Kitchen Science Magic for Easily Cleaning Burnt Food from Pots and Pans

This is a bit of everyday science-based kitchen magic. Junskitchen is a Youtube channel primarily focused upon cooking and his cats. However, here is a video where he shows how to easily clean burnt on food from pots and pans. You put baking soda into the pot or pan with burnt on food and then boil it. You can then dump out the burnt food with the dirty water. He strains the large solid burnt bits out.

Japanese culture is to obsessively perfect a particular technique or food dish. This is why Tokyo has more Michelin Star restaurants than Paris, New York and London combined. They have US$11 noodle ramen or Udon dishes in Japan that are mind-blowingly good.

This search for perfection thus has more steps where he cleans off the bottom of the pots and pans. Then he polishes them so they are like new or better than new.

On the outside of the pan, he uses a cream cleanser with calcium carbonate. See a little chemistry. Chemistry is science. Waterproof sandpaper is used for the difficult parts. He uses a stainless steel polisher to make it shiny.

He finally rinses it well to make it is safe for cooking.

The pot metal is like a mirror at the end. As I was saying, Japanese culture has an everyday quest for perfection.

Junskitchen achieved fame with its original knife cleaning and sharpening video. This is amazing to see but I do not bother to learn from it. The pots and pans cleaning is something that I will do perhaps once a month.

33 thoughts on “Kitchen Science Magic for Easily Cleaning Burnt Food from Pots and Pans”

  1. So, your explanation is in line with the Quora explanation (congrats), but it is misleading to state that baking soda in water *makes* sodium hydroxide because it makes OH ions in the presence of Na ions. There are Na, carbonate, and OH ions present; that is not the same thing as dissolved sodium hydroxide. Table spoon of baking soda in a cup of water gives PH of 9 – it doesn’t hurt my hands. PH of table spoon of lye in a glass of water will push PH towards 14 – and it sucks oil out of my hands. If you dissolved NaOH in water and then bubble CO2 in the water (or otherwise dissolved a lot of CO2 in the water), then you’ll gradually react the NaOH and make sodium carbonate. In the end, there would be no more NaOH and only sodium carbonate. See the difference I am getting at?

  2. One I learned from my late sister, a chef: When making stock, you can throw in the carrot peels and tops, onion skins along with the root, the base of the celery thin sliced, the bottoms of the garlic cloves. All the bits you wouldn’t want to put in your food. They’ll still flavor your stock before you filter it.

    And then you’ve got the veggies already prepped for the soup you make with the stock!

  3. When I bought my current house, it had been a rental, and the last tenants were slobs. They had hastily moved out in April, and I closed in October. Needless to say the kitchen was a disaster area. Various solutions of baking soda and vinegar in warm water did most of the clean-up.

    On the plus side, I got the house way below market value. My cost was several days of hard work cleaning, some inexpensive supplies, and renting a dumpster for all the junk they left behind in the basement.

  4. I’ll try the baking soda bit next time I screwup but I’m not doing to take sandpaper to my pots and pans. Note, one trick to clean a stainless steel pot if it looks dull is to put some vinegar in water and boil it in the pot. After that just wipe the crud right off.

  5. And lye is not baking soda. 

    I’m merely saying that in solution, NaHCO₃ — sodium bicarbonate — in the presence of catalysts, weak acids, proteins, and heavy metals, and heat… has an increased propensity to lose gaseous CO₂; in so doing, the equilibrium is shifted toward the OH (high pH causing) ion. The rest of what I said, stands. 

    Use some pH strips (or a $9.95 Amazon pH meter) to measure the pH of a baking-soda paste solution. You’ll be surprised. Heat it on the stove, and let it simmer for an hour. Measure the pH again. What? It goes UP? How about that. 


  6. Had a college roommate nuke a bag of popcorn for 30 minutes instead of 3 minutes setting off the fire alarm at 3 in the morning. Not the most convenient way to make a charcoal briquet.

  7. Seems OK to me. I was noticing the freezing, too. Perhaps you’ve got it.

    HOWEVER … I also am noticing that mere text entry is doggy-slow now (in this very comment box). Not sure how much network-interaction the automatic spell checker requires, but it too could be a victim of your servers’ still being brute-force hacked.

    Yours, GoatGuy

  8. ⊕1… I’ve been there, bit my tongue, sighed after they left, seasoned anew. Turns out that you can “emergency re-season” pretty easily with a 50:50 mixture of canola and boiled linseed oil. Apply thinly. Put in 175° oven overnight. Then in +50° steps over 8 hours, raise temp to 475° F. One heck of a tough coating. Doesn’t last terribly long, but does its business while the food-and-constant-use deposits build up. I read about it in the 1970s when I got a sexy-new-tool, the Chinese wok from Chinatown. Naked iron. Needing seasoning. 


  9. Mmmm… I think you’re selectively forgetting that solutions of 

    Na+ + CO₃– + OH- + HCO₃- + CO₂⋅H₂O are in equilibrium. 

    And such solutions, pushed ever so slightly by catalysis, pH gradients, anion consumption and heavy ions can ‘decide’ to favor liberating the CO₂ as a gas, driving the net solution toward high pH, OH- dominated conditions. 

    just saying,

  10. There was a brute force hacking attack ongoing on my Wp-login. The IP has been blocked. Has the freezing of webpages gone away?

  11. Ex (also a Nuke E.) microwaved a frozen loaf of bread for 20+ minutes; guess she thought she was baking it. The process proceeds not unlike coal gasification, but first the microwave must render the complex carbohydrates of the bread into coal, then coke and syngas. It was paint the walls bad.

  12. I find leaving the black on the bottom of my stainless steel cookware actually improves its functionality, at least with my glass cook top. It absorbs the heat better.

    The worst kitchen fail I had was making some shrimp stock in an old porcelain lined pot, and got called away and forgot it. It boiled dry, and actually fused the contaminants to the porcelain. That one just had to be thrown out, there was no cleaning it short of re-manufacture.

  13. ” You just don’t want to remove the last coking with any kind of sandpaper and follow-up polish.”

    Reminds me of the time I broke my leg, and couldn’t return home for weeks. My friends kindly went over to my house and cleaned up, and left all that nasty black cast iron cookware to soak in the sink.

    When I finally did get home, it took remarkable self control to thank them for their thoughtfulness. Then months to get everything properly seasoned again.

  14. It is not happening to me. But I will check server logs and see if I need to restart PHP or something else. There is no PHP or server issues right now. Checking other possibilities. I will be engaging some more developer resources to further boost performance, prevent problems etc… I had paid a few thousand on that work and other changes to increase performance before, but I think another round of that is needed as traffic has increased.

  15. That’s a bit of a problem, then, in as much as chromium is also a vital micro-nutrient.

    There are a number of elements, selenium, for instance, which are nutritionally vital nutrients at low concentrations, AND toxic at higher concentrations.

    The amount of chromium that you’d get in your diet from cooking in recently cleaned stainless steel pots would not even be enough to satisfy your dietary requirements.

  16. Off topic.
    Is anyone else having NBF webpages freeze so you can’t scroll up & down?
    I’m not getting this with other websites.

  17. Thanks for the more complete picture of different metal materials that commonly in kitchens. BTW I was thinking about scheduling another open live forum. When to do it. I could announce in a post for this Friday at sometime and then again for one or two days next week. Do we want one on the weekend? Which days next week. Would Friday be good this week. Or do we want thursday or even today?

    I could even fire one up now if there is interest

  18. Ahem… [Goat-the-actual-chemist clears his throat₀…

    On stainless steel, baking soda — NaHCO₃ or sodium bicarbonate decomposes to NaOH and gaseous CO₂, to some degree. The very high pH is what breaks down the burned-on layer. If the stuff is oily, NaOH saponifies (“turns into soap”) it, producing an in-situ surfactant. If it is coked carbohydrate (sugars, starches, proteins), then the high pH is only partially effective. Most of the drek will come out, but there’ll still be a stubborn coked-on layer of highly degraded hydrocarbons attached to the steel.  

    Hence, why the author resorts to fine sandpaper and follow-up stainless steel polishing paste (which in reality is a very fine cerium oxide abrasive).  It works. Don’t worry about creating a chromium leeching problem.  

    On regular iron, (“black pans”), the same works. You just don’t want to remove the last coking with any kind of sandpaper and follow-up polish. Straight iron pans owe their remarkable non-stick coating to exactly the same thin-layer of coked carbon. Leave it be!

    On aluminum, do NOT use baking soda. It will etch through the aluminum surface and substantially degrade it as cookware. At the very least, it almost always causes discoloration. At the worst, etching. Pitting. Not good. Highly anodized pots tho’ seem impervious. 

    On copper if it is stainless clad, just see above. It is old-fashioned ‘tinned‘, then use vinegar soaking first. Only use baking soda as last resort.  


  19. Thanks for the tips. What are some other tips that most people do not know but should know to make their lives in the kitchen better? Any top two or three points? Thanks

  20. the polishing and stuff is on the outside. The inside is only the char removal and that is only after a major burning of food.

  21. Obviously many people screw up. It can happen once a year for some, twice a year or once every three years. Then people do not know how to clean it right and end up getting a new pot or pan once every year or three years. Or they live with the outside armored carmelization. Most people are just getting by with being able to cook for lunch or dinner. Being able to recover a pot or pan is an improvement. The Japanese may have a quest for everyday perfection but even most of them fail. More people elsewhere are just getting by.

  22. I’m Sicilian, and I was started on gourmet cooking when I was a small child. People don’t know about deglazing. I saw a friend destroy a $250.00 stainless electric fryer because he didn’t know how to clean it. He cooked fried chicken in it, and when he couldn’t get the crust off, he began scrapping it with a metal spatula, and then, in the garbage it went. Any pan with solids in the bottom can easily be cleaned by deglazing. While the pan is still under heat, you add water and let it sit. For tough jobs, use wine, or even white vinegar. White vinegar works best for thick coated burnt-on inside pans. It is also believed that it tempers and seals Teflon pans. As for the armor-plated carmelization on the outside; simply set the pan upside down on a sheet of cardboard and spray on some oven cleaner. Let it stand for an hour or two and rinse off. BTW, the best way to never have to deal with the armored carmalization on the outside rim is to never allow it to build up. Clean the outside after each use and you’ll never have to deal with it…

  23. How long does it take the oxide layer to form? It’s a few hours, then you’re fine if you don’t cook with the pan right after cleaning it.

  24. Thank you NextBigFuture for sharing this! I’ve actually thrown pots out before because I thought they were irreparably ruined by burnt char on the bottom.

  25. Ok. let me tell you about stainless steel. It contains chromium which results a thin oxide layer on the steel’s surface. That protects the item from corrosion.
    What these guys do is constantly removing this oxide layer. Not a great idea because if chromium solves into food that causes problem due to it is highly carcinogen. So washing with regular diswasher method is ok. Peeling not so.

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