Rimmed Baking Sheets

Published November 1, 2016. From Cook's Illustrated.

Overview:

Rimmed baking sheets, also called half-sheet pans, are true workhorses in the test kitchen. We have stacks of them that we use every day for obvious tasks like baking cookies or roasting oven fries or root vegetables. But we also use them for baking chicken or fish, toasting nuts and seeds, roasting vegetables such as green beans and asparagus, and baking jelly roll cakes. More unusually, we use baking sheets for sorting dried beans or spreading out cooked rice or pasta to cool before making salads. In a pinch, an inverted baking sheet can even stand in for a pizza peel or baking stone. And that’s just the start. Slipping a wire cooling rack inside (to elevate food for increased air circulation and also to contain mess) makes these pans even more versatile—it’s our go-to setup for roasting and broiling meats, holding breaded foods before and after frying, and drizzling chocolate over desserts.

To find the best rimmed baking sheet on the market, we selected eight standard-size models (priced from $7.43 to $23.69) to put through… read more

Rimmed baking sheets, also called half-sheet pans, are true workhorses in the test kitchen. We have stacks of them that we use every day for obvious tasks like baking cookies or roasting oven fries or root vegetables. But we also use them for baking chicken or fish, toasting nuts and seeds, roasting vegetables such as green beans and asparagus, and baking jelly roll cakes. More unusually, we use baking sheets for sorting dried beans or spreading out cooked rice or pasta to cool before making salads. In a pinch, an inverted baking sheet can even stand in for a pizza peel or baking stone. And that’s just the start. Slipping a wire cooling rack inside (to elevate food for increased air circulation and also to contain mess) makes these pans even more versatile—it’s our go-to setup for roasting and broiling meats, holding breaded foods before and after frying, and drizzling chocolate over desserts.

To find the best rimmed baking sheet on the market, we selected eight standard-size models (priced from $7.43 to $23.69) to put through their paces in the test kitchen. We baked our way through jelly roll cakes and dozens of sugar cookies and then roasted 30 pounds of chicken thighs and more parsnips than anyone should ever have to look at. For each recipe, we examined how evenly foods browned across the surface of the pan, as well as how cleanly they released. Throughout testing, we kept a close eye on warping and evaluated how comfortable each pan felt when loaded with heavy foods.

Sizing up the Competition

First, some good news: It’s possible to bake, roast, and broil using all of the pans we tested. Most cookies and cakes baked to an appropriate pale golden brown. Meanwhile, chicken thighs and parsnips browned and cooked evenly in most of the pans and didn’t stick to any of the pans. But some pans made it harder to achieve good results.

We selected pans that either listed their dimensions as approximately 18 by 13 inches or that called themselves “standard” size; the dimensions refer to the lip-to-lip measurements, and the actual usable cooking surface on most of these pans was about 16½ inches by 11½ inches. There was one noticeable outlier. Its cooking surface was 18 inches by 12 inches, so a jelly roll cake made in this pan was too thin, which threw off the ratios of the filled and rolled cakes. Even more damning was that this irregularly sized pan wasn’t compatible with our favorite wire cooling rack. The rack slid around precariously and left swirls of scratches. Racks sat snugly and securely in most other models.

The style of the pans’ edges also mattered. One had low, sloped sides; when we walked around the kitchen with it, liquid threatened to spill over the edges, which were just 7/8 inch tall. Another pan had unique ridged edges. The cakes that emerged from these pans tasted fine, but they looked odd. We much preferred models with straighter, smooth sides that were 1 inch or taller. They not only contained liquid and produced straight-sided cakes but also gave us something sizable to grip—especially important when carrying a hot pan using a bulky potholder.

The Heat Is On

Over the years, we’ve learned some tricks to get the most out of our baking sheets. When roasting meats and vegetables, more browning generally means more flavor. Much as you preheat a skillet before searing, say, a pork chop, we like to preheat baking sheets in a hot oven to create increased browning on roasted beef, chicken, root vegetables, cauliflower, and so on. That said, this preheating puts stress on the pan and can lead to warping. In fact, every pan we tested warped at least a little.

Happily, only one sheet in our lineup permanently warped enough to have an actual impact on cooking. In this model, the oil ran away from the center of the pan and pooled in the lower corners. As a result, some parsnips sizzled in a deep layer of oil, while others never made contact with the fat and emerged from the oven dry and leathery.

All of the pans we tested warped at least a little bit during testing—the result of metal expanding as it heats. When relatively cool food (like chicken thighs or parsnips) is placed in a hot pan, the metal directly below the food cools and starts to contract. The combination of expanding and contracting areas on a single pan creates a sort of twisting effect. Though most pans spring back into place when the hot and cool spots across the pan equalize, the pan will remain warped if the thermal stress is too great and the pan twists too much—what people in the metal industry refer to as exceeding its “elastic limit.” If you ever see a pan that won’t sit flat on the counter but instead rocks back and forth when you tap on it, that’s why. That’s what happened to the Fat Daddio’s ProSeries Jelly Roll Pan: It became dramatically warped and stayed that way, which contributed to its last-place ranking.

Superior Sheets

In the end, we were able to recommend nearly all of the baking sheets we tested. Most were good for both baking and roasting and cooked food uniformly. Cooling racks fit snugly, and jelly roll cakes came out perfectly. Still, two jumped ahead of the pack. Their cooking surfaces were the right size for a wire rack to fit snugly, and both boasted straighter, taller sides that contained food and offered us a good grip. They were also hard to scratch and turned out to be the most warp-resistant pans in the lineup. Even if warping doesn’t have much of an effect on cooking, given the choice we’d still rather have a pan that lies flat than one that doesn’t. The inexpensive Nordic Ware Baker’s Half Sheet ($14.97) was slightly sturdier, which gave it the edge over our old favorite from Vollrath ($20.99). This is a workhorse baking sheet we’ll be happy to use for years to come.

Setting a wire rack inside a baking sheet promotes air circulation, encouraging crisping and preventing sogginess when roasting or broiling meats. This setup can also hold breaded foods before and after frying and desserts while drizzling with chocolate or icing.

Perfect Fit

Our favorite rack—the Libertyware Half Size Sheet Pan Cooling Rack—fits snugly in our winning baking sheet from Nordic Ware.

Methodology:

We tested eight rimmed baking sheets, all measuring roughly 18 by 13 inches from rim to rim, using each to bake a jelly roll cake and lemon sugar cookies, roast parsnips, and roast and broil chicken thighs. We evaluated how evenly the food cooked and how cleanly it released from the sheets. We also rated their handling, strength, and resistance to warping and measured the dimensions of their cooking surfaces. All models were purchased online and appear in order of preference.

BAKING: We baked a jelly roll cake and cookies in each sheet, giving higher scores for appropriately light golden-brown baked goods that baked evenly across the entirety of the cooking surface.

ROASTING: We preheated the sheets and roasted parsnips and chicken thighs on them, observing how evenly foods cooked across the entirety of the cooking surface. Those that browned and cooked foods evenly scored the highest.

WARPING: We preferred sheets that withstood high-heat ovens and rapid temperature changes with minimal warping.

HANDLING: To test comfort and ease of use, we fitted each sheet with a wire rack, prepared a mock roast (placing a 5-pound bag of flour atop the rack and 1/2 cup of water underneath it), and did a lap around the test kitchen. The best sheets felt comfortable and secure in hand, with tall, straight sides that were easy to grip and helped contain liquid.

RACK COMPATIBILITY: We often use wire cooling racks inside baking sheets. We deducted points if standard-size racks moved around inside the sheets or didn’t  t inside them completely.

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