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February/March 2013

Cookie Sheets

Think your choice in cookie sheets doesn’t matter? Think again. Most of the ones we tested ruined our cookies.

How We Tested

It’s just a flat piece of metal, so you’d think a cookie sheet couldn’t fail. In fact, we’ve seen them bake unevenly and warp, not to mention let cookies burn, stick, or spread into blobs. Cookie sheets come in many materials, sizes, thicknesses, and finishes, insulated or not, with rims or not. What would the best cookie sheets look like? Our previous favorite, bakes beautifully, but you have to buy it online or at restaurant supply stores. Is anybody making a quality cookie sheet for home bakers?

We gathered eight, including our previous winner, priced from $12 to $24, testing both single sheets and insulated versions. Manufacturers claim that insulated sheets heat more evenly and “allow virtually no chance of burning,” as one puts it. The air pocket between two layers of metal is designed to buffer heat, preventing hot spots and warping.

Lots of Tests, Lots of Cookies

To test them, we baked three types of cookies (spritz, lemon, and lace) on both unlined and parchment paper–lined sheets, blending batches of dough and using the same oven so that the only variable was the cookie sheet being tested. First, we looked at how evenly the sheets baked. Not very, it turned out. Many produced pale cookies and dark cookies within a single sheet. Surprisingly, one of the insulated sheets bombed this test, not only baking unevenly but nearly burning every batch, too. We got the best results from two single-layer sheets. One baked slightly faster than recipe times indicated, but it baked evenly, creating flavorful deep-golden bottoms and paler tops. Our previous winner produced perfectly even cookies with matched tops and bottoms. As for the nonstick sheets, the slick surfaces encouraged the batter to run and ooze before it set, so instead of tall, distinct edges, these cookies tapered to thin edges that overbaked.

Whether evenly browned or not, all cookies should come off a baking sheet without sticking. To test how well sheets released cookies, we baked spritz cookies, which are so buttery they don’t require parchment paper. It took a little more effort to remove cookies from sheets with traditional finishes, but in every case but one, we managed. (In that case, the anodized matte surface was to blame, we learned. Anodizing, which helps prevent scratching, is also used to prepare metal for pigments or coatings by making the surface rougher and more porous—and more likely to stick, explained Hugh Rushing of the Cookware Manufacturers Association.) We turned to design. Lace cookies should spread into lovely lacy disks. But if your cookie sheet warps, the cookies run together or come out looking like amoebas. While any metal sheet can warp, we found that the thinnest, lightest pans were most likely to. We were disappointed that the insulated sheets we tested warped, too. Even heating, which these promise, should prevent warping. Apparently not.

Next, could we easily maneuver a spatula between cookies? (This is especially important when you are baking without parchment paper, as you must move the cookies one by one to a wire rack to cool instead of simply transferring them en masse on a sheet of parchment.) Cookie sheets with less than 200 square inches of baking surface felt cramped. As for rims, while cookies can be misshapen if they hit a pan’s rim, raised edges do provide a useful handhold. Pans with two raised edges on the short sides handled best. Single rims on the long side were out of reach after we rotated the pan (most of our cookie recipes call for rotating the sheets for even baking). Three rims was overkill.

What the Best Cookie Sheets Had in Common

Many dozens of cookies later, we tallied our findings: We like thick sheets; thin sheets baked unevenly, ran hot, and tended to warp. We don’t, however, like insulated sheets; though some baked well, all warped to some extent. And light or dark finishes matter less than material: Aluminum sheets, we discovered, have better, more even heat transference than steel sheets. Of the eight cookie sheets we tested, there are five that we cannot recommend.

The good news? The winner from our previous testing prevailed. With two raised edges for easy handling, plenty of space, and thick aluminum construction that resists warping and promotes even browning, this cookie sheet remains our favorite. And while you still have to buy it online, at least it’ll be delivered to your door.

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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.