TODAY ONLY — BUY ONE, GET ONE 50% OFF

 

While a well-seasoned cast iron skillet will always top our list of favorite kitchen essentials, immediately behind it is a pair of tools that we use almost every time we cook: the half sheet pan and wire rack. From ingredient prep through the final stages of cooking, we’re always finding new uses for this dynamic duo.

Let’s look at what makes each tool great, both individually and as a pair.

Photo: Benjamin Muller

The Half Sheet Pan

Until relatively recently, sheet pans were the secret weapon of professional kitchens. They’re what other styles of baking sheet aren’t: cheap, versatile, easy to clean, and nearly indestructible. Plus, like a beloved cast iron skillet, they build up a coating of naturally nonstick seasoning over time.

Eventually home cooks caught on and began swapping out their flimsy cookie sheets and baking pans for something more sturdy, which led to our current explosion of sheet-pan dinners and other recipes designed specifically for the tool.

Sizing

While sheet pans come in several sizes, the 18-by-13-inch “half sheet” pan has emerged as the optimum size for most domestic kitchens. We’re also fans of quarter—and even eighth—sheet pans for smaller tasks, though if we had to pick only one size, our choice would be the half sheet.

Construction

Half sheet pans are usually made from aluminum, an excellent conductor of heat, which helps ingredients brown more quickly and baked goods cook more evenly in the oven. They also come in various gauges, or thicknesses (the higher the number, the thinner the metal). Our half sheet, made in the USA by Vollrath, is constructed from 18-gauge aluminum, which is the perfect thickness for lasting durability and maneuverability—just like our skillets!

What really sets the sheet pan apart from other styles of baking sheet is its rolled edge. This simple enhancement gives the pan its structure; where other baking sheets warp as they heat and cool, a good sheet pan stays perfectly flat at any temperature and after hundreds of uses. However, the rolled edge on some sheet pans doesn’t seal completely, allowing water to get trapped inside the channel, which leads to rust. Ours prevents this issue with “fully-encapsulated bead construction,” a complex way of saying “rust proof.”

Uses

While it’s probably easier to list the things a sheet pan can’t do, here are just some of the many ways we use one in our kitchen (and backyard):

Photo: Benjamin Muller

1. As a portable workstation for organizing ingredients and tools.
2. For roasting and reheating vegetables.
3. For cooking meatballs, meatloaf, and other oven-baked patties that release moisture as they cook.
4. For baking focaccia, slab pies, and extra-crispy brownies.
5. For baking Sicilian-style pizza, or, when flipped over, for using as a makeshift pizza steel or pizza peel.
6. For freezing fruits, vegetables, and pasta.
7. For catching drips from oven-baked pies and braises.
8. For transporting food to and from the grill.
9. As a grill-top griddle.
10. As an emergency pot lid (bonus: you can keep food warm on top of the sheet pan at the same time).

Cleaning and Care

Cleaning sheet pans is kind of a choose-your-own adventure. You can wash sheet pans by hand or in the dishwasher, and scrub them back to their original shine after every use (here's a good primer on how to restore sheet pans) or let them build up a patina of baked-on oil. As makers of cast iron cookware who are obsessive about seasoning, it should be no surprise that we’re fans of the naturally nonstick coating that a sheet pan develops over time and use.

The Wire Rack (and Sheet Pan-Rack Combo)

Used by itself, a wire rack is most often used for cooling cookies, cakes, breads, and other baked goods. But we love using it for live-fire cooking as well. A sturdy wire rack makes a lightweight grilling surface when placed over a gas stove, campfire, or homemade Konro, and we’ll often use one in place of a grill basket on top of our gas or charcoal grill when cooking smaller ingredients or fish that otherwise would slip through, or stick to, the grates.

More often, though, we use a wire rack in conjunction with a half sheet pan. By elevating ingredients above the surface of the pan, the rack promotes air circulation and allows steam to escape, preventing soggy food. This results in better-browned roasts, crispier bacon, and crunchier oven-fried foods—all the things an air fryer is supposed to do, without having to buy another appliance. At the tail end of the cooking process, a wire rack/sheet pan combo is the best way to rest meat and fried foods; the air circulation once again allows steam to escape, while the sheet pan catches any drips.

Photo: Benjamin Muller

Like sheet pans, not all wire racks are built to last, and materials and construction matter. Many are made from flimsy metals that can’t withstand the heat of an oven or grill, and are prone to warping and rust.

Ours, on the other hand, is the sturdiest rack we could find, made from heavy-duty, 22-gauge stainless steel. It’s as durable and versatile as our half sheet pan, and like our cookware, will only get better the more you use it.