An Expert Guide to Baking Pans

Published on 12/19/2023 · 11 min readBake like a pro! Unveil the secrets with our expert guide to baking pans, ensuring perfect results for your cakes, cookies, and more every time.
Di Doherty, Kitchen Expert
By Kitchen Expert Di Doherty

Photo by from my point of view

TL;DR: When buying a baking pan, make sure to consider what material it’s made out of, if it has a nonstick finish, and what you plan to use it for.

I’ve been baking for as long as I was old enough to operate an oven. I started off by watching my mom, but then moved on to making my own baked goods—mainly cookies. Since then, I’ve expanded a lot to include cakes, cupcakes, muffins, pies, rolls, and quick breads like banana bread.

My collection of bakeware came to me haphazardly as a combination of inherited items from my parents, gifts, and other items I picked up along the way. As an avid home baker, I’ve accumulated quite a few baking pans. However, I find that there are certain products that I keep coming back to and that I use far more than others. If you’re looking for baking pans that are a must-have in your kitchen, then you’ve come to the right place.

What Are Baking Pans?

A cranberry danish on a cake plate. Photo by Di Doherty

To state the obvious, baking pans are pans that are used to bake. They cover a wide range of equipment, including sheet pans, muffin pans, and cake pans, just to name a few. These pans don’t need to be used solely for baked goods like cakes or brownies—they can also be used to roast veggies, make roasts, and even one pan dinners.

What to Consider when Buying a Baking Pan

As baking pans are such a broad category, it can be difficult to know exactly which one to pick. If you’re looking to get just the few pans you need, round out your collection, or upgrade what you already have, here are some questions you should ask yourself before you buy:

What Type of Pan Do I Want?

Photo by Piotr Wytrazek

Picking out the right pan will make baking or cooking your recipe a lot easier. There are multi-use pans which can be substituted for one another, and then there are more specialized pans for specific tasks. Here are some of the most common baking pans and what they’re used for:

  • Sheet Pan: More accurately known as a half sheet pan for most home bakers, this is one of the most versatile pieces of bakeware you can own. Sheet pans can be used for homemade cookies, rolls, vegetables, and one pan dinners (also called sheet pan dinners).
  • Jelly Roll Pan: While the name may be funny, jelly roll pans are another highly adaptable piece of bakeware. Pans that are in the 15-inch by 10-inch range (sometimes it’s 15½-inch by 10½-inch) are known as jelly roll pans. They’re designed to make a special cake called a jelly roll or Swiss roll, but due to the fact that they also have a lip around the edge, they can be used for almost anything a sheet pan can be used for.
  • Cake Pan: These are primarily used to make cakes, of course, but they can be useful for other tasks. Most cake pans are round (for layer cakes), but there are also square options. A square cake pan can be used for blondies, cobblers, or small casseroles, as the 8x8in or 9x9in sizes are common for most smaller recipes. Round cake pans can also be used for deep dish pizza, veggies, and small casseroles.
  • Muffin Pan: Sometimes also called a cupcake pan or muffin tin, this pan is admittedly more specialized—but muffins aren’t the only thing they can make. These pans also make cupcakes (of course), mini cakes, and other single portion servings, like mini meat loaves.
  • 9x13 Pan: Likely the second most versatile piece of bakeware you can own, 9x13 pans can be used for any number of recipes. They’re excellent for cakes, lasagna, casseroles, and can even be used for cookies or rolls in a pinch.
  • Loaf Pan: While not a pan that I'd say is a must-have for everyone, loaf pans are what you need if you want to make bread, either yeasted or quick. They’re perfect for banana bread, pumpkin bread, sandwich bread, and meatloaves. They can also be used for small casseroles, like macaroni and cheese.
  • Springform Pan: These pans have a detachable rim that can be loosened and closed with a clip. They’re called for in almost every cheesecake recipe, but their usefulness doesn’t end there. You will want a springform pan for dishes that you can’t invert to remove, like torts, deep dish pizza, and Danish pastries.
  • Tube Pan: While certainly a specialized pan, neither bundt cakes nor angel food cakes can be made without a tube pan. Angel food cake pans have a removable center and bottom, and bundt pans are one solid piece—be aware that they aren’t interchangeable. What defines a tube pan is the fact that there’s a tube in the center, which is what gives those cakes their distinctive shape.

What Material is the Pan Made From?

Photo by Tatiana Vorona

Different materials work better for different types of pans. For baking pans, I admit to having a preference for aluminum, but cast iron is a close second. However, there are a lot of other excellent materials that baking pans can be constructed from, and just because I prefer those materials doesn't mean everyone will. Here are the options you’re likely to encounter:

  • Aluminum: This is likely the most popular choice for baking pans due to aluminum’s excellent heat reactivity and distribution. It’s lightweight, and works wonders for more delicate goods like cakes, brownies, and cheesecakes. However, it scratches easily (though this is cosmetic) and is reactive to acidic foods, which can pit or discolor the metal. It also becomes discolored in the dishwasher, meaning hand-washing is preferred.
  • Anodized aluminum: Anodized aluminum is treated through a chemical bath and electrification. This process makes the aluminum scratch-resistant, more durable, and dulls the color. That’s a good thing for bakeware, as a pan that’s too shiny can prevent those wonderful crispy brown edges on baked goods.
  • Stainless Steel: In terms of practicality, stainless steel is hard to beat. It’s durable, oven-safe, broiler-safe, rust-resistant, easy to find, and can go in the dishwasher. However, it doesn’t have the best heat distribution (though I’ve had good luck with my stainless steel jelly roll pans), and often has a shiny finish that prevents browning.
  • Cast Iron: Cast iron is fantastic at holding heat. Everything I've baked in cast iron has come out with a beautiful browned outside, and is fully cooked through. That being said, you have to be willing to take care of it, as it isn’t dishwasher-safe and you’ll likely have to replace the seasoning at some point. But if you’re willing to spend the time on it, it’ll last generations.
  • Aluminized Steel: These pans have a steel core that is coated with aluminum in order to prevent rust and aid in even heating. As the coating is aluminum, it can still scratch and is reactive to acid, but it has the strength of stainless steel.
  • Silicone: Silicone bakeware is fairly new, meaning that there aren’t a lot of options on the market. However, silicon is safe up to high temperatures (though I wouldn’t use it with the broiler), nonstick, and dish-washer safe. It usually has a stainless steel frame to help it keep its shape, making it more durable.

Do I Want a Nonstick Coating?

Photo by Amawasri Pakdara

Nonstick coatings are undeniably convenient, as they make cleanup a breeze and make it easier to get baked goods out of the pan without parchment paper. Many of them don’t even require you to grease the pan with butter or oil.

However, nonstick coatings wear out. Most nonstick pans only last a couple of years before the coating begins to wear off, meaning they need to be replaced. This can be less environmentally friendly, since it requires more processing, shortens the life of the pan, and some of the chemicals used in nonstick coatings have been found to have a poor impact on the environment.

Features to Look for When Buying a Baking Pan

It can be difficult to tell if a pan is well-made just by eyeballing it, but there are certain features you can look for to help ensure you’re getting a good deal.

  • Thickness: Cheap bakeware will be made of thin metal. Thin metal is prone to warping in the oven, which means it doesn’t sit flat and won’t heat as evenly. A good pan should have some heft to it, showing that it’s heavy duty. Many aluminum pans will also have a steel rim to aid in maintaining its shape.
  • Handles: While not every baking pan needs handles, it’s a nice feature to have. As you’re going to be wearing oven mitts when you take it out of the oven, having something to hang onto makes it easier to move around and ensures a good grip.
  • Lid: This is by no means a necessity, but having a lid for your baking pan can make transporting baked goods easier. It can also aid in cleaner storage, so you can use it without rinsing or washing it.


How to Choose the Right Baking Pan

A pie crust in a stainless steel pie plate. Photo by Di Doherty

Figuring out what baking pan would suit you best can be difficult due to the overwhelming number of options. In order to help narrow it down, I’m going to describe three different people that represent different buying personas, and what I’d recommend to them based on their unique needs.

Lila: College Graduate Building Her Bakware Collection

Lila recently graduated and has just gotten her own apartment, with a roommate. She’s looking to get some good baking pans so that she can cook and bake more, but doesn't want anything too pricey. She also doesn't have a lot of space, so she’d prefer multipurpose pans.

Features to look for:

  • Baking pans with multiple uses, to save space
  • Baking racks

Recommended products

  • Circulon Bakeware 10x15 Baking Sheet Pan and Cooling Rack Set: As she primarily cooks for herself, a 10x15 pan is going to be big enough. It can be used as a sheet pan to make sheet pan dinners, bake fish or small roasts, as well as making cookies or rolls. It also comes with a pair of cooling racks, which are a must have for bakers.
  • Circulon Bakeware Nonstick Square Cake Pan: This pan is perfect for small casseroles, cakes, cobblers, and brownies. It’s nonstick for ease of use, and dishwasher-safe, though hand washing is recommended.

Jessica: Experienced Baker Looking to Upgrade Old Pans

Jessica has collected her baking pans over time at thrift stores. She’s finally in a position where she can buy herself nice baking pans that will perform well and last, and is looking for high-quality goods.

Features to look for:

  • High-end baking pans that will last

Recommended Products

  • Caraway Non-Stick Rectangle Pan, Marigold: Caraway’s pans are coated with a ceramic nonstick, which is one of the best options. They’re made of heavy-duty aluminized steel, making them durable and functional, come in a variety of pretty colors, and can even be purchased in a baking set if you want your baking pans to match.
  • Hestan Provisions OvenBond Half Sheet Pan: Hestan’s half sheet pan is a bit extravagant, but it’s beautiful. It’s made out of clad stainless steel with an aluminum core, has curved handles, and is oven- and broiler-safe.

Pedro: Busy Professional Who Wants to Bake More

Pedro used to bake when he was younger, but has fallen out of the habit now that he has a full-time job and other responsibilities. He wants baking pans that are easy to use and clean so baking will be fun, easy, and won’t take up too much of his free time.

Features to look for:

  • Dishwasher-safe pans for easy clean up
  • Nonstick pans for easy release

Recommended products

Find the Best Baking Pan for You

Photo by Prostock-studio

It can be overwhelming to try to find the right baking pan for your needs, especially with the variety of options and your personal preferences. As a baking pan is something that you’ll use a lot over its lifetime, don’t be afraid to take your time. If you feel you need more information, recommendations, or advice, chat with one of our Curated Kitchen Experts for free, personalized advice! Any of our Experts would be more than happy to help you find the baking pan that’s just right for you.

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