Tips for Maintaining Your Pots and Pans

Let’s be real for a moment – who thinks a lot about their pots and pans? If you’re like most home cooks, you may have a few favorites that you use all the time, and the rest stay inside the cupboard or hanging on the pot rack only to be used during special occasions when you’re doing lots of cooking. But whether you prefer your favorites because of their size, color, quality, or even sentimental value – they won’t last for as long as you wish if you don’t take care of them.

Kitchen essentials, like most of the other stuff in the house, need some care and maintenance to keep them functioning at their best for years to come. Even the most high-quality, heavy-duty pots and pans still require some maintenance.

Here are some tips for maintaining your pots and pans:

Don’t treat them the same – consider the material when using and cleaning them.

Every type of cookware is different, and each has its own pros and cons. To take care of each pot and pan properly, know what you are working with! To be sure, you must read the label or the box that your pots and pans came with and check the maintenance instructions. For instance, if the cookware isn’t designed to be dishwasher-friendly, using the dishwasher to clean it can damage the quality of the pot or pan.

Know what your cookware is made of to use them correctly when cooking, care for them properly, and clean them the right way. Here are the most common materials used to build cookware:

1. Stainless steel

Stainless steel is a lightweight material that’s available at various price points and is designed to heat up quickly. The downside is that it can be prone to discoloration and burn marks, which is a shame because they tend to be so shiny when they’re brand new. Also, scorched tomato sauce can be a pain to scrub off and ruin its mirror-shiny finish.

For everyday cleaning, a sturdy sponge can be enough for cleaning it up. When there are stuck-on messes, try filling the pan with water and a tablespoon of white vinegar. Bring it to a simmer and let cool. Allow the mixture to soften the remaining gunk so it can be scrubbed away easily. For spills in the exterior, use a non-scratch scrubber instead of steel wool.  

For most pots and pans, it’s not recommended to toss them out in a dishwasher because some dishwasher detergents can damage cookware finishes. But most stainless steel cookware is dishwasher-safe, but always check the label before tossing it in.

2. Non-stick finishes

Coated pots and pans are the Rolls Royce of non-stick cookware. Teflon is out since it can be dangerous when used at high heat. Many non-stick finishes are available in the market (enamel, ceramic, porcelain, etc.), but ceramic-coated options are quickly gaining popularity because of their increased heat tolerance. The construction of these types of cookware is effective at preventing food from sticking.

When cleaning non-stick pots and pans, you must be gentler as their coating can scratch and chip. Don’t use steel wool to clean them. Soaking them in soapy water to help soften the gunk is better than trying to scrub it with a harsh pad. One of the most important rules of thumb with non-stick pots and pans is to never stack them together after cleaning. The bottoms of other pans and cookware can cause surface scratches that seem to appear out of nowhere.

When treating any stuck-on food, use coarse salt and paper towel or baking soda and a sponge to scrub on the surface to remove any debris gently.

Also, don’t use them for storing food. After cooking, transfer the food to another container after it has cooled up a bit, as the coating can soak up some flavor. If the food is left on for too long, everything else you cook on it may taste like that one potent spice.

3. Cast iron

Cast iron is a naturally stick-resistant material that has a heavy-duty construction that lasts a lifetime. It comes with a baked-on layer of oil that has bonded to the surface of the metal that gives the cookware its non-stick properties and provides extra flavor to the food. It’s a unique material that needs a different kind of usage and maintenance.

Before using a cast iron pot for the first time, it needs to be seasoned. To do this, heat the pot slightly and wash it thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Dry it well and heat again with a little oil over high heat until it smokes. Keep it at a hot temperature for a few minutes, then tilt the pan, so the oil runs and fully coats the bottom of the pot. Let it cool, then wipe away any excess oils using a paper towel. This step is essential so your food won’t stick to the pan or burn easily. Re-seasoning it can help prevent rusting and preserve its non-stick properties.

Wash and dry thoroughly, season it regularly, and keep a lookout for any rusty spots. Don’t let it soak in the sink because it may rust. If you need help removing cooked-on food, only soak the internal surface. Try to minimize the time it takes from when you start cleaning it to when you dry and re-season the pan.

4. Copper

Copper is an excellent conductor of heat, but it can leave a metallic taste to highly acidic foods. It also needs constant polishing to keep its golden-red color. If your copper cookware starts to discolor, make a paste out of white vinegar and coarse salt, then rub the mixture onto the copper with a sponge.

5. Aluminum

Aluminum is a reactive material – meaning it conducts heat really well. Avoid using it for cooking acidic foods as much as possible. Hand washes it with some hot, soapy water and a non-abrasive cleaning pad.

If aluminum cookware gets stained, boil apple peels in the water and let it simmer for about 30 minutes. The acid from the peels can help break down any stains and discoloration and restore its original finish.

Reduce cooking temperature.

Your pots and pans may handle cooking on super high heat, but it can still cause a problem for any non-stick coating in the long run. It’s recommended not to go above the temperature instructed by the manufacturer. This will help preserve the coating of your pots and pans and reduce the chances of having burnt food that will be hard to remove later.

Use the proper cooking utensils.

While you can use metal ladles, tongs, and spatulas on stainless steel, you must not use them on non-stick surfaces. Wooden spoons or soft silicone spatulas are better because they won’t scratch or damage the non-stick coating.

Treat burned-on stains as it happens.

All home cooks have been there: in the middle of cooking, something comes up, or there’s something you’d like to do while your food is cooking. You step away from the stove for a moment, but when you return, the food is all scorched up as well as your pan. Don’t just dump the food and start cooking again using another pan. Treat the burnt cookware first then and there if you still want to use it. Soaking it must be your first line of defense. If you delay taking care of your burnt cookware, the caked-on food and burnt spots can be harder to remove.

Dry and store with care.

After washing your pots and pans, make sure they are completely dry before hanging or stacking them up to avoid rust. And if you do stack them, try to do it by type so that the heavier pans won’t scratch your more delicate, non-stick pans. You may want to layer them with a cloth or paper towel in between it prevents scratches, chips, and noisy clanging. Better yet, invest in an organizer for your pots, pans, and lids to keep your cupboard a lot neater.