Cooking Tips
The Reason You Shouldn’t Throw Away Your Old Sheet Pan
Is your baking sheet getting well-worn and old? Don't ditch it just yet.
Hannah Crowley

We love sheet pans in the test kitchen. Technically they’re rimmed baking sheets, but you know what I’m talking about—the flat metal thing that goes in your oven. 

We use them every day: for baking cookies, cakes, chicken, and fish; for toasting nuts; for sorting dried beans; even for cooling cooked pasta and rice for salads. 

Add a wire cooling rack and you have the perfect vessel for roasting and broiling meats, holding breaded foods before and after frying, and drizzling chocolate over desserts. In a pinch, turn a sheet pan upside down and you have a pizza stone or a pizza peel. 

But as essential as we think sheet pans are, there are a few ways they can get messed up. 

First, have you ever heard that boinging noise after you place it in the hot oven? That’s the pan warping, which is the metal expanding in a hot environment. Even a good pan can warp, but a sturdier pan will warp less, so the only way to avoid this is to buy the right pan. That’s one reason our winner from Nordic Ware beat out the seven other pans in our testing lineup.

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The second way pans get messed up: They change in color. Sometimes they just get dull—they’re still lightly colored but aren’t as shiny as they were. This happens as the surface gets roughed up during use and cleaning. 

Other times they darken or even turn black. This happens if you frequently roast things in oil. What’s happening is that oil polymerizes on the surface, like the seasoning of a cast-iron pan, and creates a layer. 

Both of these things mean your pan doesn’t look shiny and new any more, but is it actually bad? To find out, we made a bunch of different foods in shiny new pans, then in dull and darkened pans. Surprisingly, the dull and darkened pans actually browned better than the shiny new ones.

This is because darker colors absorb heat more efficiently than lighter colors. Think about how if you dress all in black on a 90-degree day, you’re going to be hotter than you would be if you were in a lighter color.

To make sure we weren’t imagining things, we put shiny new sheet pans and dull older ones in the oven with temperature trackers attached to record the rates at which they heated. Sure enough, the older sheets heated faster, hitting just over 400 degrees in 15 minutes. The shiny new sheets only reached 350 degrees in the same amount of time.

So is it bad if my sheet pan’s messed up? If it’s constantly warping, yes, that’s a bad thing and you might just need to buy a new, sturdier pan. But if your pan’s getting dull or dark, it’s actually a good thing because you’ll be able to get even more delicious browning. That said, because dull and dark pans heat faster they might also run a bit faster, too, so you should check your food a little earlier than your recipe says to avoid overcooking.

Photo: Lena Mirisola/Getty Images

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