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Cooking Tips

Yes, There’s a Difference Between Nonstick and Baking Spray

. . . and the success of your next cake might depend on knowing the difference.
By Published Feb. 8, 2022

When I want to impress, I’ll bake a cake in a fancy bundt pan. I recently did this using one of my favorite recipes, the Cook’s Country Sock-It-to-Me Cake, which includes a note to spray the pan with baking spray. I had just moved across the country and all I had on hand was nonstick spray. I knew it was risky, but how bad could it really be?

Sure enough, the cake, while delicious, stuck to the pan. I made it again, this time spraying the pan with nonstick spray and then adding some flour to combat sticking. Still, the cake stuck.

I talked to a couple of resident ATK experts—trained baker Carolyn Grillo and science editor Paul Adams—to understand the difference between nonstick spray and baking spray. (And now I'll always make sure I have both in my pantry!)

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What is the difference between nonstick and baking spray?

In short, flour. Both sprays are nonstick, no matter what kind of oil, propellant, or lecithin they use. However, the flour particles in baking spray create an extra gap between the metal and the pastry, so everything releases easily. This little gap also insulates the batter from the metal of the tin, so it doesn’t cook as fast. This is important for finicky baked goods like Financiers (Almond–Browned Butter Cakes) which need the center and middle to rise and cook at the same rate to avoid doming.

To make the difference clear, most of our recipes (and many products you’ll see in stores) refer to nonstick spray as “vegetable oil spray”and baking spray as “baking spray with flour.”

When should I use each type of spray?

Baking spray is your bundt pan’s best friend. Whether you’re baking a Marbled Blueberry or gorgeous Lemon bundt cake, you’ll find that while buttering and flouring works okay, the added insurance of baking spray in the nooks and crannies of the more intricate bundt pans is worth it. Your cakes will slide out with ease. And if a baking recipe specifies baking spray with flour, use it!

Nonstick spray can be used for most baking recipes, but it works best with parchment paper for an added layer of protection. 

Don't use baking spray for non-baking because the flour might scorch. We only use nonstick spray for cooking, and we sometimes call for it in unexpected ways—everything from making a can of beer to plastic wrap nonstick. For example:

  • Our Peruvian Roast Chicken with Garlic and Lime recipe calls for a vertical poultry roaster. If you don’t have one, you can make one with a 12-ounce can of beer! Simply open the beer and pour out (or drink) about half of the liquid. Spray the can lightly with nonstick cooking spray to prevent the chicken from sticking. 
  • For bread doughs requiring an overnight ferment, like this Pizza Margherita, use a light coat of nonstick spray on your plastic wrap to prevent it from sticking to the dough before placing it in the fridge. 

What should I do if my recipe calls for baking spray but I don’t have any?

If you don’t have baking spray, don’t fret. You can make a suitable stand-in by mixing 1 tablespoon of melted butter and 1 tablespoon of flour into a paste and brushing it inside the pan. 

We used baking and nonstick spray for these six recipes, and they’re among our all-time favorites. Start a free trial to access all these, plus our other home kitchen–tested, foolproof recipes.