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August/September 2019

8-Inch Square Baking Pans

Four key traits set our winning pan apart from all the others.

How We Tested

Square baking pans are handy for making cakes and brownies, but that's not all. We also use them for recipes such as Chocolate Fudge, Honey Cornbread, and Nanaimo Bars. Because we call for them in so many of our recipes, we decided to find out which of the many pans on the market was the best. We chose eight models, ranging in price from about $10 to about $36 and made of various materials. To test them, we made yellow cake and brownies in each, sliced the cooled baked goods in the pans with a knife, and then washed the pans repeatedly to evaluate durability.

What did we discover? Some of the pans produced cakes with minor aesthetic drawbacks, one model couldn't hide a glaring durability issue, and cleaning these pans was not always an easy task. Happily, we found one model that excelled in all areas.

Most Pans Baked Food Well, Regardless of Material

The materials of the pans in our lineup varied. We tested five metal pans, one glass pan, one silicone pan, and one stoneware pan. Four of the metal pans had nonstick coatings; none of the other models did.

The first thing we noted was the slight differences in baking times. Because metal is generally a better conductor of heat than glass or stoneware is, the nonmetal models required more time in the oven to finish baking—5 to 8 minutes longer for yellow cake and about 5 minutes longer for brownies. Even with these differences, the baking times in all the pans fell within acceptable ranges.

Regardless of material, all eight pans produced appetizing brownies and cakes with golden-brown tops. Two of the cakes had slightly darker exteriors than the others, likely because they baked in darker-colored pans, but they were still perfectly acceptable. And all the baked goods released easily from their respective pans, even the cakes and brownies baked in pans without nonstick coatings. Our recipes called for either greasing or greasing plus flouring the pans, which was sufficient to prevent sticking. Although all the pans performed well, there were other factors to consider.

Straighter Sides Were Preferred

After letting the yellow cakes cool in their respective pans, we turned them all out onto wire racks to cool completely, as called for in the recipe. This gave us the chance to examine each cake's shape; we wanted cakes that were aesthetically pleasing and properly square, with straight sides and well-defined edges.

Two of the eight yellow cakes stood out because their sides sloped slightly. The two pans that produced these cakes—one stoneware and one glass—had tapered sides, meaning they were wider at the top than at the bottom. On one pan, the rims measured 8 inches long at the top and narrowed to 6¾ inches long along the bottom edges. The top rims of the other pan measured 7⅜ inches long and tapered down to 6 inches long. We much preferred the appearances of the cakes baked in the remaining six pans, which weren't tapered. Those cakes were appealingly square and had well-defined edges.

Functional Handles Were Very Helpful

We also noted was whether a pan had defined handles. Four models in our lineup featured rolled edges with narrow lips that were sometimes tricky to hold securely, especially when removing the pans from a hot oven or greasing and flouring them. When greasing and flouring the pans, we'd find ourselves gripping the edges of the pans with our thumbs and using our fingers to support the pan bottoms, with our thumbs often smearing the grease-and-flour coatings.

The rest of the models featured defined handles. One had a roughly ½-inch flattened edge that functioned as a handle; another had wider, flat handles; and two more had looped handles. The pans with handles were easier to flour and grease and maneuver into and out of the oven.

Silicone Was Not Durable

To test the durability of the pans, we used a sharp paring knife to repeatedly slice cake and brownies in each pan, checking to see if any scratched easily. All five metal pans showed faint nicks, but nothing that would affect their performance.

One pan, however, was a total letdown. While slicing brownies in the silicone pan, we inadvertently sliced right through the side, leaving a ¾-inch gash and rendering the pan unusable.

Pans with Seams Were Harder to Clean

To see how easy the pans were to clean, we washed each pan five times according to the manufacturer's instructions. Six of the pans we tested were dishwasher-safe, but two weren't, so we washed those by hand. We didn't have a strong preference for one method, but a few of the pans were harder to clean than others.

The interiors of the glass, stoneware, and silicone pans were all smooth and seamless and therefore easy to clean. Most of the metal models, though, had seams as a result of the way they were constructed. One metal pan was molded, meaning that a hot sheet of metal was pressed into a mold. The other four metal pans were folded—made by folding a metal sheet into the shape of a pan, creating seams. The folded pans' seams sometimes trapped food and required extra attention to clean. It wasn't a deal breaker, but it wasn't ideal either.

Our winner was the only molded metal pan. Its sides were straighter than those of other molded pans, and its seamless interior trapped no food and was easy to clean (even though it could be washed only by hand).

The Winner: Fat Daddio's ProSeries Square Cake Pan

Our new winner, the Fat Daddio's ProSeries Square Cake Pan, had it all: It produced nicely shaped baked goods and featured a ½-inch lip that made it easy to hold and maneuver. It required hand-washing, but its seamless design made it easy to clean. This 8-inch square baking pan excelled at producing aesthetically pleasing baked goods and boasted a low-maintenance design.


Methodology

We purchased eight 8-inch square baking pans, priced from about $10 to about $36. We used each to bake brownies made with our winning boxed brownie mix and yellow cake made with our Make-Ahead Yellow Cake Mix. After baking both the brownies and the yellow cakes, we used a paring knife to slice the desserts in the pans, cutting each into 16 squares. We repeated the cutting motion a total of five times for both brownies and cake. We washed each pan five times according to the manufacturer’s instructions. We also made our Basic Brownies in our winning pan to see how it fared when lined with an aluminum foil sling, a method we frequently use in our baking recipes.

RATING CRITERIA

Baked Good Appearance: We awarded the highest marks to pans that produced evenly baked brownies and cakes with straight sides and clean edges.

Durability: We gave the highest marks to pans that showed no signs of damage after repeated slicing with a paring knife and that showed little wear when subjected to repeated washings.

Ease of Cleanup: We awarded points to pans with smooth, seamless interiors that were easy to clean.

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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.