Welcome to F&W Gear Guides. Each week on Wednesday, we publish a buyer’s guide for an essential piece of kitchen gear. Our recommendations come from real-world testing.
What makes a great cookie sheet? After narrowing the field based on online reviews, articles published by other sites and the recommendations of our favorite professional cookie bakers, we assembled a lineup of eight promising pans to test. Our favorite was a classic, commercial-grade cookie sheet that’s also terrifically affordable, though we also liked a nonstick model and a heavy-guage, unrimmed sheet. Read on to see how we tested.
In Search of The Best Cookie Sheets
There's nothing sadder than hauling out your mixer, your rolling pin and your cookie cutters, then gearing up to dive into a cookie-making marathon, only to find that your baking sheets are in a disgraceful state. Battered, warped, stained, and scratched: you may be able to make do with them, but at what end? Batches of cookies that are unevenly browned, or undercooked, or impossible to unstick without crumbling will dampen even the most joyful baker's spirit—and with plenty of sturdy, reliable cookie sheets available for under $20, there's no excuse not to invest in a pair that will do the job properly.
But how can you tell which pan has the right stuff? In general, baking sheets fall into two categories—rimmed and unrimmed—with further variations in material and design features among them. While some professional bakers swear by unrimmed sheets for their superior air circulation and simple design, most home bakers will find rimmed baking sheets to be more practical. Why? Thanks to their spill-proof edges, rimmed baking sheets are true multitaskers: just as handy for roasting root veggies, toasting nuts, baking chicken, or supporting a deep dish pizza as they are for turning out perfect sheet cakes and chocolate chip cookies. Place a wire cooling rack inside one and you have an easy-to-clean setup for draining fried foods and broiling cuts of meat, as well as cooling and frosting cupcakes and cookies. But whether you choose a rimmed model or an unrimmed one, a nonstick surface or a natural one, a good baking sheet should heat up efficiently and easily without twisting or warping, yield baked goods that are evenly cooked and tender, and clean up easily without sticking or scratching.
In search of the best of the best, we spent 30 hours in the kitchen with more than a half dozen cookie sheets, rimmed and unrimmed, in range of styles, rolling, cutting, and spooning our way through batches of gingerbread, butter cookie dough and other treats. What did we learn? This is one category where basic really is best. Our favorite pans were workhorses that lacked any bells and whistles beyond their heavy duty commercial grade construction, were easy to stack together and store, and came at an affordable price that guaranteed they'd more than earn their keep.
The Cookie Sheets
When shopping for new cookie sheets, it's easy to feel spoiled for choice. To zero in on the features that matter the most and winnow out the workhorses that would withstand the most demanding use, we sought the advice of baking experts who depend on cookie sheets constantly. Among them were Joanne Chang, the James Beard Award-winning pastry chef/owner of Flour Bakery + Cafe in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts and author of "Flour;" Genevieve Ko, recipe-developer, culinary consultant, and author of "Better Baking," and Dorie Greenspan, the beloved baking authority and award-winning author of more than a dozen cookbooks, including the recently-released "Dorie's Cookies." We also scoured the web, taking notes from culinary and consumer sites including Cooks Illustrated, The Sweethome, Epicurious, Serious Eats, as well as user reviews on Amazon and conversations on forums like Chowhound.
While the terms baking sheet and cookie sheet are often used interchangeably, there are considerable differences between the two. Baking sheets have rimmed edges and are usually about 13" by 18" in size—a dimension that's known as a "half-sheet" pan and fits perfectly on most oven racks with just enough room around the edges to allow for even air circulation. The workhorses of a commercial kitchen, rimmed half sheets are terrific not just for for baking cookies but also pastries, shortbreads, sheet cakes, and roasting vegetables, meat, or toasting nuts. Aluminum is generally the material of choice for manufacturers due to its reasonable price, durability, and high heat conductivity and efficiency. Fast to heat up, aluminum is also fast to cool down—which helps prevent inadvertent burns and reduces the wait time between getting batches in the oven if you are reusing the same pan. While it is primarily a cosmetic concern, aluminum's light color can be prone to staining—but slipping a sheet of parchment or a silicone baking mat onto the sheet before baking is a quick and easy way to expedite cleanup and prolong its life.
Cookie sheets, on the other hand, sport flat edges with small lips on one or two sides that act as handles and assist with maneuvering and gripping. Their large, flat surface area accommodates large batches of cookies and allows for graceful rotating of pans within the oven—and can make it easier to slide cookies off the pan and onto a cooling rack when the baking is through. But versatility is not their strong suit: without four rimmed edges to contain spills or crumbs, many other tasks—from roasting olive oil-tossed veggies to toasting nuts or breadcrumbs—are out of their reach.
Whichever type of pan you choose, other key factors that should be considered are thickness and finish (natural or nonstick). A baking sheet's relative heft is something you can test fairly accurately by touch, but if you want to double check the thickness, the specification to look for is "gauge." For instance, most of our favorite picks fell in the 10-18 gauge range. (Note that gauge is a retrogressive scale, meaning the higher numbers indicate lower thickness.) Gauge is important not just because a sturdy pan feels good in the hand: thinner pans are also more likely to warp in the high heat of the oven (which can lead to unevenly cooked or slumped and misshapen results) and to burn the underside of cookies before the tops can fully brown.
Nonstick baking sheets can be convenient in terms of cleanup, but they come with a few performance caveats. In general, because of the slickness of their surface, these sheets yield cookies that are flatter and more spread out, with smoother, less textured bottoms. Also, because nonstick pans usually have darker grey finishes, they're apt to bake batches more quickly than their lighter, natural aluminum counterparts. (In other words: keep a close eye on the time when you're using them.) Conversely, insulated cookie sheets, which work with a layer of air sandwiched between two sheets of metal, present some of the opposite issues. Because insulated sheets are slow to warm up, they can result in bake times that run considerably longer than recipes indicate, and their gentle heat conduction tends to produce cookies with edges and bottoms that are evenly browned but not particularly crunchy or crispy. Those properties may be just the ticket if you're working with delicate cookies, like meringues, which are at their best when slowly baked and pale, but generally aren't universally appealing.
With an arsenal of eight pans curated from expert tips and consumers reviews on Amazon and other retail sites, we set off into the kitchen mixing, rolling, spooning, and baking our way through dozens of batches of cookies, from crumbly, buttery Brussels cookies to lacey oatmeal molasses cookies, gluten free peanut butter cookies, glazed Italian oil drops, and peppery, dark gingerbread. In addition to working off recommendations, we did our best to include in our tests as wide a variety of sheet pans and cookie sheets as possible, accounting for the various shapes, sizes, and materials—rimmed and unrimmed, natural and nonstick, aluminum, insulated, and ceramic—that are currently available on the market. For comparison's sake, we also tested many sheets both in their bare state and using parchment paper liners and silicone mats.
Our Favorite Cookie Sheet: Nordic Ware Bakers Half Sheet ($10 on Amazon)
This sturdy, utilitarian, uncoated aluminum half sheet pan has lots of fans for lots of very good reasons. Its 18-gauge, commercial-quality construction can stand up to high heat without warping or bending, the generous rimmed edges keep crumbs and spills neatly contained, and though uncoated, the natural aluminum surface is still quite nonstick (and neatly fits a sheet of parchment or a silicone baking mat, should you want to be extra safe). In batch after batch of cookies, it yielded bottoms that were evenly browned and insides that were well-baked, without requiring excessive tweaking with recipe times. Whether lined with parchment or left bare, cleaning the pan was simple, and when stacked, it was unobtrusive and easy to store for later use. Finally, at just $10, it's affordable enough to merit stocking up on a few—a good idea, considering its uses are practically endless.
The Best Nonstick Cookie Sheet: Chicago Metallic Nonstick Jelly Roll Pan ($16 on Amazon)
Our favorite of all the nonstick models we tried, this pan, like the Nordicware, is a hefty, commercial-grade sheet pan built to stand up to constant use without warping or buckling. We like that while coated, the surface of the pan has a fine-grained texture—which helps prevent some of the spreading and flattening that can sometimes be an issue with slick nonstick surfaces. It's just a bit spendier than our first pick, but it comes with a 25-year guarantee, and if you're looking for a nonstick pan that's versatile and sturdy enough for serious use, you won't go wrong with this one.
The Best Unrimmed Cookie Sheet: Volrath Wear Ever Cookie Sheet ($22 on Amazon)
Our favorite of all the cookie-sheet style pans we've come across, this is a serious baker's pan that means business. The simple, one rim design allows for maximum airflow and is easy to grip and rotate in the oven. And there's no chance of this one ever warping or buckling: made of 10-gauge aluminum, this workhorse is the heaviest of all the pans we tried.
USA Pan Bakeware Half Sheet ($20 on Amazon)
This thick, sturdy 3 lb. sheet won points for its durable, made-in-the-USA construction and BPA-free nonstick coating. But the corrugated surface did not seem to offer any significant performance improvements to its competitors and in general, we found the nonstick surface to be less versatile than the uncoated pans we tried.
Air Bake Natural Cookie Sheet ($13 on Amazon)
Batches baked on this insulated sheet took longer to bake, which took too much guessing about recipe times. Might be good for delicate cookies like meringues where browning isn't a goal, but avoid if you want dark, crispy edges.
Anolon Advanced Nonstick Bakeware Cookie Sheet ($13 on Amazon)
Though the silicone handle design is meant to make this baking sheet easier and more comfortable to use, because there is only one handle, not two, grabbing it felt a bit awkard. We eliminated it because there were other nonstick pans that performed better and were more generously and simply designed.
Farberware Purecook Hybrid Ceramic Nonstick Baking Sheet ($10 on Amazon)
This ceramic-surface cookie sheet comes in cute, eye-catching colors and performed ably enough during our baking tests, turning out Italian oil cookies and gingerbread men that were evenly cooked and slid off the pan without a scratch. But, ultimately, compared to the competition, it lost points for a shallow rim and a textured surface that made it less adaptable to a wide array of kitchen tasks.
Calphalon Nonstick Bakeware Baking Sheet ($15 on Amazon)
We were encouraged by the sturdy feel of this heavy duty half sheet pan and impressed by its easy to clean nonstick surface but disqualified it after it warped dramatically during the first round of baking.