Best kind of bakeware material?
December 28, 2007 10:45 PM   Subscribe

For a jack of all trades bakeware, what is the best material? Ceramic, Metal (aluminium), Glass (Pyrex), or Silicone?
posted by riffola to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I like Chicago Metallic's bakeware, which is aluminized steel. Good results, and it doesn't warp.
posted by bolognius maximus at 10:49 PM on December 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

The long answer is that it really depends on what you're baking. Most of the time you can get away with a well greased cheap pot-metal pan. For other things you're going to want pyrex (thinking pastas), ceramic (casseroles), or steel (miscellaneous.)

Pans are reasonably cheap (they aren't as flashy as skillets or pots) and there is no reason not to diversify your quiver on the cheap rather than over investing in a single style or type.
posted by wfrgms at 10:56 PM on December 28, 2007

I think wfrgms is right, but of course a lot of it is just what you like and what you get used to using. I use a lot of pyrex stuff; I'm used to it and I have gained a good "feel" for how my baked goodies are doing in it. I used some metal stuff at a friend's and definitely spent more time wondering if what I was cooking was turning out right while it was cooking than I would have if I were using my "normal" bakeware.

So pick what feels right to you and ultimately, that;'s what you'll be comfortable using.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:12 PM on December 28, 2007

Are we talking about baking sheets here or baking dishes? Because I have two totally different answers. And if we're talking about baking surfaces more generally, I have three.

For baking sheets, I'm all about the aluminum/Al-alloy. Yeah, I know, I'll probably go all crazy from Alzheimer's any day now, but it'll have been worth it for the chocolate chip cookies. Steel ones just don't work properly IMO, even the expensive insulated or double-layer ones, and they rust. Department and kitchen stores tend to really shaft you for Al sheet pans, so I'd say look for a restaurant supply store (in restaurant parlance what you want are 'half sheet pans'). Make sure to get one with rolled edges because otherwise they bend and lose their shape. You can immediately tell the Al-alloy ones from steel by their weight.

For baking dishes, I like Pyrex. The SO prefers Corningware, though, and I'll admit to not really perceiving any difference. I just like Pyrex because it's easy to clean and, short of shattering it, pretty much indestructable. You don't have to worry about scratching the glaze off like you do with ceramics, if (say) you get overly aggressive with a scouring pad. Overall I'm really not picky/opinionated about this, though -- as long as I can dishwash, refrigerate, and microwave the hell out of it, I'm happy.

And for breads and cooking hot sandwiches, or anything else that I want to get a little crispy, the best surface -- bar none -- is unglazed "quarry tiles" (reddish ones) from Home Depot. I've used some of the expensive 'baking stones' from The Pampered Chef and the HD tiles work just as well at a fraction of the cost, plus you can replace the darn things when they get too disgusting. (I don't bother to try and wash them, I just brush the crud off with a wire brush and let 'em be until they turn black, then I replace them.) Following a suggestion from the Alton Brown show, I've put them directly on the bottom of my gas oven for doing pizza and they don't crack.

To date I haven't used any silicone stuff so I can't comment (I'm too cheap to even buy parchment paper), although the silicone 'mats' look cool. The only baking accessory that I've ever found really, really useful are wire cooling racks that fit inside half-sheet pans. Those things I use all the time.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:44 PM on December 28, 2007 [7 favorites]

posted by ikkyu2 at 12:32 AM on December 29, 2007

I agree it depends on what you're baking - pyrex or cast iron (i.e. Le Creuset) for things like baked pasta dishes, shepherd's pie, etc. Conductive metal for cake/pie. Stone for pizza. I love the tip from Kadin2048 of using the quarry tile.

But I recently bought some silicone bakeware and have been very impressed with it. I have a 10" square pan, a loaf pan, a big round pie dish, a baking sheet and a muffin tray. It's been great for muffins/yorkshire puddings, banana bread, cookies, pasta dishes, fudge (not baked, I know, but it did not stick at all) and it's a breeze to clean. The only downside with silicone is that you have to be careful lifting it because it's bendy but I see that you can now buy metal frames for the dishes too. I always make sure I put the dish on a metal tray and lift that, not the bakeware.

The only downside is that on first use you get a horrible chemical smell but with every new piece of silicone ware I make sure I heat it first to get rid of that and thereafter there's been no smell at all.

So a 'yay' here from me for silicone if you want one set of bakeware that'll do lots of things.
posted by essexjan at 3:12 AM on December 29, 2007

Be aware that the Pyrex and CorningWare of today is not the same Pyrex/Corning Ware of yesteryear. THEY ARE ONLY BRANDS NOW.

The Pyrex baking dishes today are plain glass since the brand was spun off as World Kitchen. There is nothing to separate them from normal soda lime glass. And the opaque Corning baking dishes, which are also World Kitchen, are now no longer made from the stovetop/broiler-safe pyroceramic glass.

Pyrex Panic: Shrapnel in the Kitchen
Why Pyrex Bowls "Explode"
Corning Ware history
Pyrex history

Conclusion: The best real Pyrex/Corningware is the so-called vintage stuff before the 1990's abouts.
posted by Ky at 8:03 AM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

*I mean the Corning division responsible for the original Pyrex/Corning Ware was spun off as World Kitchen, not the brand name itself.

And I don't mean to sound alarmist or anything, but I think it's important for people to know that the company producing the current Pyrex/Corningware today never bothered to tell consumers that they "changed the ingredients," so to speak. They simply aren't as durable and temperature-shock-resistant as before.
posted by Ky at 8:07 AM on December 29, 2007

Well, fuck. The brand name Pyrex was created to go with the borosilicate glass and the commercials and advertising back then were pretty heavy on the "better than regular glass" stuff. Keeping the brand name but ditching the reason for having the brand name is bloody fucking base.

Can one actually buy borosilicate kitchenware now?
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:16 AM on December 29, 2007

@seanmpuckett: Not in the new market that I'm aware of, sadly. The competition out of China is just too fierce, and the consumer base simply isn't educated enough to know the difference. It's always about the lowest price.

Flea markets, garage sales, eBay... There's actually a ton of vintage Corning stuff on eBay, but buyer beware, of course. I specifically bought a large, new-in-box set of vintage CorningWare as my lifetime bakeware because of their sneaky change.

One telltale mark on the vintage Corning/Pyrex material was that the stamp included "stovetop and broiler-safe." As far as I know, none of the new stuff can handle stovetops and broilers.
posted by Ky at 8:54 AM on December 29, 2007

*Bleh. I need to clarify that the vintage opaque Corning Ware baking dishes have the stovetop/broiler stamp. I don't think the vintage Pyrex glass dishes could handle stovetop except the old Amber series.

And to loop this directly on topic--I personally highly recommend the vintage pyroceramic Corningware baking dishes as a lifetime jack-of-all-trades set. Anything that can handle the severe shock of stovetop cooking and broiler as well as standard oven use is going to be durable. And to top it off, you can store your foodstuffs directly in their baking containers, something you shouldn't do with metal, for example.
posted by Ky at 9:07 AM on December 29, 2007

As a counterpoint to essexjan's recommendation of silicon, I've got a couple silicon baking dishes (square, round, bread, muffin) and I'm really not a fan. Sure, nothing sticks to them, but nothing really browns properly on the edges, either. I guess that is good in some circumstances, but if you want any browning or crispness, go with another material. And, as mentioned, silicon is too floppy to carry on its own. So buy the silicon cake pan if you like, but make sure you also have an aluminum cookie tray to set it on.

Also, if you end up buying the silicon mats for baking cookies, make sure you get rim-less baking sheets (you want "cookie trays" as opposed to "jelly roll pans"), because the mats will give you curled cookies if they drape up over the rim of a baking sheet.
posted by vytae at 9:22 AM on December 29, 2007

Aluminum cookie sheets, bread pans & cake pans are much easier to keep clean, conduct heat well and don't rust. Not likely to take up much, if any, aluminum in the food. Steel darkens, and will give odd flavors to foods stored in it too long. I like having a couple of really pretty pie plates for potlucks. (pre-made rolled crust looks homemade) Otherwise, I get my baking dishes at Goodwill, where the selection is quite good. Silicon looks useful, but the stuff from Goodwill is way more affordable.
posted by theora55 at 12:07 PM on December 29, 2007

I love my silicone mini bread pan. i wasn't sold on my square pan for casseroles and the like.

i can't agree more with the advice about pyrex. avoid the new stuff (although, it is what i use for my mixing bowl until i can find a good pyrex set). it really is fairly easy to spot at goodwill and flea markets once you notice the 'look' of it. just check the bottom and verify that you're holding pyrex or corningware (same company, i believe there is something different about the material used, but both stand up really well).

You can also go to Pyrex Love and look at some pictures to familiarize yourself with the colors and patterns that are usually used. I just got the harvest grain and i love it so much.

I'd suggest against ebay, just because the shipping usually makes the price not worth it.

Finally, yes, aluminum for the baking sheet.
posted by nadawi at 5:37 PM on December 29, 2007

and - as an added bonus. i just got the cutest pyrex blue and orange mugs. all i can say about the color pallet is - this is good.
posted by nadawi at 5:39 PM on December 29, 2007

Response by poster: nadawi, you know where my heart lies. :)

Thanks for the advice all. I'll definitely check out the wares at Bed Bath & Beyond & Target. I am not keen on buying something used for cooking. I am weird like that, plus I am vegetarian, so I'd hate to know that something I own was used to make meatloaf.
posted by riffola at 9:20 PM on December 29, 2007

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