We've all been there a time or two.

Things get away from you, and you absolutely incinerate the meal you spent so much time on in your favorite carbon steel or cast iron pan... I mean, we're talking burnt offerings to the elder gods of middle school lunches. It happens to the best of us! (Those of us with kids I think it happens to a bit more)

So now what?!

Well, there are several options to help you get those stubborn crispies off!

It all depends on the severity of the stick, and how well seasoned your pan is. Pans that are extremely well seasoned and see regular use will be the easiest to clean up, by FAR.

I've listed these in order of involvement, from "easy to do during the normal activities of cookin' and cleanup", all the way to "needs a little more elbow grease and thought, along with some cussin'".

Let us begin!

Process #1:

"The good ol' warm pan oil wipe."

What you'll need:

  1. A clean towel
  2. The stove or a heat source
  3. A high smoke point oil like Canola or BuzzyWaxx

This is what I consider to be an "after every use" method.

Get your pan warmed up on the range, if it isn't already. Not hot, just warm! (If you just used it, it probably is still warm!) Using a folded, clean rag wet the pan with a little oil and wipe out the offending particles! Once clean, refold the towel to a clean spot, and get the pan wet with oil or BuzzyWaxx again. It is now clean and ready for it's next use!

If that didn't work, move on to Process #2.

Process #2:

"The steamy sauna"

What you'll need:

  1. Water
  2. A wooden spatula
  3. A way of covering the pan
  4. The stove or a heat source
  5. A high smoke point oil like Canola or BuzzyWaxx

Pour a little water in the pan. Just enough to cover the cooking surface of the skillet. Place the pan on the range and turn up the heat to get the little bit of water to start bubbling and steaming. Now, cover the pan up to trap the steam in there and turn off the burner. Walk away for 5 or 10 minutes! 

Now, after the pan has cooled down to just warm, remove the lid and scrape the offending particles off with your wooden spatula. The steam will have softened everything right up, and it should just glide right off! Now, dry that pan as dry as you can, oil or BuzzyWaxx it, and set it aside for your next use.

If that didn't work, move on to Process #3.

Process #3:

"The salt rub spa exfoliation"

What you'll need:

  1. Salt (rock salt works better than regular table salt)
  2. A towel (paper or cloth, your preference here)
  3. A high smoke point oil like Canola or BuzzyWaxx

Dump a bit of salt in the pan and use it like an abrasive with the towel to scrub away the particles that are stuck on. This is usually the way that gets it for me on the real nasty stuff! The salt is a safe abrasive and offers easy cleanup, as the food tends to get dried up, and rolled into the salt, making sweeping it out into the trash a cinch. After you're all cleaned out, oil or BuzzyWaxx the pan, and set it aside for your next use.

If that didn't work, move on to Process #6.

Process #6:

"I wasn't joking"

What you'll need:

  1. A non-scratch scrubbing pad
  2. Water
  3. A towel
  4. Another towel (I'm serious)
  5. The oven
  6. A high smoke point oil like Canola or BuzzyWaxx

I think this method speaks for itself. Get after it with water and scrubber. I don't like this method, as I tend to go ham and end up damaging the seasoning I've worked so hard to get built up! I prefer lesser methods if at all possible! However, sometimes these things must be done. After you've scrubbed the crud off to a clean pan, (if you've come this far, it may be awhile) you may wanna do a half season. You know, like summer in the PNW. Preheat the pan in a 300 degree oven for 25 mins, oil or buzzywaxx the warm pan, wipe as much back off as you can with another clean towel, and put it in the oven upside down at 500 degress for an hour.

If that didn't work, move on to Process #D.

Process #D:

"You think this is a game?"

What you'll need:

  1. Cooking lessons
  2. Anger management courses
  3. A towel (for sweat, not the pan)
  4. A Milwaukee, Bosch or Makita 4 1/2in angle grinder of at least 10amps capacity. (Not Dewalt, Iron is scared of the color yellow and won't cooperate)
  5. A 120 grit abrasive flap disk
  6. Safety glasses
  7. Gloves
  8. A dust mask/ respirator
  9. Outside
  10. No neighbors
  11. Fully developed vocabulary
  12. An understanding spouse or partner
  13. A high smoke point oil like Canola or BuzzyWaxx
  14. Another towel (this one is for the pan)
  15. Dish soap
  16. Water
  17. A 15 minute break as mandated by the State labor board
  18. Possibly a high electrolyte beverage (it's important to stay hydrated)

Ok. First of all, wow. We are really here. Are you sure you tried the previous methods all the way through? Like, really sure? Because, I mean, wow. Did you forget the chicken in the pan on high overnight, or something?

Alright, after the cooking lessons and anger management classes, its time to don all of your safety gear. Attach the flap disc to the angle grinder and gently buzz away the layers of blackened charred regret, down to bright steel. As soon as you hit steel, don't go any further! Remember your anger management classes! Just breaaaathe (through the dust mask, safety first, people)...

Ok, now that the whole top side of the pan is stripped bare, we will need to clean the entire pan thoroughly with soap and hot water immediately to prevent flash rusting. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees while you ensure that pan is as clean as possible! Now, toss the pan in the oven upside down to dry and come up to temperature. After 30 mins, remove it, give it a coat of buzzywaxx or canola, wipe as much back off as yo--- Don't use that towel! That's the sweat towel! Yuck! Use THE OTHER one! C'mon, pull it together! Yes!

Ok, wipe as much back off as you can, crank that oven to 500, and toss the pan in upside down to cook for an hour.

Repeat that at the very least, 3 times. The coating part, not the grinding. Your pan should be ready for your next homebrew thermonuclear experiments!

If that didn't work, move on to Process #9.

Process #9:

Let's rethink cooking at home

What you'll need:

  1. A local restaurant
  2. Transportation to said restaurant or access to takeout
  3. Uh. I honestly didn't think we'd get this far, or that you'd still be reading.
  4. That's it. 
  5. No, seriously, it's time to revert to eating like a college student.

See? Simple processes to keep your pan healthy, even when the worst happens!

Thanks for reading!

Justin McMurry