The humble sheet pan is one of the hardest-working players in your kitchen. Here's what to look for when you're buying, plus how to use them properly.
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Sheet Pan Fried Rice image
Sheet Pan Fried Rice image
| Credit: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Blakeslee Giles; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis

So you’re ready to start using sheet pans more. You keep reading about these easy-sounding sheet pan meals that require almost no cleanup, or you want to have something on which to roast vegetables. Excellent idea! These babies are kitchen workhorses for good reason.

What to Look For

First, measure your oven. “Regular” sheet pans are huge, and meant largely for restaurant kitchens. Most ovens can accommodate the confusingly named half sheet pan,” which is what you probably want: a heavy-duty, thick, typically aluminum pan measuring 13 by 18 inches wide, with a rim that’s about an inch tall. A quarter-sheet pan is typically 9 by 13 inches, and ideal for small ovens or many toaster ovens. If you have a large enough stove, you may be able to fit two half-sheets or a half-sheet and a quarter-sheet pan (and be able to roast veggies for the week in one go!)

What You Don’t Want

Be sure you’re not buying a cookie sheet (which typically has no rim), a jelly roll pan (which is smaller and flimsier), or a French black steel sheet pan (which requires seasoning with salt, and is rather high-maintenance).

Where to Buy One

Decide whether you want nonstick or regular pans, as both are available—many home cooks prefer the former, as they don’t want to risk the nonstick coating breaking down over time—and check out sites such as Williams-Sonoma, Sur la Table, Amazon, or restaurant supply and cooking stores. Use your instincts when you examine the pan; it should feel sturdy, and you might discover that older models—including previously owned ones—look heartier than their younger brethren. And while you’re at it, consider buying a rack that fits inside, like this set at Bed, Bath & Beyond, which is handy when you’re cooking, say, a spatchcocked chicken and want to avoid having the meat poach in its own fat.

Garlicky Roasted Spatchcock Chicken
Credit: Alison Miksch; Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine

Why They Work

Metal pans conduct heat, and because it has only a shallow lip, more hot air hits more surfaces of the foods cooking in a sheet pan that it does in, say, a deep glass baking dish. Also, the size of a sheet pan enables you to spread out meats and veggies, so they’re not crowded and can get crisper. And if you’re baking bacon or cooking a larger piece of meat such as a chicken (avoid very fatty meats like pork shoulder, which would require a Dutch oven or large skillet), there’s a place for the fat to pool—and be turned into a tasty sauce on the stovetop afterwards!

How to Use Them

Many people love sheet pans for roasting veggies and making one-pan meals. Try cutting one large head of clean, dry cauliflower into florets, toss with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper, spread on a sheet pan, and put in a 450 degree oven until golden (about 30 minutes). It’s a great way to have a side dish for a couple days. Same goes with broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Last week I tried out this garlicky roast spatchcocked chicken recipe, swapping out sage for thyme and propping the bird up on shallots so it could evenly brown all around. I substituted cauliflower for Brussels sprouts, skipped the carrots and potatoes, and ended up with schmaltz-laced cauliflower and a wonderfully crisp, juicy, garlicky bird. Because spatchcocking a bird means it cooks faster, the whole shebang was ready in one hour—and required only one dish to clean.

Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in, Bon Appétit, Martha Stewart Living, Travel & Leisure, New York Magazine, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.