Not all of us can have a kitchen like Ree Drummond, where the countertops go on forever and there’s basically a whole house’s worth of kitchen storage. (We can dream, though, right?) If you don’t have a lot of room in your kitchen and you want to get down to the basics, you might be looking for the essentials.
Or maybe you know someone who is just starting out building their own kitchen and doesn’t yet have the essentials (or the room to store more than a few pieces of equipment in the kitchen they share with two other people). Occasionally, you can find baking pan sets, but like pots and pans, it usually better to get them individually so you get exactly what you want.
Here’s a list of five baking pans that are essential for every baker and cook to have. These are the only five pans you need (and I recognize that bakers are going to have some strong opinions here), plus one other that if you have a little extra room or cash is worth splurging on. These five baking pans made my list because they are multi-use workhorses, meaning they’re all good for more than just baked goods like cakes and cookies.
I have two Pyrex 9 x 13 glass baking dishes and I could not live without them. Sure, cakes and brownies, but also fruit crisps, cobblers, lasagna, green bean casserole at the holidays, Rice Krispie treats, mac and cheese and other baked pasta dishes, plus anything that needs a serving dish that’s both large and deep.
Pro tip: If you attend potluck parties, get a carrier for your dish that comes with hot and cold packs. Just remember if your dish has a plastic lid, don’t put it on the dish right after it comes out of the oven.
You might think that having a different size of the same pan isn’t essential, and more than a few of you are wondering where the heck the round cake pans are on this list. I use my 8 x 8 glass pan almost as much as I use the larger ones, and while some of it is just smaller amounts of similar dishes, it’s also that I cook different things in it. Fudge almost always goes in an 8 x 8 pan, not a larger one. Vegetable side dishes that don’t need to feed 10 people. One or two pieces of fish.
If you want to mix it up a bit, make your 8 x 8 pan a nonstick metal one instead of glass. If you like to do cakes, I’d even recommend this pan over a round one, because round cake pans tend not to get used for anything other than round cake. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we’re talking essentials here.
3. The Loaf Pan
If you want to make loaf bread, you’re going to need a loaf pan. You don’t have to bake bread in a loaf, but there are other uses for a loaf pan. Quick breads (pumpkin, banana, etc) and pound cake, of course, but also meatloaf, pot pie, pâté, terrine, seven layer dip, Jell-o salad.
Loaf pans are also good for even smaller versions of desserts and main dishes alike; from brownies to baked pasta, if all you need to bake is a bit, a loaf pan’s got you covered.
A sheet pan is your utility player. Want to roast any vegetable that grows? Check. Bake cookies? Of course. Make your own granola? Easily. Cake rolls? You bet. Sheet cakes? Almost goes without saying. Pie? Oh yes, you heard correctly: Pie. You don’t need to own a pie pan if you have a sheet pan because you can make slab pie. You can also put together sheet pan dinners — it’s like a one pot meal for the oven.
Aluminum or stainless steel is best (non-stick or not is up to you — I say that’s what aluminum foil is for). Get the kind with a one-inch lip. You can get a jelly roll pan or a cookie sheet, but they’re not as versatile. Most baking sheet pans sold in stores measure 18 x 13 (which are technically half sheet pans, since commercial restaurant supply stores sell full sheet pans that are twice that size). If you have a small oven, make sure the pan you want fits. For cookies or pastries, putting a baking mat down on the sheet pan helps these more delicate baked goods from cooking too fast on the bottom.
Muffins and cupcakes are the primary uses for this pan, but you can also make individual lasagnas, mini meatloaf, single serving quiches or frittatas, giant ice cubes. And then you can make single servings of oatmeal, soup, sauce, or smoothie ingredients to freeze. Muffin pans – they’re not just for breakfast anymore!
I have two round cake pans, a springform pan, and a bundt pan that get almost no use, but I have one pan that I use all the time instead. It’s a six-well mini round cake pan. Yes, you can use it to make adorable small layer cakes. You can also use it to make hamburger buns, tiny rounds of cornbread, cinnamon rolls, and individual cakes or pies (perfect for homemade gifts during the holiday season).