How To Clean and Prevent a Scorched or Dirty Brew Kettle

Brew kettles are delicate pieces of equipment. They require proper cleaning after – and proactive care during – the brewing process to ensure they don’t get scorched.

The best way to clean a scorched or dirty brew kettle is to add a solution of Powdered Brewer’s Wash to the kettle, heat it up, and let it soak. Then, lightly scrub the bottom of the kettle to remove the build-up. Prevent your brew kettle from scorching by properly mixing sugars or extract malt into the wort and stirring constantly.

Continue reading for more in-depth information on why kettles get scorched, what to do if you scorch your wort, how to prevent scorching, and how to clean your scorched kettle.

How do brew kettles get scorched or dirty?

Brew kettles typically get scorched or dirty from the amount of sugar in the wort.

Since the wort contains so much sugar, it’s easy and common for it to heat up too fast and burn on the bottom of the brew kettle. The sugar will rest at the bottom of the kettle and harden, making it difficult to remove even right after boiling.

A scorched kettle can also impart a “burnt” taste in your beer, so it’s best to try to avoid scorching altogether.

This can also happen to the outside or bottom of your kettle: if the wort boils over, it can potentially stain if the water is left to harden and isn’t quickly taken care of. This obviously won’t affect the end product, but it can make your kettle look a bit uninviting.

What if you have a scorched wort flavor?

If you have a scorched wort flavor, it’s because the sugars inside the kettle have caramelized when scorched on the bottom during the boil.

This is likely because of a lack of heat control. Too high of heat in a quick fashion will cause the sugar to heat up too fast, burning it.

Depending on the severity of the scorching, your end product may or may not have burnt taste to it. You also might be able to salvage it through dry hopping, though you can only combat the taste and can’t hide it completely.

There aren’t any health precautions to take into consideration when drinking a scorched brew. It just won’t taste right. If you aren’t willing to part ways with your creation, you can still bottle it and see if you can stand the taste. You may end up enjoying a more subtle ‘burnt’ taste: one that pairs well with a fall evening by the campfire.

In most cases though, unfortunately, the scorched flavor will be too overpowering and unpleasant that you’ll have to scrap your beer. 

How to prevent scorching wort and getting burnt flavors in the beer

There are a few precautionary steps to take during the brewing process that can save your kettle and wort from becoming scorched. 

To prevent scorching your brew kettle, turn your burner off and move your kettle over to a different burner before adding the extract. Then, add your extract and stir constantly to prevent the rapid heating up of sugars.

Heat control is the big thing. Through stirring, the heat distribution is spread out in the wort and sugars, making sure nothing heats up too fast. This is the same principle as taking your kettle off the burner before you add the extract.

Traditionally, spiral stovetops are notorious for scorching wort. Although this might not be a problem for you if you have those, they become too hot at times. Pair this with a thin kettle and it’s a recipe for scorching.

Consider the tools you’re using when homebrewing, as they can be detrimental if you don’t take the right steps and use proper methods.

So, take the kettle off the burner before adding the extract. Once you do, increase the heat over time and stir constantly until the extract is dissolved. This will get rid of your scorching problem, regardless of your stovetop and kettle.

How to clean a scorched or dirty brew kettle

A clean kettle is a happy kettle. A dirty kettle can impart weird and unpleasant flavors in your beer. The best thing you can do to clean your kettle is to be proactive and not let it get scorched. However, we are only human and, sometimes, we scorch our kettles.

In the event that you soil your kettle, here’s how to clean it in seven easy steps, from picking the right supplies to sanitization and storage.

1 – Find the right supplies

In this first step, it’s important to find the right stuff for cleaning your kettle. Get a scrubby that won’t scratch or damage your kettle – avoid steel wool. You can also use a soft nylon brush (like this one), a sponge, or even a toothbrush that’s capable of reaching each spot in the kettle.

Next, buy the alkaline detergent PBW. This product was made for homebrewers with this type of problem and is almost guaranteed to work each time. When using PBW, be sure to follow the directions.

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2 – Rinse your kettle

Secondly, after you’ve gathered your scrubbie and PBW if you haven’t already, you need to rid your kettle of as much debris and soil that you can.

Soak it in water for a few hours, or at least rinse it out a couple of times. After this, you’re primed for the big guns.

3 – Add the PBW

Once you’ve rinsed your kettle as much as you could with plain water, it’s time to start adding the PBW.

The amount you need will vary depending on the size of your kettle: the standard measurement is 1-2 ounces per gallon. This can also depend on the soil load inside your kettle.

Obviously, if your kettle is severely scorched, use more PBW, and vice versa.

4 – Heat and let sit

This is likely the most important step. After adding the PBW, heat it to 140 °F and let it sit for a few hours. The packaging also recommends the alternative of letting it sit cool overnight.

Done properly, it will not damage your kettle at all and you may not even have to use your scrubby.

5 – Scrub, scrub, scrub

Depending on how much soil is left, you may need to scrub the rest away. Grab your soft brush and scrub with the PBW still inside.

PBW is safe on skin, so don’t worry about wearing gloves.

6 – Sanitize and rinse

After you finish and your kettle is squeaky clean, you should rinse it out and then sanitize it.

To sanitize your kettle, use distilled white vinegar. Similar to cleaning a coffee pot, you’ll use equal parts water and vinegar, and add it to your kettle until it’s about halfway full. Once you’ve done that, bring it to a boil. When you reach the boil, you can cut the heat: allow the mixture to soak in the kettle for about 30 minutes, running some of it through the spigot if possible.

After 30 minutes, you can either dump and rinse the kettle to be done, or you can repeat this process once more. Either way, be sure to rinse the kettle one final time.