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Dealing with an Unsightly Mess After Cooking? Learn How to Clean a Wok with Burnt Food

A few months ago, I decided to add a wok to my kitchen. I love it because the round bottom and high walls allow me to cook my food evenly and in less amount of time. The best part is that I can cook just about anything in this cookware, from vegetables to pork. I have even started making popcorn in this cookware because I prefer stovetop popcorn for movie nights.

However, burnt food happens to everyone, and this includes me. Unfortunately, this wok of shame also means the burnt food gets stuck to my cookware and causes an unsightly mess.

I enjoy using steel cookware, so I knew I needed to be picky about cleaning it. This meant doing a little research to find the best way to remove the burnt food without damaging the surface.

The result of my research is a clean steel wok and a guide to help others clean their cookware.

Once I decide to put together a guide, I take my time to research websites, forums, blogs and videos to ensure my information is always accurate. Of course, I am using my experience in cleaning my own cookware for my guide as well.

As you read through my guide on how to clean a wok with burnt food, you can learn:

  • The three types of woks
  • Various methods for cleaning the various surfaces
  • How to keep from burning food in your cookware

Did you know this cookware has been around for centuries? According to the School of Wok,

The wok is believed to have first been invented in China, over 2000 years ago during the Han dynasty.

You can learn more about this amazing cookware and how to clean it by checking out my guide.

Table of Contents

  1. 1. Carbon Steel →
  2. 1.1. Soaking It in Water →
  3. 1.2. Soap and Water →
  4. 1.3. Heating the Oil in the Cookware to Clean It →
  5. 1.4. Using Coarse Salt →
  6. 1.5. Using Steel Wool →
  7. 1.6. Using Cream of Tartar →
  8. 1.7. Using Wine →
  9. 1.8. Using Onion →
  10. 1.9. Burn the Burnt Food Even More →
  11. 2. Cast Iron →
  12. 2.1. Using Baking Soda →
  13. 2.2. Using Washing Powder →
  14. 2.3. Scrubbing It with a Credit Card →
  15. 2.4. Using Dishwasher Tablets →
  16. 2.5. Heating Water in the Cookware on a Stove →
  17. 3. Stainless Steel →
  18. 3.1. Using White Vinegar →
  19. 3.2. Using White Vinegar and Baking Soda →
  20. 3.3. Using Steel Wool →
  21. 4. How to Prevent Burning Food in Your Wok →
  22. 5. Useful Resources →

Burned Food While Cooking? Learn How to Clean a Wok with Burnt Food

When learning how to clean a wok with burnt food, it is best to learn the different surfaces to ensure you choose the right method for your cookware. The three types are carbon steel, cast iron and stainless steel.

It should be noted that some methods can be used for more than one type of surface.

In addition to burnt food, you also want to learn how to clean a rusty wok. You can find my guide on this topic by clicking here.

Carbon Steel

Carbon steel is considered to be the most popular material for woks, so I feel it would be best to start with this type of cookware.

Soaking It in Water

Soaking your cookware in boiling water can loosen the food particles.

You are going to soak the cookware for several minutes before rinsing it off. Use a gentle scrubber to remove the particles that are still on the surface.

Rinse the particles off using warm water, and repeat the scrubbing and rinsing process until the food has been removed.

Soaking in the Water

Soap and Water

There are times when the burnt food leaves a black layer on your cookware. In this case, you can use a scrub brush, dish detergent, hot water and a little elbow grease to remove that black layer.

Heating the Oil in the Cookware to Clean It

You can also use vegetable oil and heat to both clean and season your cookware. Your safety comes first, so be sure to turn the stove off once it reaches a smoking point in each step.

Start by heating the burnt food on your cookware until it reaches a smoking point. Next, use plain water and a sponge to wash your cookware.

Dry your cookware with a cloth, and reheat it to a smoking point. Use a paper towel to add two tablespoons of vegetable oil to the cookware.

Finally, wipe the excess vegetable oil, and reheat the cookware to a smoking point.

Heating the Oil in a Wok
Additionally, it never hurts to learn more about wok oil because you are also going to use it to season your cookware.

Using Coarse Salt

Coarse salt can also be used to remove burnt food from carbon steel cookware. The first thing you are going to do is gently scrape as much of the food off the surface as possible.

Place your cookware over medium-high heat. Coat the surface with several teaspoons of a high-heat or stir-fry oil.

Once the oil starts to boil, add the same amount of coarse salt to your cookware.

Use a wok spatula or a pair of tongs and a folded paper towel to scrub the salt over the burnt food. The salt scrub releases or removes the burnt food from the surface.

Using Steel Wool

Another idea is to use steel wool to remove the food particles from your cookware.

Steel Wool

You may unintentionally remove some of the patina while cleaning the cookware with steel wool, so you need to re-season the surface after cleaning it. This way, you can recover the non-stick surface of this cookware.

Using Cream of Tartar

Believe it or not, you can actually use cream of tartar to remove the burnt food from your cookware.

All you need to do is boil water and two spoons of cream of tartar in your cookware. You want to let the mixture boil and then cool down.

Once the cookware has cooled, you can gently scrub it with dish detergent. Repeat the previous steps until all the food particles have been removed.

Using Wine

You can also clean the burnt food from your cookware by soaking it in wine for a while. Rinse and clean the cookware, and the food particles should be removed from the surface.

Using Onion

You may not believe this, but you can use food to remove the burnt food from the surface. For example, you can use onion skins to remove the food particles.

Start by adding some onion skins and water to your cookware, and place it over a high flame for no less than thirty minutes. Next, use dish detergent to gently scrub off the excess food.


Burn the Burnt Food Even More

Another option is to burn away the burnt food. It can be a time-consuming method, but this method does make the food particles easier to remove.

All you need to do is place your cookware over high heat until the burnt food is gone. You may need to rotate and tilt the cookware to burn all the food away.

This method may produce a lot of smoke, so I would recommend only trying this method on an outdoor wok.

There are several ingredients that can be used to clean and restore your burnt cookware. In this video, Dan Seto cleans and restores his cookware using cooking oil, salt and heat.

It is important to stay safe when cooking, and you can find my guide on how hot a stove top gets by clicking here.

Cast Iron

When learning how to clean a wok with burnt food, you need to take the material of your cookware into consideration. I want to share several methods for cleaning a cast iron surface, which is also known as a non-stick surface.

Using Baking Soda

If you want to clean your cookware with a natural ingredient, look no further than baking soda. While this method may take more time than others, you can rest assured that it does not damage your cast iron surface.

Start by boiling room-temperature water and several tablespoons of baking soda in your cookware over high heat. Once the mixture boils, you can turn off the heat and let it soak for several hours.

Finally, use a sponge to scrub the residue. If you own one, you can also use a wok brush as an alternative to a sponge.

Cleaning a Wok Using Baking Soda

Using Washing Powder

You can use washing powder, which is also known as detergent, to easily remove the burnt food particles from your non-stick surface. The instructions are similar to cleaning the cookware with baking soda.

Boil room-temperature water and washing powder in your cookware. Turn off the heat and let the mixture soak for several hours.

Use the abrasive or rough side of your scrubber and a little elbow grease to remove the burnt particles from the surface.

Scrubbing It with a Credit Card

If you are worried about damaging the surface, an old plastic credit card is a great alternative to a metal scrubber. All you need to do is use hot water and a credit card to loosen and remove the food particles.

I found this tip on the Wok Owner website. To quote this website,

The best scrubber I found is a used plastic credit card. I first put hot water in the wok then scrub the wok with a credit card. The card is flexible enough to contour to the sides of the wok and to remove any stuck-on food.

Using Dishwasher Tablets

You can try this method if you have a dishwasher, or you can simply buy dishwasher tablets just to try this cleaning method.

Start by boiling the dishwasher tablet in your cookware for up to 10 minutes before turning off the heat. Next, let the solution soak for several hours.

After a few hours, use a scrubber to remove the burnt food from the surface. Finally, wash and dry your cookware.

Heating Water in the Cookware on a Stove

A simple method is to heat water in the cookware on your stove. Start by using a hard plastic scraper or spatula to remove as many food particles as possible.

Fill the cookware with water until it covers the burnt areas. Then, boil the water and let it simmer for about five minutes.

Use your scraper or spatula to remove the remaining particles. Rinse out your cookware, and repeat the process as needed.

You can easily clean the burnt food off your cookware in just five minutes — Wok with Tak shows you how to remove the particles with hot water and your spatula in this video.

Remember, some of these methods can be used for more than one type of surface.

Some cookware and appliances work better together than others, so you want to do your research before buying new cookware for your kitchen. For example, you want to take your time to find the best wok for a glass top stove.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is another popular surface in many kitchens, and you can use the following methods to clean the burnt food off your stainless-steel cookware.

Using White Vinegar

You can remove burnt food by boiling 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of white vinegar in your cookware. Once the mixture starts to boil, turn off the heat and remove the cookware.

Use a sponge to scrub the surface of your cookware. The best part of this method is that you do not have to use a lot of elbow grease to remove the particles.

Cleaning a Wok Using White Vinegar

Using White Vinegar and Baking Soda

For this method, you are going to boil one cup of water and one cup of white vinegar in your cookware on high. Once it boils, you want to let the mixture bubble for about 30 seconds.

Turn off the stove and slowly add two tablespoons of baking soda. You need to add it slowly because the mixture will foam up.

Let the mixture sit for several minutes before moving your cookware to the sink. Add a little more baking soda to the mixture, and scrub away the food particles with a scouring pad.

Using Steel Wool

You can also use steel wool to remove the burnt food from this type of cookware. Remember to re-season your cookware to restore the patina that may be unintentionally removed during the scrubbing process.

In this video, StatUpBox shares four easy steps for cleaning and seasoning your cookware. You may recognize the steps in other methods of using salt to remove food particles.

How to Prevent Burning Food in Your Wok

My guide has featured many tips on how to clean a wok with burnt food, but it also helps to prevent the food from burning in the first place.

I have found that temperature control is the best method of preventing burnt food. It is no secret that food burns when the temperature is too high or on for too long, and this ruins your meal and causes it to stick to your cookware.

However, this also means not adding food that is too hot or too cold to your cookware because this can cause the food to burn and stick.

My source of this prevention tip is a great website by the name of Kitchen Ambition. To quote Kitchen Ambition,

The main thing that will help you keep food from sticking and burning to your wok is temperature control.

Are you looking for solutions to other cleaning problems? In this article, I share several methods for cleaning the Rock Reversible Grill.

Useful Resources

Choose Your Method of Removing Burnt Food

When it comes to tips on how to clean a wok with burnt food, you can find a range of methods. The methods range from using common household products to scraping off the particles with a credit card.

It is always best to double-check a method to ensure it is safe for your cookware. Luckily, the wide selection makes it easy to find a solution that removes that unsightly mess from your cookware.

Cindy Becker

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