I consider myself an expert on today’s topic. I have the unique talent of creating horrible burned-on messes in casserole dishes, skillets, pots—even a Le Creuset dutch oven. I can do this on the stovetop, in the oven, outdoor grill, and microwave, too!
I did it again just the other night. I returned a stainless steel frying pan to the burner set to medium after I’d plated most of its contents and walked away.
We had a lovely meal of Shrimp Scampi Bowls (thank you Home Chef) while that pan sat there and created yet another opportunity for me to demonstrate my unique skill. It was bad.
Dumb me, I didn’t think to snap a photo to show you the “before” until that mess was halfway through cleaning itself. Here is a semi-before and after comparison.
There are multiple ways to deal with this kind of kitchen challenge—most of which will work to some degree, eventually. But as far as I am concerned, there is only one method that is totally amazing because it’s pretty much automatic and works all by itself in an hour—more or less—depending on the severity of the situation.
But first, let me summarize the methods that do not work for me because honestly, they take too long and require more effort than I am willing to put out to make them work.
Methods that don’t work for me
The directive is to fill the vessel with water, dump in a 1/2 cup or so of baking soda, heat to boiling, and then allow to simmer for a while. This will definitely loosen the mess. But this must be followed with a lot of elbow grease to scrub (and scrub) away the final remains.
Baking soda and dish soap
It works. Eventually. But will more than likely require using a wooden spoon to pry and scrape. And scrub and tear up your fingernails.
This has never worked for me, but I may be too impatient. And vinegar, being an acid, can damage the clear coat finish on enameled cast iron pots from Lodge and Le Creuset and others, which tells me there’s at least some level of risk involved.
Hydrogen peroxide/baking soda
I’m pleading ignorance here because I have not tried this. A quick search, however, leads me to believe that a few people have found this combination plus water heated in the messy pot on the stove to be effective. My problem with this? It requires considerable time and effort, which I don’t have because in this kind of situation, I want to get out of the kitchen as soon as possible.
It does work to fill the pot or pan with warm water and drop in a dryer sheet. However, it takes time to work. Like overnight, which means you’ll be leaving that ugly mess in the sink to greet you in the morning. After enough time, the contents of that pan will slide out quite easily. But still, overnight at least.
Another challenge with dryer sheets: Lots of us no longer use laundry softening products, so we don’t happen to have a dryer sheet handy.
So, enough about what doesn’t work well enough for me to recommend highly to my dear readers.
Method that does work (like a dream)
Automatic dishwashing detergent
This is it, an amazingly magical method that is fast, effective, and totally worth writing about. I recommend it highly.
But first, take another look at the “before” picture—and trust me this was one ugly, smoking, nasty, black, burned-on mess that appeared that it may have melted the pan in its wake.
I filled that stainless steel skillet with very hot water and dropped in an automatic dishwasher detergent pod (Kirkland brand from Costco because that’s what I use, but any automatic dishwasher detergent pod, gel, or powder will do the same awesome job). I took this photo about 20 minutes later.
If you look closely, you can see the bottom of the pan begins to emerge from the burned-on mess as the contents soften and begin to almost liquify.
By the time I’d loaded the dishwasher and cleaned up the kitchen, the pan was ready to be cleaned up, too.
I poured the contents of the pan down the drain (kinda’ love watching all that crud slide right out ) and used the scrubby side of a blue Scotch Brite Non-Scratch scrub sponge to wipe away the remains of the mess. It took less than a minute. I rinsed the pan, dried it with a bar mop and snapped the after photo.
This method is not only quick and easy, but you can also confidently use it on any dishwasher-safe dish, pot, or pan—that means stainless steel, non-stick (ha!), glass, porcelain, and enameled cast iron like Lodge’s enameled and Le Creuset’s Dutch ovens.
NOTE: Do not subject either cast iron or aluminum to automatic dishwasher detergent. Neither of these types of cooking vessels is considered “dishwasher safe.”
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