Although it's best to avoid them, distractions can and do happen when you're cooking, and you may find yourself returning to the stove only to find blackened food fused to the bottom of your favorite pan. Removing burned-on food is never fun, but the task is particularly arduous if you've burned sugar. There are ways to remove the mess, but you may need to try more than one cleaning method until you find the best fit for the specific blend of sugar you burned.
Pan Cleaning Hacks
No matter what cleaning method you ultimately settle on, the first step to saving your pot is to scrape away as much of the food debris as possible. If you need to remove burnt sugar from a glass pan, you may get away with using a scouring pad or metal utensil to get rid of some gunk. Nonstick pans require a softer touch, however. Use only rubber or plastic utensils to scrape nonstick pans or you risk scratching the nonstick coating and ruining the cookware.
Let it Soak
If you've glued sugar to the bottom of a pan, you're likely beyond simply soaking it in soapy water overnight. Don't rule out soaking completely, though. Instead, try coating the bottom of the pan with a thick layer of ketchup and letting it sit overnight. The acid in the ketchup will start eating away at the burnt sugar and make it easier to clean.
Out of ketchup? This method also works with Coca-Cola and fabric softener. You can pour the soda directly into the pan and allow it to soak.
To use fabric softener, boil a little water in the scorched pan. Turn the stove off and drop a dryer sheet or tablespoon of liquid fabric softener into the water and let it sit overnight.
Hair of the Dog
After you've burnt food, heating it some more probably doesn't sound like a good idea, but it may be just what the kitchen doctor ordered. Sprinkle some baking soda in the bottom of the pan and then add enough water to cover the scorched food. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer it for 15 to 30 minutes to loosen the burnt sugar.
In place of the baking soda, you can also try two or three cut-up lemons or salt. Boiling and simmering hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar also works well. Whatever you choose, reheating the burnt sugar will smell unpleasant, so turn on your kitchen exhaust fan or open a window.
The Double Team
If you're still having trouble trying to clean burnt sugar off a pan, it's time for the cleaning double whammy. Pour a cup of water into the pot and add two tablespoons of baking soda. Bring the mixture to a boil, turn off your stove and place the pot of boiling water in your sink.
While the water is still hot, pour a cup of white vinegar into the pan. The vinegar and baking soda will react with each other to create a lot of bubbles and fizz. Wait until this fizzing dies down and then scrape away more of the burnt sugar with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Repeat this procedure as needed until the burnt mess is gone and you can wash your pan as you normally would.
Don't Reach for the Magic
Although they work wonders for many difficult cleaning tasks, avoid using a Magic Eraser on your nonstick cookware. Although these special sponges feel soft to the touch, they can scratch nonstick coatings. Scratches in these coatings make food more likely to stick to your pans and can result in you ingesting the chemicals that make up the coating.