Sarah Karnasiewicz

F&W tested popular pie pans to find the best.

February 08, 2017

After narrowing the field based on input from our favorite pro bakers, we put nine pie dishes to the test. As it turned out, the best was also the least expensive—a simple Pyrex model. We also loved two ceramic pie pans, as well as one made with an innovative combination of ceramic and glass. Read below for what you should look for in a pie dish and the complete results of our testing. Happy baking.

In Search of the Best Pie Dish

 Sarah Karnasiewicz

Making flaky, perfectly golden pies can be a daunting task for novice cooks and experienced bakers alike. Still, with a little patience and the right tools—starting with a sturdy pie plate—beautiful results are within anyone's reach. Confused by the options? Pie dishes come in a wide range of styles and materials, from flimsy disposable supermarket tins to hand-thrown stoneware plates, making it hard to know which one will yield the best bang for the buck. In search of an educated answer, we spent 20 hours filling, crimping, and baking our way through a lineup of some of the most commonly available and widely recommended pie plates on the market. Our conclusion: Sometimes the simplest tools really are the best.

To assemble our list of contenders and determine the most versatile, easy-to-use, multi-purpose pie plate, we surveyed the preferences of some of our favorite professional bakers, including Kate McDermott, a Seattle-based baking instructor, pie guru, and author of the comprehensive new cookbook The Art of the Pie;  Genevieve Ko, a food writer, recipe developer and culinary consultant who recently penned Better Baking, a collection of wholesome modern twists on baking classics; and Joanne Chang, the James Beard Award-winning pastry chef/owner of Flour Bakery + Cafe in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts and the author of Flour, Flour, Too and Baking with Less Sugar. We also took to the web, consulting user reviews on Amazon and roundups on other established culinary and consumer websites.

The Pie Dishes

When picking a roster of pie plates to test, we tried to include representatives from all the major categories. Outliers aside, most pie dishes tend to be 8 ½  to 10 inches in diameter (measured from inner lip to inner lip), 1 ½ to 2 inches deep, and fall generally into three material categories—metal, glass, or stoneware/ceramic—each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Broadly speaking, metal pie tins conduct heat rapidly and very efficiently, which guarantees a well-cooked bottom crust when making filled pies, such as apple or rhubarb, but can lead to overbrowning and other inconsistencies when working with custard-based pies (like pumpkin or buttermilk) whose fillings may require a longer cook time to set. Inexpensive and shatterproof, the majority of metal pie plates are made of aluminum. These days many are also coated with nonstick surfaces that, while making for neat and easy slice removal, can be easily scratched by sharp knives and serving spatulas.

 Sarah Karnasiewicz

Disposable foil pie tins may seem like a convenient choice if you are bringing your pie to a school potluck or other community event (or if, like Joanne Chang, who uses them widely at her Flour bakeshops, the pies you are prepping are primarily for sale) but their flimsy construction can lead to uneven baking and provides inadequate support for most fillings. One helpful solution Kate McDermott offered: if you must use a disposable pan, bake it inside a glass or ceramic pan—which will aid with even heat distribution and add stability for handling—and remove it only once it has cooled and is ready to serve. "I once saw a beautiful, piping hot apple pie baked in a disposable pan fold in half and slump to the floor when the baker took it out of the oven," said McDermott. "And that was a very, very sad sight."  

Glass pie pans, of which the Pyrex brand is most ubiquitous, are no-frills, affordable, widely available, and oftentimes the plates that many cooks learn on. Indeed, because their clear material lets you see when the bottom crust is firm, browned, and nicely-baked, they can be a boon to bakers of all experience levels. They also conduct heat slowly and evenly, allowing the pie's pastry and filling to cook at the same moderate pace (although this does also mean that they may require a few more minutes in the oven than their metal counterparts). In recent years, consumer websites have reported some alarming stories of glass baking dishes "exploding" after moving from a hot oven to counters and cooling racks (apparently a result of the manufacturers' switch from super heat-resistant borosilicate glass to the slightly more fragile material of tempered soda lime). But in our tests (and in our many previous years of baking with glass pie dishes), we never had one shatter on us, nor did any of the experts we queried, or our friends and neighbors.

Weighty in the hand, appealingly earthy, and available in a rainbow of styles and glazes to suit any occasion and mood, pottery and ceramic pie dishes stand out from the pack in terms of aesthetics—and are sure to win appreciative comments when you present them at table. Like glass dishes, ceramic pie dishes conduct heat slowly and evenly, which helps yield uniformly golden crusts and thoroughly cooked fillings, even when making fruit pies, like apple, that require lengthy cooks to soften down. Some ceramic pans also come with appealing and smartly-designed flourishes, such as ruffled rims that help guide fingers when fluting crusts, or generous handles that make transferring from oven to table a cinch. While they do tend to be pricier—especially the ones made by the three big French makers: Emile Henry, Le Creuset and Staub—when well cared for, most ceramic pie dishes will last a lifetime and are pretty enough that you'll want to pass them down. Vintage pottery pie dishes can be quite beautiful, too, but if you stumble on one at a flea market or estate sale, exercise caution: older glazes may contain lead, and when in doubt, it's best to avoid them.

The Tests

 Sarah Karnasiewicz

A well-performing pie dish needs to do a lot more than look good. Namely: it should be versatile enough to yield evenly baked, golden crusts and thoroughly-cooked fillings every time, whether the task at hand is a fruit pie, savory pie, press-in crust, custard pie, or quiche. Its size should be generous enough to accommodate an eye-catching pile of fruit when being used for rustic, deep-dish style double crust pies, but not so capacious that the ratio of filling to crust feels skewed when making icebox pies, more delicate custard pies or quiche. Finally, from a value standpoint, a good pie dish should also be sturdy enough to stand up to years of heavy use.

Drawing on our personal collection of pie plates, expert recommendations, Amazon's most popular pans, and a few wildcard options thrown in for good measure, we began testing with a lineup of ten pans and then whittled that list down to seven finalists that seemed to best represent the range of prices, styles, and design options on the market. To put those contenders through their paces, we settled on a three-part process, comparing the results when each pan was used to blind bake a storebought crust (using this brand), prepare Food & Wine's classic double-crust apple pie (prepped with Food & Wine's all-butter pie dough), and make the iconic Libby's pumpkin pie (using the recipe found on the back of the can).

Our Favorite Pie Dishes

 Courtesy of Pyrex

Our favorite pie dish: Pyrex Basics 9" Pie Plate ($4 on Pyrexware.com)

In a win for value and a victory of function over form, the most inexpensive and arguably simplest pie dish we tested turned out to be our consistent favorite. Well proportioned at 1 ½ inches deep and 9 inches wide, the Pyrex Basic plate lacked the volume of some of the deep dish pie plates we tried, but still ably supported a classic apple pie and perfectly contained the custardy contents of the Libby's pumpkin pie. In both of those cases, as well as during the blind-baking, the material's even heat conduction yielded crisp, uniformly golden pastry layers without any weird pale spots—and because the dish was transparent, gauging doneness was easy as taking a peek at the sides or the bottom. Slices of pie came out of the dish cleanly, making serving neat and stress-free, and we never had to worry about scratching the durable surface with sharp knives. The dish's thin, unadorned lip allowed for flexibililty when finishing off the crusts, and looked equally lovely whether we decorated the edges with a fork crimp or finger fluting. Another bonus, pointed out by Genevieve Ko (who also favors glass when baking at home): though not quite disposable, the low cost of the Pyrex Basic dish, combined with its popularity (you can pick one up in most major supermarkets), means that leaving one behind at a potluck, or gifting a pie to a host or hostess without the expectation of getting your dish back, is a relatively low-stakes sacrifice. Finally, while some bakers might find the no-frills design a bit blah in comparison to more stylish ceramic plates, we like the pan's utilitarian simplicity. Or, as Ko put it: "The Pyrex dish is such a neutral backdrop that it doesn't distract from the beauty of the pie itself—and isn't that what should be the centerpiece?"

 Courtesy of Amazon

Best ceramic pie dishes:
Baker's Advantage Ceramic Deep Dish Pie Plate ($15 on Amazon)
Emile Henry Modern Classics Pie Dish ($30 on Amazon)

Going into the testing process, the Emile Henry pan was our odds-on favorite. Having used one at home for years, we were always happy with its generous capacity, its consistently excellent browning and its elegant European looks—compliments we heard repeated by many of the experts we surveyed, including Kate McDermott. From a practical standpoint, it won points for being microwave, freezer, and dishwasher safe. We also liked that it was the only model we tested specifically approved for use under the broiler, which, while certainly not an essential, only emphasized its versatility. Made by a family company in France from Burgundian clay, its pedigree was sterling, and seemed to justify what might seem a comparatively extravagant price tag—plus, as an heirloom-grade piece of gear, it would more than earn back its price over years of use.

Think of the Baker's Advantage Deep Dish Pie Plate as the Emile Henry's more affordable (and nearly identical) American cousin—and a very good deal. Made in the USA from high-quality stoneware, it has the same pretty ruffled rim, colorful outer glaze (though in fewer hues), and careful construction as its French counterpart. Indeed, weighing in at 2 lbs, 11 ounces unfilled, feels even heftier in the hand. That weightiness can translate to longer cook times—because the pan heats evenly but quite slowly, it is sometimes necessary to add as much as a ⅓-½ more oven time to recipes to achieve thoroughly baked results. But keeping those adjustments in mind, the results using Baker's Advantage were predictable and appealing: blind baked crusts turned out evenly browned and with little shrinkage, apple pies stood tall and burnished gold. While the pan takes longer to heat up than a metal pan, for instance, it also takes a long time to lose all that heat, too. Case in point: After one afternoon of baking, I brought the apple pie I'd made in the Baker's Advantage pan to share at a parent's association meeting at my son's school—and when we sliced into it, everyone marveled that the soft, jammy apples were still warm.

Still, while there was a lot to recommend both the Emile Henry and Baker's Advantage pans, when put through their paces alongside the Pyrex and other contenders, a few shortcomings emerged that kept them out of the top spot. Both produced deeply browned crusts without any sogginess, but the insides of both pans were not reliably nonstick, and removing clean slices of pumpkin or apple pie without leaving bits of the bottom crust behind proved tricky. Also, while the generous depth of the dishes ably contained the mountain of fruit called for in our apple pie recipe, after baking the fruit settled dramatically, causing the tall sides of the pan to leave a significant gap between the filling and the crispy top crust. Finally, the manufacturer’s instructions for the Baker's Advantage dish recommend hand-washing rather than using a dishwasher for cleanup—a small note which nonetheless detracts from its practicality and convenience.

 Courtesy of Amazon

Best of both worlds: Creo SmartGlass Pie Plate ($14 on Amazon)

A relative newcomer to the marketplace, the Creo Smartglass Pie Plate was created with the aim of combining the best features of glass pie pans and ceramic pans—and largely succeeds in doing so. Light and pleasant in the hand, it pairs an extra-durable borosilicate glass interior with a stylish ceramic exterior in an array of pretty matte hues, resulting in a plate with the consistently excellent heat conduction of Pyrex and the fashionable, oven-to-table looks of a Le Creuset or Emile Henry. Blind-baked crusts turned out golden and shatteringly crisp and never stuck; pumpkin pies baked up creamy and without a soggy bottom. Bottom line: if you don't mind spending an extra $10, this pan is a promising and very pretty alternative to the Pyrex basic. We'll be keeping it in our rotation.

Also Considered

Williams Sonoma Gold Touch ($19 on Williams Sonoma)

This nonstick metal pan is attractive, well made, and appealingly sturdy in the hand. Made from commercial-grade aluminized steel to distribute heat quickly and evenly, we loved the way it produced blind baked shells that were uniformly golden and lifted cleanly out of the pan without a crumb left behind. Ultimately however, we ruled it out as not versatile enough: when used for custardy pies, like pumpkin, the edges shrank slightly and the crust set faster than the filling.

Staub Ceramic Pie Dish ($30 on Williams-Sonoma)

We loved the look of this dish, especially the pretty and practical squared-off handles stamped with the Staub name, but found that its smaller size (it fit entirely inside all of our top selections) made it impractical as an all-purpose pick. Also, while the Staub company made its high-quality reputation with French-made cast iron cookware, these days many of its ceramic accessories (including this one) are made in China.

USA Pan Bakeware Aluminized Steel Pan ($14 on Amazon)

A sturdy, serviceable metal pan that might be a great choice for high-volume commercial kitchens, this dish caught our eye because of its great marks on Amazon. We loved its well-crafted heft, its Made-in-the-USA pedigree, and its lifetime warrantee. But we found that the corrugated interior was not as consistently nonstick as touted, making some slices hard to remove and the pan more laborious to clean.

Pyrex Easy Grab 9.5-inch Pie Plate ($9 for two on Amazon)

Slightly wider than our favorite glass pan and sporting a flat, frilled rim, this pie dish got ruled out because it offered no appreciable benefits versus the basic Pyrex model, and its wide rim felt cumbersome when shaping and filling crusts.

Camp Chef Cast Iron Pie Pan ($20 on Amazon)

We love baking cakes and breads in cast iron and the way the material's intense heat conduction yields wonderful crunchy edges and firm, golden crusts—so we were curious to see how that performance could translate to pie making. But while the pan performed ably during the making of our apple pie, its aggressive heat retention led us to nearly burn our pastry during blind baking, and made timing the cooking of our custard filling difficult. Also, even if you want to play around with cast iron baking, given that many cooks already have a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet (which could do double duty as a pie plate, if desired) in their arsenal, buying this stand alone pan is probably an unnecessary expense.

RELATED: Dutch Apple Pie​​​​​​​