“Do you think you can clean this pan?” Sue asked, handing me a 12-inch Cuisinart frying pan that we’ve had for a long time.
Can I clean this pan? I’m a man. Men like projects because projects require project management.
The pan was caked on the bottom with what appeared to be a carbon buildup. “Carbon” because carbon sounded industrial and it sounded black. Carbon sounded like the sort of thing that would be baked into a pan, especially the bottom of a pan.
If carbon could talk it would talk about scampi, scallops, chicken piccata, chicken Dijonnaise, sautéed mushrooms and tortilla española. It would talk about pork chops, if it had ever had cooked pork chops, which it hadn’t, so it would talk about pork chops aspirationally and with great longing.
“I like this pan,” Sue said. “I don’t want to throw it away.”
I knew what she meant. As musician Andrew Duhon says, “They don’t make them like they used to,” but if they did, and you already have a good frying pan, why would you want to toss it in the trash?
The first thing I did was type in “how to clean the bottom on my pots and pans” on YouTube. Project managers are not afraid to use YouTube. They are unabashed about seeking the expert and the seminal YouTube instructional video.
A beautiful young woman named Melissa Maker had a series of videos called Clean my Space. The one on cleaning pots and pans had 1,980,153 views, which meant a lot of people were struggling with carbon buildup.
I was impressed by the way she pronounced the word “pro-cess” rather than “prah-cess.” This marked her as a serious woman and an expert.
She suggested four different ways of addressing the carbon problem: baking soda, ketchup, Bar Keepers Friend, (which I learned had been around since 1882), and cream of tartar. In her trials, ketchup was a bust, cream of tartar a semi-disappointment and baking soda finished second to Bar Keepers Friend, which proved to be the clear winner and the possible miracle cleanser that I have been looking for all of my life.
I bought a canister of Bar Keepers Friend, applied it liberally both to the inside and outside of the pan and then made it into a paste that I was pretty proud of.
Then, I let it sit. Letting it sit is like lighting the barbecue when you’re grilling steaks: Now it’s time to pour yourself a glass of wine and wait for things to mature.
Twenty minutes later, after letting the pan know there was a new cleaning sheriff in town, I attacked the pan with a new Scrub Daddy.
The inside of the pan was a relative piece of cake, an unburned and uncarbon like piece of cake, but the bottom of the pan with the impressive carbon buildup was another story.
“Another story” called for another approach, another tool and a another level of effort. Watch out, pan, I’d like you to meet some very good friends of mine: Mr. Ice Pick, Mr. Screwdriver, Mr Flat Razor and Mr. Paint Scraper.
Every day for a week, I went outside to the pan, which I had put on the wrought-iron table in the backyard, and applied more Bar Keepers Friend. I removed layer after layer of carbon buildup. It was like uncovering rings on an old redwood tree that went back to the Bible.
It rained on the pan, I sprayed the pan with hose water and the nights dewed on the pan. It became a contest of wills and if I could talk, and I can talk, and so I did talk, I said, “Pan, I’m not going to give up. You have met your carbon-like match.”
“I need the pan,” Sue said a few days ago.
Wait. The pan is not done. The match has not been met. With time, I can scrape off every layer of that carbon buildup. Don’t you understand project management?
I returned the pan to the kitchen but I learned something. Cleaning miracles are in short supply. Even with YouTube and all the friends in the world.