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How to Clean Your Stainless Steel Pans, According to a Professional Chef

Sometimes dish soap just won't do it.

stainless
Henry Phillips

It's called stainless not stainfree. Cooks — both amateur and pros — buy stainless steel pans for their ability to reach hell-level heat, without needing to worry about seasoning and cleanup. While that ripping-hot pan is great for getting a delicious crust on your food, it's also what gets your pan into trouble when the dishes need doing. Your stainless steel pan is bound to get stained, but no stain is impervious to some elbow grease and a couple under-the-sink essentials you already have (or can have in the next couple hours). We asked "Top Chef" season 16 winner, Kelsey Barnard Clark, how she keeps her stainless steel cookware clean after constant use and abuse. From everyday maintenance to getting rid of those stuck-on bits you've just learned to live with, here's how to clean your stainless steel pans so they'll always be good as new.

For everyday cleaning and regular messes

So you finished cooking a meal in your stainless steel pan. You're left with a bit of oil and stuck-on bits — what's a cook to do? The answer is to start cleaning before you start digging in. "I can't stress enough that it is always ideal to clean dishes right after using," Clark says. "I know it's tempting to let them sit until the next morning, but fresh is best in every circumstance."

stainless
Henry Phillips

And while the dishwasher may feel like an easy way out, you're better off washing by hand. Clark definitely does. "In my house we only use our dishwasher after dinner parties, or as a drying rack," she says. A lot of stainless steel cookware claims to be dishwasher safe, but washing by hand prevents a lot of the risk that you face when looking to the dishwasher as a quick solution. The mix of abrasive detergents and humid environment can corrode the metal.

Start by taking a paper towel to absorb all the excess grease. It'll cut down on how much oil you end up just rubbing all over your pan while you clean, and it'll also reduce the likelihood of developing a fatberg or clogging the sink. Scrape up all the bits and toss them in the trash, and then you're good to start cleaning. The best way to clean a stainless steel pan after it's just been used is to make sure it's still hot (or warm enough so you can touch it) while you clean. Add hot water to dislodge any stuck scraps, but avoid shocking your hot pan with cold water, which can cause your cookware to warp.

Hot, soapy water is the way to go, Clark says. She insists on only using a soft sponge, avoiding anything rough like an abrasive Brillo pad. Then comes Clark's secret for maintaining the longevity of her stainless steel cookware. "To keep them shining and like-new, I love using Bar Keepers Friend after cleaning — nothing beats it!" she says.

For tough-to-scrub messes

So maybe you waited too long to start cleaning, and those burnt-on bits seem to have permanently made their home in your pan. If elbow grease and all the soap in the world won't do it, Clark's recipe for clean might do the trick.

"For tough to scrub messes, I always combine roughly four cups of hot water, one tablespoon of Dawn soap and 1 tablespoon of baking soda," Clark says. "Let it come to a boil, then simmer in your pan for about 30 minutes. This typically lifts those really stuck on spots best."

After it's cool enough to handle, go to town on your pan like you normally would. Hot water, soap and a soft sponge is the perfect trifecta when you need to clean your cookware and some stubborn stains won't change that.

For white, chalky residue

After you've cleaned your pan (thoroughly, and following these directions no less!), you may notice your pan still looks a bit off. The surface of your pan may have a strange cloudy-looking substance that forms, and it's all because of your tap water. Hard water, which contains heavy amounts of calcium, are the result of your chalk residue and the cleanup is even more simple than cleaning stuck-on food bits.

Fill your pan with one part vinegar to three parts water, and let it come to a boil before resting it off heat and letting it cool. Wash the pan as usual, then dry with a clean towel to prevent more hard water stains from forming.

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