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I like cooking soups, however often as not the lentils or oats stick to the bottom of the pot and start to burn. I like cooking my soups over several hours in a large pot.

How can I avoid this?

10 Answers 10

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Cook on a lower heat, in a pan with a thicker base, to distribute the heat. Check every now and again, and add water if the soup has become too thick. Also, the occasional stir can only help.

Consider buying a slow cooker -- there are very cheap models that do the job well.

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    Heavy-bottomed pots is the way to go. – citizen Oct 20 '12 at 2:05
  • A little oil coat on bottom can help some if your pan has scratches or sticky spots. If you can remember where they are, always turn them away from the parts of the pot that get hottest. -Look at boiling pattern to find those. – Wayfaring Stranger Jan 26 at 3:15
  • I'll go beyond stir, if I can feel heavy stuff staring to stick to bottom. A thorough scrape with a large spin will often save things. If things are too stuck, I'll simply pour the soup into a similar clean pot, turn the heat down a bit, and scrub the old pot. – Wayfaring Stranger Jan 26 at 3:19
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I wondered if this had been addressed in this forum.

I used to cook for hotel service for guests of 30-50 a night. Because we had so many courses to cook during the day, it was good to start the soup and leave it while we could focus on more intricate dishes.

The soup pot was enormous, about 2+ feet in diameter, and about 3 feet deep. The solution? We put clean silverware at the bottom of the pot. A few butter-knives will do the trick. EDIT: spoons or forks really should be used. Knives won't dissipate the heat like the others as well.

Now, this is a limited warranty; if you are cranking the heat, scorching is going to happen. But at normal simmering, to even somewhat higher, reducing temps this will do the trick.

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    I'm so curious... what would make this work? Does it have to be a particular type of cutlery? "Real" silver? Stainless Steel? – elbrant Jan 26 at 2:46
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    I suppose it mimics a heavy bottomed pot. The pots we used to use were very thin. Stainless steel will work fine – Jason P Sallinger Jan 26 at 13:57
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One time I didn't stir my pea soup frequently enough and it stuck to the bottom. Without stirring up the burnt parts, I dumped it all into a second pot (stainless steel). All the burnt stuff was still in the other pan which I cleaned and went back to my other pot.

I put a cast iron frying pan on the stove (it would distribute heat much better then a pot). I put the stainless steel pot inside the cast iron frying pan and put vegetable oil around the inside of the cast iron frying pan. This would absorb the heat from the frying pan and distribute it evenly around the pot. I kept the oil in the frying pan hot enough to simmer the pea soup.

Well what do you know? It worked - no more stuck soup! I stirred the pea soup about every 10 or 15 minutes just to keep it mixed up.

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Often, when available, I have lined the bottom of my pot with cabbage leaves. Just be careful not to dislodge them when stirring.

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    What an interesting tip! – Erica Nov 19 '17 at 13:46
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Use a wider pot, so that the soup is more spread out and cooks more evenly. Also cook on a lower heat and stir frequently.

  • The question is 6.5 years old. This answer does not add much to the existing ones. – Jan Doggen Nov 19 '17 at 22:31
  • Not only does it not add information, it reiterates other answers and does not serve to solve the issue. – Jason P Sallinger Nov 20 '17 at 13:49
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Add water.

Water tends to hold the temperature at boiling, lower than it takes to burn foods. Of course, with thicker soups, the food will settle down to the bottom, and when laying against the direct heat through the pot, the temperature can locally raise high enough to burn. So, mixing pretty regularly will keep the water flowing through the pot, keeping the temperature equalized, and the food unsettled, to prevent that local hotzone from being created.

Of course, sometimes the food starts sticking, or the soup gets a bit dry, or it needs to be left alone for a bit, or even that constant stirring is just too much time/effort/focus for one reason or other. And once it starts sticking, it really doesn't want to get unstuck and keeps grabbing more bits as they get caught at the edges, so all the preventative advice doesn't help once it's reached that point.

So, we're back to adding water. Having more water in the pot to begin with will make it easier to stir, easier to keep the temperature stable - and with several hours cooking, it's easier to let thicken at the end than keep it at the right texture the whole way through. But when it does stick, it can really helps to add a bit extra water when stirring, right then.

Adding (cool) water to a (hot) pan, and specifically to the food scorched onto the pan, and then letting sit for just a bit before scraping at it, will tend to lift the food right off the pan - same process, more or less, as deglazing, same principle as soaking. The temperature difference may help, I find adding water helps unstick the food even when the soup is already pretty thin but settling heavily.

Specific technique is to take your spoon, stir well while scraping all the way to the bottom of the pot - and cleaning off as much of the settled food as can be worked free with your spoon and some elbow grease. Let sit a minute or so, then add a bit of water (dependent on amount of soup, texture, and remaining cooking time but I often go with a half-cup at minimum).

Scrape at the bottom again, let sit for three to five minutes, then work away at that layer again with your spoon. At this point, you should feel like the crust is working loose, some patches coming off leaving the bottom in those areas pot-smooth. Alternate mechanically working at the rest with short, minute-or-three periods of letting it rest, until the bottom is completely free of stuck on foods. If there are bits that cannot be worked free in a reasonable amount of time and effort, you can restart the process by adding water again, letting sit a bit longer before your next attempt (to let the water and heat soak into the food) and scraping away again.

The burnt food ends up mixed in the rest, which wouldn't be good if you wanted it out - that could likely be done by transferring pots like as wnight mentioned, which would be useful if it's very badly carbonized. But if you've been stirring fairly regularly, it should not have been stuck too, too long and should be more burnt-and-stuck like frond, rather than like charcoal.

A couple benefits of this technique, then, are first that it takes a lot less effort to stir it up, unstick, then let sit periodically than stir constantly, and also that it tends to add a bit of flavor to the soup by creating and incorporating something that's basically frond, with all those savory reactions that browning does, and it tends to thicken the soup since the aggressive scraping and stirring tends to break away the bits most firmly stuck, leaving them in your soup to thicken and intermix flavors more. These are things I like to encourage in my soup, but obviously if any of this is a problem it may not be the best solution for you.

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I had the same problem 1.with a stainless steal commercial pot 3. the widest pot available 4, with oil on the bottom 5.on the lowest flame possible

The solution was mixing well (to get the heavy stuff away from the bottom and adding water. I have an alarm on my phone to remind me.

Good luck

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I like J. Sallinger's suggestion. Makes sense to distribut the heat thru the metal utensils and add a layer of protection. I also have had success by making my biggest skillet, i.e. xtra cast iron or stainless, with 1" around base of my 16 quart pot, add H2O and use the pan as a kind of double boiler. It helps. I'm a very good cook and also a cheapskate and I do not want to spend $40-$400. for a heavy pot. I like to use cheapo stainless pots or even granite ware :). I may break down tho'. I've been making soups and burning the graniteware a little because I haven't used the above tip w/ the water in the skillet. Can't wait to try the utensils as well! Thanks. Chandler.

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    Welcome to Seasoned Advice SE. :) The double boiler idea is interesting, but I'm confused because you say you haven't tried it. Where did you hear about it? Can you give link to it please? – elbrant Jan 26 at 2:50
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    I've used it frequently. Just did not do it on the last couple of soups I made and didn't babysit the saute-ing of onions, in a thin pot, no oil...voila, burning. Will do next time as I want to be able to use my inexpensive thin pots! Will be more empirical with my cooking and let you know. Chandler. – Chandler Jan 27 at 3:52
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The pot bottom is too thin. Has hot spots in it. So set in a larger cast iron skillet. Let the skillet distribute the heat even to the bottom of the pot. Stir every now & then. Adjust heat so no sticking.

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Add some meat or broth (chicken, beef) in your pot.
Basically add something, that will turn water into oily/fatty liquid.

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    Oil or fat will float to the top of the pot because it is less dense than water. This won't help with food items burning on the bottom. – Aaronut Mar 9 '11 at 18:08
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    You're probably right. It's just I always cook it with meat and it never sticks, hence my advice. – z-boss Mar 9 '11 at 21:37

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