Inspired by a chance meeting at my local HomeGoods store…
I’m a weekly HomeGoods kind of girl… It’s one of the places I go when I need to clear my head and have a little “me” time. There’s just something therapeutic about all the possibilities waiting to be discovered, and I suppose I could use the excuse of getting a few extra steps in for my daily fitness goals (wink and grin).
Recently, as I was browsing the baking section at my local store, I came upon a lady holding a number of different types of cookie sheets. I was checking out the sheet pans myself, when she spoke up and asked me if I knew much about them. I smiled and asked her the magic question. “Well, what do you plan to cook on it?” She looked at me with perplexity and replied, “I don’t know!” We both laughed… Her next question was, “What do you use them for- what do you cook on them?” Over the next twenty minutes or so we discussed the versatility of sheet pans versus cookie sheets, and all the things that you can use them for besides the obvious… sheet cake.
She explained to me how she had recently retired from our local school system after teaching for many years. She said that she was never really into cooking, but now that she had more time, she was beginning to learn more techniques… she was having fun with it…and she was eating healthier…and feeling better…and that was inspiring her.
Words can’t express what this brief exchange did for both of us. It was wonderful to connect with someone in person, to laugh and encourage one another. To share a moment of “normal”, still distanced, still masked, but face to face. We exchanged names, repeatedly thanked each other for taking the time to chat, and went on about our shopping. It blessed us both! And just in case you’re curious, she left with two sheet pans, not cookie sheets….
That got me thinking… if I could shed a little light and a little experience about some of the essentials from my own kitchen… maybe it just might help you too. So, with the sheet pan topic in mind, here we go…
When I think of a true “work horse” in my kitchen, it has to be the sheet pan! There are so many types to choose from… shiny, dark, non-stick… some have ridges, some are embossed, some have lips…it can get down right confusing. Allow me to cut through the fog… my absolute favorite type is the basic, 18 gauge, wire rimmed, aluminum half sheet pan. I own four of them (one is embossed with hearts, it was a gift from one of my daughters because she knows how much I love them), and I use them ALL THE TIME! I don’t like dark colored pans as they tend to brown food too fast. I’m not into non-stick because it’s too easy to use a sheet of parchment paper, or a Silpat baking liner, and I don’t want to worry about damaging special coatings.
There’s a reason commercial bakers and restaurants have used these basic sheet pans forever…they are tried and true, reliable, durable and inexpensive enough to have a motherload of them! I have a restaurant supply store not too far away. They are open to the public and their prices are more than reasonable. They always have a pallet of sheet pans at the front door and each is usually less than $8. HomeGoods and webrestaurantstore.com are other good sources for sheet pans, as well as all kinds of kitchen essentials.
Half sheet pans are rectangular and measure 13″ X 18″. Since they are aluminum, I don’t recommend putting them in the dishwasher to clean… but with dish soap, hot water and a little Bar Keeper’s Friend, they scrub right up with ease. I promise, I would not be a fan if they were high maintenance!!
Let’s talk about what to do with them…
One of the easiest and most delicious things to prepare using a sheet pan is roasted vegetables. I frequently roast a single type of veggie or a combination of vegetables. There’s something wonderful about what happens to the flavor and texture of a veggie when it’s roasted. It’s a simple process…uniformity is key so that the veggies cook evenly and are done at the same time. I recommend dicing about 1″ in diameter, or in the case of asparagus or fresh green beans-trim the appropriate ends and leave them whole. Place the veggies on a dry sheet pan, add some olive oil and toss to coat then sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.
Another key is to make sure that the veggies are in a single layer and not overcrowded on the pan. You get the best flavor when the veggies make contact with the pan and have enough room in between so that the edges can brown a bit for flavor.
Bake at either 375 or 400 degrees until they begin to brown and you can smell them. If you are roasting a dense veggie like diced potatoes, its good to take a flat spatula and turn them about half way through cooking. This helps with browning and even cooking, but make sure you spread them back out so that the sides of the potato make contact with the pan for the best crispness.
Some of my favorite veggies to roast are broccoli, asparagus, whole green beans, butternut squash, sweet potato, russet potato, and small red potatoes that I par-boil (cook in water on the stovetop until a knife can pierce them, but not completely done), drain, place on a sheet pan sprayed with Pam, then smash each potato with the bottom of a drinking glass, drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh black pepper and finish roasting until the edges are crispy.
My favorite veggie combo is carrot, yellow squash, red onion, red bell pepper, broccoli and sometimes fresh sliced mushrooms. It’s so versatile! Sometimes I will make a big batch using a couple of sheet pans then store them in the refrigerator. I can easily make a pasta salad with them, or even puree them into a soup. It’s nice to have them for a quick addition to a meal.
I remember the day a friend introduced me to cooking bacon in the oven. It is a game-changer! It is so easy! You can cook so many pieces at once, uniform crispy pieces, and with aluminum foil-cleanup is a breeze! Now you may say to yourself that you don’t need to cook bacon for an army, and that may be true, but you can cook as many slices as you would like. I suggest you prepare a few extra! I roast a whole sheet at a time. That way there will be left overs for breakfast another morning (or breakfast for dinner), BLT sandwiches, or additions to salads…or just because- who doesn’t like bacon?
If I don’t have the long box of heavy duty aluminum foil, I simply use two regular sheets that I have placed back to back and folded one side together several times to make a big sheet. I press it down into the shape of my sheet pan and wrap the excess edges around the lips of the sheet pan. I spray the aluminum foil lightly with Pam and lay my bacon in a single layer with the edges of each piece touching (the bacon will shrink as it bakes). I put my prepared pan of raw bacon in the oven, turn the oven to 375 degrees and turn it on. Allowing the bacon to come up to temperature as the oven heats helps to control splatter.
About half way through cooking, I remove the pan, and using tongs, I flip the bacon over on the sheet pan, slip it back in the oven and let it finish. It takes about 30-45 minutes for a full pan of thick style bacon to cook from start to finish–half that time for regular bacon. You will smell it as it begins to get close to finishing. Just keep an eye on it and remove the pan when the bacon is the doneness you like.
I prepare another sheet pan with paper towel so that I can remove each piece from the grease and allow it to drain. I like to pat the cooked slices with paper towel, just because I prefer mine extra crispy. Leftover, cooked bacon keeps well in a zip lock plastic bag in the refrigerator for several days.
Just like roasting veggies, I frequently roast meat on my sheet pans. Chicken breasts with skin-on and bone-in are great for making homemade chicken salad. I like the skin-on because it helps keep the chicken moist, and the bone-in adds flavor to the breasts. I simply place my chicken breasts on a dry sheet pan, rub both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. I roast them at 375 degrees for about 45 min until they are browned and reach an internal temp of at least 160-165 degrees. When they are done, I remove them from the oven, cover them loosely with a piece of aluminum foil and allow them to cool on the pan. Doing this allows the juices in the meat to redistribute and make a delicious chicken for chicken salad.
Here is another favorite…a boneless, skinless chicken breast that I pounded flat and stuffed with a slice of Boar’s Head pepperoni and a mixture of softened cream cheese, chopped green onions, sundried tomatoes, Lawry’s Seasoned Pepper, granulated garlic w/parsley, kosher salt, fresh black pepper-rolled up and tied with cooking twine– dipped in egg and coated in Panko bread crumbs….
Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. Super easy to throw together but looks like you worked a long time. The meat is juicy. Its not fried in oil and the cleanup is really quick. Serve it with roasted asparagus (that you roast at the same time on another oven rack) and some couscous…So yummy!
Sheet pans make it so easy to cook for a crowd or just a few… I enjoy recipes that utilize the oven and free up my stovetop for other things…
Some of you may have been wondering what’s the big difference between a sheet pan versus a cookie sheet…. Typically, cookie sheets will have no lips (turned up edges). A cookie sheet would not be appropriate for roasting-but you most certainly can use a sheet pan for roasting and baking!! Think about juices….juices from roasting meat, juices from fruit tarts, olive oil from roasting veggies…all of which would run right off of a cookie sheet and burn in the oven. Think terrible stink, and burned mess!
A good sheet pan is heavier, and if it is rimmed with an inner wire, it will be less likely to warp at higher heat. Thinner pans tend to warp causing hot spots and uneven cooking.
I mentioned earlier about parchment paper…Its awesome stuff when it comes to baking on a sheet pan! Silpat liners are another blessing. They are a silicone re-useable mat that can be purchased in a half sheet pan size to fit a standard sheet pan perfectly. While the Silpat liner is a bit of a splurge, I found mine at HomeGoods for a great price. They can be cleaned in the dishwasher, although I find it easier to just hand wash them as I wash the sheet pan. Parchment paper is by far the easiest and most inexpensive option if you don’t bake that frequently, and clean up is as easy as tossing in the trash when you’re done.
One terrific bonus to having several sheet pans (I recommend having at least three), is the ability to load several batches of items to be baked on multiple pans to make rotating them in and out of the oven for baking much easier and quicker. There’s nothing worse than trying to reload a hot pan with uncooked cookie dough or pastry and get it back in the oven before the uncooked dough begins to melt…which alters your cooking time for that batch.
The fact that sheet pans are so affordable, and functional, supports the excuse to have more in your arsenal.
Not Just For Food:
In addition to food, one of my passions is crafting all-natural, high quality ingredient bath bombs. I use my sheet pans to hold my bath bombs as they dry out. Before I can package them, they must rest for about 48 hours before they are hard enough to be safely wrapped.
Who would have ever thought that my sheet pans would serve such different functions?
Well, that’s a wrap…
I hope I have inspired you to think about sheet pans in a new way. I would love to hear your thoughts about them, and how you like to use them!
There are plenty of other “essentials” in my kitchen…measuring cups & spoons, cutting boards of different types…spatulas, whisks and gadgets…the list is long, friend… it is long! I will pick another essential and we will continue this Kitchen Essentials 101 journey together.
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One last thing, if you happen to see me wandering around HomeGoods, I hope you will come up and say “hello”…we could all use a little hope, encouragement, laughter and share a little grace with each other in Jesus’ name!
P.S. If you are interested in my hand crafted, all natural bath bombs, just go to My Shop for the details.
“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent, or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:8”
Tony Huffman says
Loved this article.
Joan Keane says
You make sheet pans and cookie sheets so interesting! I love your blogs. Continue!
These are such great tips! I didn’t know the difference between sheet pans and cookie, sheets, and their different uses.