by Aly Walansky
It's pretty common to invest in a sheet pan when expanding a kitchen's bakeware collection - and this pan is great for a batch of cookies. But the home cook will soon discover that this versatile pan is just as useful for savory dishes as the sweet ones! In fact, the sheet pan may be the unsung hero of the kitchen.
Sheet pans are affordable (they start at just $19 at Made In), lightweight, easy to clean, and oven safe up to 450 degrees. This makes them excellent for sheet pan dinners and baking cookies, but their potential goes far beyond those typical uses. This tray is more than a cooking tool. It also has great possibilities for everything from organization to cleaning.
While sheet pan dinners are a pretty common and familiar sight, sheet pans are just as useful when prepping ingredients before anything goes in the oven.
"I've always found that a clean kitchen makes me happier," said Tastemade chef Frankie Celenza of Struggle Meals.
Before Celenza uses a sheet pan in the oven, he uses two while prepping his ingredients. "Piles of my ready to use ingredients end up on one, while the skins, cores, seeds, and blemished pieces end up on the other (and then towards compost). Messy tasks like peeling lots of garlic and cutting corn off the cob happen on a small cutting board inside a sheet pan."
That means one organized spot to clean when done!
Pot lids aren't always readily available, but a sheet pan can be an easy fix in a pinch. If the right size lid can't be found (or doesn't exist), just place the sheet pan on top of the pot. It'll always fit, and is, of course, heat-resistant. It's also an old-school professional kitchen hack! "On my first day in a professional kitchen, I learned that a sheet pan is a universal lid for almost any pot; that comes in handy a lot these days," said Celenza.
Everyone has had that beautiful turkey dinner or hot bubbling cherry pie that has exploded all over their oven. It happens, and it's a mess. Sheet pans also make great catch-alls in the oven (e.g. cedar plank salmon in a sheet pan (and soaked in a sheet pan before using) to eliminate the mess. "Vegetables or delicate fish cooked in parchment always have the support of a sheet pan underneath in my kitchen," said Celenza. Any way to avoid those scary oven fires caused by escaped grease or gravy is very appreciated.
Sheet pan dinners have become incredibly popular in recent years, as seen across social media. Perhaps the most known use for a sheet pan, outside of those sheets of cookies, is for this one-sheet way of blending proteins and veggies in one easy place. And, for this, the possibilities are truly endless. "Perhaps its greatest trick of all is that you can throw almost any ingredient in the world into a sheet pan, as long as the pieces are one inch to center; toss it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and stick it in the oven for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. It’s really really good at doing that!" said Celenza.
Everyone has seen the carnage that results from defrosting that roast in the fridge, and ending up with leaking juices. It can be a pretty horrific sight! Keep a half sheet tray on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator for meat storage. "This is particularly helpful if you are defrosting meat to corral leakage," said Clare Langan, a San Francisco-based chef and culinary consultant. The ¼ sheet pan is perfect for this!
But the storage doesn't end with items in the fridge. A sheet tray is also the perfect place to store drippy olive oil bottles, messy pepper mills, and bowls of salt next to your stove. "I've converted lots of friends to this "mission control" set up, and they say their time at the stove is much calmer and more organized," said Langan.
Planning a lox and bagel brunch? The sheet can be very useful in curing fish, such as that beautiful smoked salmon. "I like using them to cure fish," said Bradley Griffin from Sarah Jeans Eatery. You can put your fish in whatever you are curing the fish in one sheet pan and use another to press it. "Using a sheet pan allows you to have a more even weight distribution on what you are trying to cure," said Griffin.
Hack a pizza stone by flipping a half sheet tray upside down and put it in the oven as it's preheating. "Slide your pizza onto the sheet tray with a piece of parchment for a crispier bottom crust," said Langan.
But, of course, baking!
It's easy to take everyday equipment for granted, but pastry chefs would not function in the same way without sheet pans. "I use various types of molds in my pastry work, so I consider the sheet pan as the original bakery mold," said Jimmy MacMillan, Pastry Chef Consultant at Pastry Virtuosity in Chicago.
Of course, the most common is that sheet pans can be used for baking everything, from sponge cakes to cookies. "Sheet pans streamline our workflow as we scale out ingredients for one recipe at a time, each on their own pan," said MacMillan.
And when chopping chocolate or nuts, MacMillian places a cutting board inside a sheet pan to keep the ingredients from getting away from him.
Talk about a true kitchen MVP!