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The Single Best Way To Clean a (Badly) Burnt Pot

Whether you've simply sautéed onions too long, or charred your whole dinner, you can save your pot.

So you're making dinner, and suddenly you realize bits of your ingredients have stuck to the pot or pan, and before you can scrape them up, they've started to burn. It happens to the best of us. When food is placed on hot pots, typically stainless steel or enameled cast iron, a chemical bond forms between the two which makes the food stick.

At first, this can be a good thing—caramelized bits of meat and vegetables stuck to the bottom of a pan are called fond (that's French for "substance" or "base"). If you add a bit of wine, stock, or water to the pan at this point, you'll deglaze it, which means the fond will unstick itself from the bottom of the pot and incorporate into your dish.

However, if you let it go too far, the fond will burn, leaving you with a nasty mess. While your dinner may be gone, don't worry, your pot, skillet, or Dutch oven is salvageable. So how do you clean a burnt pot efficiently? Try these steps.

Try this first: The boiling water method

The following method works best immediately after you've burnt the food.

1. Scrape out the food bits

scrape out burnt food
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Scrape out all the burnt food you can. Immediately after removing all the food, fill the pot about 1-inch deep with water.

2. Boil the water

boil water in burnt pot
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

Place on the stove, turn the burner to high, and bring the water to a boil. Let boil for 5 or so minutes.

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3. Scrape the bottom

use a spatula to scrape burnt bits
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

Use a spatula (a fish spatula works really well, but a plastic or silicone one works too) or a wooden spoon to gently scrape up the burnt bits from the bottom of the pan. Continue to boil (adding more water if needed) and scrape until all the burnt bits are lifted.

4. Wash the pot

hand holding a clean pot against a grey background
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

Once the pot is clean of all burnt particles, wash it as you normally would.

For truly bad cases: The baking soda and vinegar method

If you've waited several hours to do the dishes, or your pot is in particularly rough shape, the boiling water technique alone might not be sufficient. In that case, move on to this method with vinegar and baking soda.

5. Sprinkle with baking soda

sprinkle pot with baking soda
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

Sprinkle an even layer of baking soda all over the burnt area.

6. Add vinegar and hot water

add vinegar to baking soda in the pot
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

Add vinegar to the baking soda—it will fizzle like a kids' science experiment. This is good! Add some hot water and let sit for a few hours before scrubbing the pot clean.

7. Boil again if needed

boil vinegar and water
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

For the most stubborn burnt particles that just won't come off with scrubbing, try boiling the water and vinegar mixture and scraping again with a spatula.

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Rebecca Firkser
Rebecca Firkser is a food writer and recipe developer. Read more
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