There are plenty of tools in your kitchen that are best treated with some TLC. Knives? Keep 'em sharp. Nonstick pans? Don't scratch the coating. Glass dishes? No going from hot to cold unless you want to break them.
Thankfully, there's at least one item that can take a beating and still keep on going: the durable, reliable sheet pan.
This workhorse can survive plenty of abuse, whether it's going under a superhot broiler, being dropped on the floor or living under a stack of other heavy equipment. It's also incredibly versatile and cleans like a dream even after you make a mess of it.
Add an inexpensive rimmed 18-by-13-inch half-sheet pan or two (we and others swear by the Nordic Ware Natural Aluminum Commercial Baker's Half Sheet) to your arsenal, and you'll never run out of ways to use them. For one particular member of our team, the quarter-sheet pan may be the most versatile of all.
-- Sheet-pan suppers are all the rage these days. The pan conducts heat well with enough real estate for a full meal of meat and vegetables that cooks relatively quickly.
-- Even if you're not doing a whole supper, sheet pans are ideal for roasting vegetables, especially when you want them to bake and crisp more than steam.
-- Flipped over, a sheet pan can be used to bake pizza if you don't have a pizza stone or baking steel. Right side up, it makes a killer thick-crust Sicilian pizza.
-- You've heard of sheet cakes, right? They're great for feeding a crowd. You can also experiment with using sheet pans to make a layer cake, because you can cut one big cake into several pieces to stack rather than trying to slice taller cakes horizontally. Also: slab pies.
-- Speaking of pie, baking your pie on a parchment-lined sheet pan will help you achieve a crisped crust and prevent bubbling fruit juices from burning on your oven floor.
-- Cookies have plenty of room to breathe on a sheet pan, and even with proper spacing, you can still fit a lot on one. Stack two pans together and you've got an insulated setup to keep the bottoms of cookies from over-browning. And unlike so-called cookie sheets that only sport a rim on one edge, you don't have to worry about your goodies sliding off a rimmed sheet pan.
A multiuse tool
-- Combined with a metal wire rack, you can create a setup that allows for air circulation underneath whatever you're cooking, meaning fat can drip away from meat (crunchy bacon!) and breaded foods (onion rings, for example) don't get soggy. The pan-rack duo also makes a great station for coating cakes in sprinkles or covering other sweets in melted chocolate or ganache, because the extras go through the rack and are contained in the pan.
-- If you have to transport food from one place to another, such as the kitchen to the grill, a sheet pan is a stable, roomy option. It's also handy for corralling multiple ingredients that you need access to all at once or within rapid succession, as with a stir-fry.
-- Before you pile food into a zip-top bag, spread items destined for the freezer on a wax- or parchment-paper-lined sheet pan so they can freeze individually without sticking together. This works for items such as berries, dumplings and veggie burgers.
-- Lined with paper towels, sheet pans can help you drain just-fried foods or canned beans that have been rinsed. Ditto for water-packed tofu.
Perhaps the only thing a sheet pan can't do is fold up into a teeny tiny pocket for compact storage. But it's worth every inch, every day.