An Expert Guide to Bakeware

Published on 11/16/2023 · 12 min readNavigate the world of bakeware with this guide! From material differences to shape and size considerations, learn how the right bakeware can transform your baking!
Helena Nichols, Kitchen Expert
By Kitchen Expert Helena Nichols

Photo by Prostock Studio

TL;DR: Find out everything you need to know before buying your next bakeware. Plus, here are some recommendations for our favorite products.

Home baking is one of my greatest joys. After working in commercial kitchens making seemingly endless batches of cakes, cookies, and bread, it is now nice to relax in the comfort of my own home and bake up whatever strikes my fancy that day.

At this point, I have an arsenal of just about every piece of bakeware I need or want, but for those who are new to the world of home baking, buying those first pieces can be an intimidating task. There are so many different shapes and sizes of bakeware in so many materials it can frankly be overwhelming. But don’t worry — I am here to help. I will walk you through everything you need to know to build a stash of bakeware that perfectly fits your needs.

What Is Bakeware? How Is It Different From Other Cookware?

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The first thing to understand about bakeware is that it is not just used for making desserts. Bakeware is any piece of equipment that is made specifically for withstanding the high heat in the oven for baking. Cookware, on the other hand, is meant for stovetop use and cooking. There is occasional overlap, such as the All-Clad D5 Stainless Steel Cookware Set, which is oven safe up to 600 degrees. Likewise, there are savory baked foods such as quiche and casserole that still require quality bakeware. That is why it is essential to understand your needs before buying.

Materials

There are many different materials used for bakeware, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages.

Aluminum

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Aluminum is a commonly used material for baking sheets, cookie pans, and just about anything that needs to come into and out of the oven quickly. Its popularity is due to it being inexpensive, lightweight, and both heating up and cooling down quickly. The downside is that at high temperatures aluminum is prone to warping. Additionally, thin bakeware aluminum will not heat evenly, which can negatively affect baked goods. Aluminum is also considered a “reactive” metal, meaning highly acidic foods such as tomatoes can cause small amounts of metal to enter your food if cooked in uncoated aluminum.

Stainless Steel

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Stainless steel is excellent for baking as it handles high temperatures well. The downside is that it takes longer to heat up and cool down than aluminum and can cause cool spots in your bake. Stainless steel is also much heavier than aluminum. However, stainless steel will not rust and is incredibly durable.

Nonstick

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Both aluminum and stainless steel can be coated in a form of nonstick coating. One of the most popular product choices is the fluoropolymer Teflon. As Teflon has led to possible health concerns, a ceramic coating is considered a healthier option. Ceramic tends to be more scratch resistant than Teflon coatings, but they can also be more expensive.

It should be noted that nonstick is not a requirement, and while many find it helpful, using a liner such as parchment paper can be more effective and give more control over the final result. Silicone mats are also a popular reusable alternative.

Cast Iron

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Cast iron is one of the oldest forms of metal bakeware. It is cumbersome but is also sturdy and long lasting. Cast iron is typically used in bakeware for Dutch ovens. The metal takes a long time to heat up but holds that heat for a long time and evenly. While it is durable, uncoated cast iron surfaces must be well maintained and seasoned to keep it performing at optimal levels. “Seasoned” means a layer of fat has been cooked onto the pan. It is what gives cast iron its black color and protects it from rust and food sticking. Cast iron can also be enameled, which gives many of the advantages of the metal, with a smoother, clean, and maintained finish. Cast iron is often not dishwasher safe.

Copper

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Copper is an aesthetically pleasing choice, and as a metal, it heats up quickly and evenly. However, it is less common in baking because it tends to be more expensive than other options, tarnishes quickly, and is a reactive metal. The reactivity in copper is actually worse than in aluminum. As copper is toxic, it can not be used for baking acidic foods.

Glass

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When the glass is clear, you get a good view of the whole baking process. This makes it ideal when you must watch the underside of whatever you are baking. However, because glass is more of an insulator than a heat conductor, this can lead to uneven heat distribution and cause overcooked exteriors.

Stoneware

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As mentioned above, metal pans can be coated in ceramic. However, ceramic coating is also standard on clay-based bakeware. This bakeware looks excellent and heats evenly. It also provides a relatively nonstick surface when glazed. The disadvantage is stoneware is sensitive to rapid temperature changes and can crack if exposed to extreme temperatures too quickly.

Silicone

Photo by Lena Safronova

Unlike the other materials, silicone does not conduct heat. This means anything cooked in silicon risks being underbaked and may require more time in the oven. However, silicone is naturally flexible and nonstick, which makes it a good option for delicately shaped baked goods.

What to Consider When Buying

When you set out to buy a new piece of bakeware for your kitchen, there are a few things to consider before settling on one option:

  • What is your budget?
  • What material do you want?
  • What storage do you have available?
  • Do you want handles?
  • Do you want to buy individual pieces or a set?
  • How heavy will the piece be?
  • What are you using it/them for?
  • Do you want it to be dishwasher safe?

How Much Should It Cost?

The range in prices for bakeware is huge. Simple sets from this Cuisinart Bakeware 6-Piece Essentials Set go for $49.95, while this Caraway 5-Piece Bakeware Set costs $245. The price will vary based on the materials, bakeware brands, and type of bakeware.

Different Types of Bakeware

Dutch Ovens

Dutch ovens comprise heavy-duty pots and lids made for baking. They are incredibly versatile and can be used for baking bread, making stew, roasting meat — just about anything you can imagine. They also go from stovetop to oven easily.

Dutch ovens are typically sized by how many quarts they hold, which can be as small as half a quart and as large as 10 quarts, with some additional variations. Typically, a 5- to 6-quart pot is a good starting place. Dutch ovens can either be enameled or left seasoned. Le Creuset’s Signature Round Dutch Oven is the gold standard but comes with a hefty price tag. For a less expensive option, the Lodge Blacklock Triple Seasoned Dutch Oven is a solid choice.

Cast Iron Skillets

Once again, we see cast iron going from stovetop to oven, bridging that divide between cookware and bakeware. The standard size for a cast iron pan ranges from about 6 to 12 inches, with more variation on either side. These pans are pretty heavy but can produce a beautifully crisp exterior that is perfect for brownies or cornbread. Cast iron skillets can be enameled all around, just on the outside, or left seasoned. Entry-level cast iron skillets are not expensive. For example, the Lodge 10.25-Inch Cast Iron Skillet is affordable and well made.

Baking Sheets

Baking sheets (also known as sheet pans) are what people often think of first when they think of bakeware. These are used to bake cookies, jelly roll cakes, roasted veggies, pastries … pretty much anything that requires a flat surface in an oven. Sheet cakes get their name because they are baked in sheet pans.

Baking sheet pans typically come in standard sizes. A full sheet is 18 inches by 26 inches, a two-thirds sheet pan is 16 by 22 inches, a half sheet is 13 inches by 8 inches, and a quarter sheet is 9.5 inches by 13 inches. Often, sets of baking sheets can be purchased together, which gives you one or more of each size, such as this Viking 3-Piece Nonstick Baking Sheet Set.

Now, technically there is a difference between a baking sheet and a cookie sheet. Typically, a cookie sheet has only one lip, whereas a baking sheet will be slightly raised on all sides. For the average home baker, a baking sheet will do the job of both.

Cake Pans

Cake pans come in all shapes and sizes but are most commonly square or round, such as this Anolon Pro Bakeware Aluminized Steel Round Cake Pan. Round cake pans can be as small as 4 inches across and go up to 12 inches. Common square sizes include 6 by 6 inches and 9 by 13 inches, although many other dimensions are available. What differentiates these from sheet pans is the high lip. Cake pans will often be two to three inches tall. This rim is so that cakes can be cooked without overflowing. These pans are also used for brownies, casseroles, and roasts.

Baking Dishes

A baking dish, also known as a casserole dish, is not a strictly defined type of dish but has high-rimmed walls and can be made from a variety of materials. They also typically have handles and are made to hold large quantities. While they are often rectangular, they can be round or oval as well. Some also include a lid, such as this Le Creuset Heritage Covered Rectangular Casserole.

Loaf Pans

Loaf pans are used to make molded loaves of bread, such as what are often used for sandwiches. This creates the squared base we think of when we think of bread. The standard loaf pan is 8.5 by 4.5 inches and is 2.5 inches tall and can come with or without handles. A simple loaf pan will not cost you very much, such as this Anolon Pro Bakeware Loaf Pan.

Springform Pans

Springform cake pans are similar to standard cake pans, with high walls and either a round or square base. The difference is a locking mechanism on the side of the pan that allows the side of the pan to open up and release from the base, as in this Circulon Bakeware Nonstick Spring Form Pan. This can make removing the contents easier than with a standard cake pan. These are often used for delicate items such as cheesecake.

Cupcake Pans

Cupcake pans, also called muffin pans, are the pans that bring cupcakes and muffins into this world, and for that we are thankful. They typically come in trays that hold 12 standard cupcakes or six large ones. They can be used with a liner or on their own. Many are available with nonstick surfaces, making it easier to remove small cakes. A good example is the Circulon Bakeware Nonstick Muffin Pan.

Pie Pans

Pie pans, also called pie tins or pie dishes, are used to make pies and quiche. They are typically 9 inches around and can vary by depth. A standard pie may only be about an inch high, whereas a deep-dish pie dish may be over two inches deep.

Tart Pans

Tart pans are similar to pie pans, but they are always shallow, at just about 1 inch tall or less, and are typically 9.5 inches wide. There are smaller pie pans that are just a few inches wide that make individual sizes. The edges of pie pans also tend to have a crimped effect on them, and the bottoms are often removable to make releasing and serving the tart easier.

Pizza Stones

Given the name, it is unsurprising that pizza stones are often made out of some kind of stone base, such as this Broil King Pizza Stone, which is ceramic. Stone-based pizza stones are a little different than other bakeware, as they typically go into the oven to heat up before the pizza is placed on them to cook. The pizza is then removed using a pizza peel, a long, flat implement with a large base that works like a large spatula. Pizza stones can also be used to cook other food, such as baking bread, and the stone produces a crispy crust.

Bundt Cake Pans

These pans are often used for angel food cakes and bundt cakes but can also be used for making Jello. They are recognizable by the hole in the center, which creates a circular baked good. Often, they will offer some additional design, such as fluted or grooved sides, which gives the baked goods a festive appearance.

Sets

If you need a smattering of items, often getting one baking set is all you need to set up for success. These will frequently include a cupcake/muffin tin, some baking sheets, round or square baking pans, and loaf pans. This is enough to get any new baker started, and by buying a set, you are saving yourself the hassle of picking things out individually and can often save a little money. With ten pieces, Circulon Total Nonstick Bakeware Set is one good option for a basic nonstick set.

How to Pick the Correct Bakeware for You

Finding the perfect bakeware for you can be a daunting task. But now that we have gone over the basics, it should be a little easier. Now, it is time to apply your new knowledge to your specific situation.

Alex: Avid Home Baker

Alex enjoys making a variety of things. Alex loves that their current set of bakeware is nonstick but has decided to upgrade to a set that offers a nonstick coating without the use of Teflon.

Alex wants:

  • Everything in one set
  • Nonstick without toxicity
  • To upgrade to higher-quality pans

Best choice: Caraway Non-Toxic 11-Piece Ceramic Nonstick Bakeware Set

Sarah: New Baker

Sarah is new to home baking. She wants to get a few good pieces but has a limited budget and a small kitchen. She also wants dishwasher-safe pieces.

Sarah wants:

  • Affordability
  • Easy to store
  • Basic, non-specialized equipment
  • Dishwasher safe

Best Choice: Cuisinart 6-Piece Bakeware Essentials Set

Find the Right Bakeware for You

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If you are still conflicted on bakeware or need recommendations that fit your specific needs, connect with one of our talented Curated Kitchen Experts for free, personalized advice. We will be happy to find you the perfect bakeware!

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Shop Kitchen on Curated

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