.