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October/November 2010

Broiler-Safe 13 by 9-Inch Baking Dishes

Since our favorite 13 by 9-inch Pyrex dish can’t go under the broiler, we looked for one that could.

How We Tested

Since our favorite 13 by 9-inch Pyrex dish can’t go under the broiler, we looked for one that could.

When it comes to casseroles, our favorite pan is the Pyrex Bakeware 9x13 Baking Dish. At just $8.99, this inexpensive workhorse is perfect—OK, almost perfect. Pyrex does not recommend that its oven-safe tempered glassware go under the broiler; abrupt temperature changes can cause it to crack or shatter, a condition called thermal shock. We needed an alternative with roughly the same dimensions and capacity, since many recipes are sized to fit the Pyrex, but one that could handle the heat. We gathered seven rectangular broiler-safe baking dishes, priced between $37 and $125, and cranked up the heat.

Broiler-safe baking dishes are usually made of enameled cast iron or ceramic—materials that are manufactured at temperatures far exceeding the average home broiler. We tested two enameled cast-iron dishes and five ceramic dishes, including two of porcelain, which is lighter, harder, and less porous than many other ceramics. To determine whether these dishes could withstand both prolonged exposure to high heat as well as thermal shock, we prepared Boston Baked Scrod, a dish that cooks entirely under the broiler, and Chantilly Potatoes, a recipe we finish under the broiler.

While all contenders emerged intact from the blasting heat, testing revealed a secondary problem: weight. The enameled cast-iron dishes were a challenge to maneuver, weighing 6.7 pounds and 10.5 pounds empty. Filled with several more pounds of hot Chantilly Potatoes, these dishes were tough to remove from the oven without spilling molten cream and cheese. Ordinary ceramic dishes were a little better, weighing between 4.25 and 5.1 pounds. But we preferred the lightweight porcelain dishes, averaging 3.8 pounds, which were easy to carry even when full.

Because heat comes from above during broiling, the pan’s conductivity has less effect on its cooking performance than it would if used in baking. So it came as no surprise that few differences emerged in the way fish broiled or cheese, cream, and potatoes browned in each baking dish. Instead, design and shape factored largest in a dish’s success. Oversized, shallow dishes offered so much surface area that potatoes spread too thinly, and too much liquid evaporated from the scrod. Smaller, deeper dishes left plenty of juices in the scrod, but tapering sides on one reduced its capacity, causing it to nearly overflow with Chantilly Potatoes. Dishes with flared or scalloped edges were difficult to get into with a spatula for serving.

The single most important factor, however, was the length and width of the handles. All but one of the dishes we tested had handles, though several were too small to grasp securely while wearing oven mitts. It hardly needs saying that a safe, secure grip is essential when you’re carrying a red-hot baking dish.

In the end, we preferred baking dishes that were lightweight, with large, easy-to-grip handles and straight sides, and we hoped not to have to spend too much. Sure, we’ll keep using our basic, inexpensive Pyrex, but when it’s time to turn up the heat, we’ve got a new favorite. At $37.49, our winning baking dish has it all.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.