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Are your baked goods getting way too brown (or burned and black) each time you pop them into the oven? Have you noticed your meatloaf and loaves of bread coming out of the oven a bit too moist without a nice crusty exterior? Your baking pan might be to blame. We’ve all got a supply of metal baking pans and glass dishes. But too many ruined recipes means you’re likely reaching for the wrong pan more often than not.
While metal and glass baking pans might seem interchangeable, especially when they come in so many similar shapes and sizes, they aren’t. Metal and glass each have their own specific uses in the kitchen, and whether you’re baking a casserole or a batch of cookies, knowing which kind of pan you should use is critical. With the wrong pan, everything from a recipe’s cook time to its final texture can be thrown off.
Find out how to choose the right baking pan for every job – and what can happen when you pick the wrong one.
Glass and metal bake differently inside your oven
If you’ve ever wondered whether it really matters if you use a metal pan versus a glass one, the answer is yes. Glass and metal are obviously different materials, and that means they respond differently – and cook differently – when placed inside your oven at any temperature.
Metal is a fantastic heat conductor. When you work with metal baking pans, whatever you’re baking or cooking will heat up fast. Because most metal pans are thin, they can reach your oven’s set temperature ASAP, and they’ll both cook and crisp up foods quickly. Metal is able to heat up fast enough to brown foods too, giving you those perfectly browned edges on loaves and cookies.
Metal is also able to tolerate high temperatures. You’ll have no problem broiling or baking at temps of 400 degrees or hotter on different kinds of metal baking pans.
Glass, on the other hand, is a pretty bad heat conductor. It’s thicker, which means it takes longer for your glass pans and dishes to reach your oven’s interior temperature. But once glass does heat up, its natural thickness makes it more temperature-stable. Glass baking dishes cook more evenly, distributing heat everywhere even in dense dishes. Items you’ve baked in glass pans will also stay hot longer, continuing to cook or stay warm even once they’ve been pulled out of the oven and put on the table.
And there’s one more thing you’ve got to know about glass: It’s not great at extremely high temperatures. Unlike metal, this material can’t survive the broiler or other direct high-heat cooking forms. If the heat is too much, a glass dish will shatter into pieces.
Wondering about ceramic baking pans and dishes? Ceramic is similar to glass. It takes a while to heat up, and it can lengthen your cooking time. But because ceramic dishes hold in heat well, they’ll keep your food warm once it’s out of the oven (a big perk for denser recipes). Just be cautious about exposing it to extreme heat, as ceramic can shatter just as easily as glass. Thermal shock can also cause ceramic bakeware to break.
So, while you can technically bake anything in either glass or metal and get an edible finished product, the way in which these two materials react to heat can significantly alter your recipes.
Metal baking pans are excellent heat conductors
Like we mentioned above, the biggest benefit of working with metal baking pans is their ability to conduct heat. Your metal baking equipment will get as hot as your own in mere minutes, and it’ll cool down quickly once you’re finished in the oven.
Plenty of recipes can be made in metal baking pans and on metal baking sheets. But before you start throwing out your glass and ceramic dishes, it’s important to know that metal comes in many different shapes and forms. Before you grab a metal tray or pan, make sure you know which metals can handle different cooking and baking tasks – and which colors and types are best for each recipe.
When you’re using metal, material matters
Metal baking equipment comes in a variety of different kinds of metal. While aluminum is one of the most common (and probably sitting in your kitchen right now), it isn’t the only oven-ready metal – and it isn’t always the best choice to use.
Here’s an overview of the different types of metal baking pans and dishes you’ll find:
Aluminum baking pans and sheets are the most popular variety, thanks to their solid heat conductivity, good heat distribution and affordable price. They’re also nonstick, making it a whole lot easier to work with. Most aluminum bakeware is coated or treated, and anodized aluminum is also common, which prevents the metal from leaching into the food you’re cooking.
You can work with aluminum for any recipe that calls for a metal pan or sheet. It’s thin enough to heat up quickly, is ideal for browning and crisping, and can handle high temperatures like it’s no big deal. Plus, it’s a great metal for sticky or mess-prone recipes that can burn or stick onto other metals.
Cast iron might be thick and heavy, but it’s a common kitchen metal. Cast iron pans and dishes can be seasoned over time, making them nonstick and easy to maintain. This metal doesn’t heat up quickly, though it does hold heat wonderfully once it does get hot.
Cast iron is best used like glass bakeware. It’ll take longer to cook your food, but it’ll hold in heat and continue to cook even once your oven is off. However, it won’t crisp or brown foods well. There is one extra perk to cast iron, though – it can be used on the stove and transferred right into the oven, which makes it impressively versatile at any temperature.
Copper pans and baking sheets are beautiful in color and shine, and they’re one of the best choices for quick baking and high heat conductivity. Copper’s high level of conductivity makes it great for browning, crisping and all-around efficient cooking, just like aluminum. However, it’s a material that’s expensive and requires regular polishing to keep looking flawless.
Stainless steel baking sheets and pans are a kitchen staple. This metal is highly durable (and even dishwasher-safe!), yet it heats up as quickly as aluminum. Its slightly thicker nature gives you all the perks of a thinner, lighter metal mixed with the durability of heavier metals, like cast iron.
Stainless steel does offer more even heat distribution while you’re baking, but there is one downside – stainless isn’t nonstick, so it’s prone to sticking. You’ll want to keep finicky foods and baked goods off of stainless, or be extra careful about greasing, using parchment paper and protecting the food from the pan itself.
The color of your metal pans makes a difference too
Have you fallen in love with all of the colorful baking pans and sheets available now? From pastel pinks and blues to shiny copper to your basic silver products, bakeware comes in nearly every color. But that means you also have to take color into consideration when you’re picking out which metal bakeware is right for every recipe.
Color makes a surprisingly significant contribution to how your food bakes in the oven. Dark colors of metal pans and sheets will absorb more heat and ultimately lead to faster cooking – and if you aren’t careful, it can also lead your food to over-brown or burn. Light-colored pans and sheets work in the opposite manner. Your lighter shades tend to capture less heat, making them a more even-keeled choice for almost any kind of baked good.
Oh, and don’t forget about the finish on your metal bakeware! If your pans, sheets and other baking dishes have a shiny and slightly reflective finish (like most aluminum products do), then you’ll get less heat retention while you bake. However, if you’re working with baking pans that feature a dull or matte finish, you’ll get a bit more heat absorption, which can lead to faster cooking.
What about insulated metal bakeware?
There’s one more specialized type of metal bakeware to keep in mind: insulated sheets and pans. If you own insulated metal baking pans, you’re working with items that feature two layers of metal and a middle layer of air. Because air doesn’t really conduct heat, this “insulates” your bakeware and slows down the transfer of heat from oven to pan.
As a result, insulated metal baking sheets and pans can cook more evenly and a bit more slowly. This can be an advantage in some situations (like if you’re frequently burning cookies), but in others it can slow things down just a little.
When to use metal baking pans
So, when should you reach for your metal baking pans? Here are a few examples of recipes that are perfect for metal:
- Any recipes that require browning
- Quick breads
- Roasting (proteins and veggies)
And don’t forget that there are a few situations in which metal is less than ideal. Avoid using metal baking pans when you’re cooking acidic foods. These highly reactive foods will actually cause a chemical reaction on your metal bakeware, leaving behind discolored pans and an unpleasant gray color on the food itself – it can even make your final product taste a bit metallic. Regardless of the type or color of metal you’re working with, you should avoid acidic ingredients.
Which foods fall into this group? You’ll want to keep berries, citrus fruit, tomatoes, wine and vinegar out of your metal bakeware. While cast iron can be more tolerable (America’s Test Kitchen found that cast iron could handle acidic tomatoes for up to 30 minutes of cook time), other metals can’t handle even a few minutes of acid-rich ingredients.
Glass and ceramic baking dishes are best for lower, slower recipes
You could say glass baking pans are less finicky and temperamental than metal. But that isn’t 100 percent accurate. While glass comes in one color and one finish, which simplifies things a bit, it isn’t exactly as hardy as metal.
Glass bakeware is made for lower temperatures and slower-cooking recipes. Your glass dishes won’t survive extremely high heat or temperatures over 425 degrees (so don’t broil with glass!) and may break if taken from stovetop to oven. Glass is thicker and heavier than your typical metal bakeware, which means it’s slower to reach your oven’s interior temperature and slower to cook.
However, glass does have its advantages. Because glass is thicker, it holds onto heat well and is ideal for baked foods that need to sit at a moderate temperature for longer periods of time. Glass bakeware also heats more evenly, which allows the interior of a dense recipe – like a pasta bake or cheesy casserole – to cook at the same rate as its bottom and sides. And it’s ideal for dishes that you want to pull out of the oven and serve right away. The glass will retain heat for longer, keeping your food warm while it sits out.
Now that you’ve mastered all of the rules for baking with glass pans and dishes, you can apply them to ceramic bakeware too. Ceramic cooks the same way as glass. Just keep color in mind. If you happen to have dark-colored bakeware, you may see an effect similar to dark-colored metal baking pans – the dark color holds in more heat, which can speed up the cooking time. Otherwise, ceramic and glass can be treated exactly the same.
When to use glass or ceramic baking dishes
When is glass just what you need for a flawless baking experience? A good rule of thumb is to use your glass baking pans and dishes when you’re baking something dense. Your glass bakeware is perfect for:
- Baked or braised meats
- Baked pastas
- Crumbles and crisps
- Bread puddings
Remember, glass can’t withstand very high heat or transitions from stovetop to oven (or vice versa). You’ll want to save those jobs for your metal bakeware instead. However, there’s no need to look out for certain ingredients – glass won’t react with acidic foods at all, so anything goes when it comes to your glass pans, dishes and more.
And worst case scenario, if you can’t remember if you’re better off grabbing your metal baking pans or your glass ones, keep this in mind: Read your recipe. Most recipes will give you a clue. If it mentions a pan, sheet, sheet pan or a tin, metal is the right pick. If it calls for a dish and doesn’t require broiling or temperatures above 425 degrees, go for glass.