Wait! You may not have to toss that charred pan after all. 

By Isadora Baum
January 03, 2019
vinicef/Getty Images

You’re making a tasty, scorching hot chicken and vegetable stir-fry for dinner, but once you’re done, you realize you’ve burned the pan pretty bad. Uh-oh. Is it salvageable? Is a new pan needed?  

Unfortunately the answer isn’t so cut-and-dry, as it depends on how well you’re able to clean it and what type of pan it is. If you do find yourself in this sticky situation, follow these tips from Chef Kevin McAllister at Café Robey in Chicago.

You Burned Your Pan—What’s the Best Way to Clean It?

Clean up time. “If you do burn something in a pan it all depends on what type of pan you have,” he says. Cast iron, stainless steel, and copper all require different methods for cleaning—here are the best ways to clean each one.

Cast-Iron Pan

“Cast iron pans are the most forgiving. Heat the pan with salt in it, using a dry towel rub the salt to remove any burn bits of food. The trick with cast iron pans is to never introduce soap or water to them as it will cause bad taste and rust,” he explains.

Stainless Steel Pan

Stainless steel and copper pans are a little more difficult, and whether or not you need to buy a new pan will depend on how burnt the pan is. “The stainless steel pan can be cleaned by soaking it in soapy water. Then use a metal scrubber and elbow grease to remove the burn bits,” he says.

Copper Pan

Copper pans are the most expensive and the hardest to maintain. “If you burn something in a copper pan you will most likely damage the shape and overall look,” he explains, so you might not be able to keep it, but it depends on the severity of the damage and how well you can clean it. (Which is a huge bummer, as it’s pricey.)

“Cleaning the copper pan can be done in the same way as cast iron or stainless steel but the outer copper coating will need to be cleaned with copper polish [or it] can be done with a paste made of vinegar and salt,” he says.

You will need to let the copper pan sit for a moment, and then rub it with a towel. Then, rinse off the cleaning solution and dry with a towel.

Aluminum Pan

In general, cast iron, stainless steel, and copper pans have the longest life and are the most forgiving, he says, so you can often get away with keeping it.

If it’s aluminum, say goodbye. “Aluminum will lose its shape when overheated and the heavy scrubbing will actually remove the metal.  A pan is completely dead when the shape is lost and stained black from carbon,” he explains.

Teflon Pan

Most people use Teflon-coated pans when cooking at home, and Teflon coating can only take so much heat. “The coating will start to flake off and that's when you to throw it in the garbage. You don't want to be eating Teflon,” he says.

How to Prevent a Burnt Pan

The best way to prevent burning your pan is to buy the right kind. Get a bunch of different pans for various cooking purposes or think about what you most often use the pans for in your home kitchen.

“When buying new pans, you should know your limits as a cook: what are you making the most? How do you like to cook? For me I have all stainless steel pans and cast iron pans,” he says.

“I use the cast iron pans for searing and roasting food. They can get extremely hot and can take the abuse. The stainless steel pans I use for eggs and sauces, things that don't need a lot of heat,” he explains.

If you are just starting your collection, purchase a mid-level brand such as Cuisinart, Calphalon, and All-Clad, as they are all very good brands with reasonable prices, he suggests. “Just make sure that the pans are all metal and have no rubber or plastic handles,” he says. “Lodge has really adorable cast iron pans and they come pre-seasoned,” he adds.

Once you’ve made your purchases, consider the pans and their limitations, and be mindful to not go too heavy on the heat when you can’t get by with such extremities. Burning the pan is never ideal, no matter the type.

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