The Dish on Pots and Pans
From Dutch ovens to souffle dishes, here's how to spring for the right pan.
Whether you're a culinary novice or a seasoned home cook, choosing the right cookware can be confusing at times. The Cooking Light Test Kitchens staff share some tips on the best pot or pan to use for certain types of recipes. It's perfectly fine to improvise with what you already own, of course, but here are some guidelines that wil help you produce the best results for each type of dish.
A springform pan is a round, deep pan with tall, removable sides; it's most often used for baking cheesecakes. Springform pans with glass bottoms conduct heat better and decrease baking time, and those with extended edges around the base keep the batter from leaking. Nine-inch pans are most popular―if your springform pan isn't the size called for in the recipe, substitute a smaller one; your cake will be thicker and will need to bake longer. Conversely, if you substitute a larger pan, your product will be thinner and may require less baking time.
For light cooking, a nonstick skillet is essential, since it requires little added fat. But there are times when food needs to stick. If you want to leave browned bits behind for deglazing or achieve a dark-brown surface on meats, use a heavy skillet without a nonstick coating, such as copper, cast iron, or stainless steel.
Recipe: Pork Piccata
A jelly roll pan is a 15 x 10 x 1-inch pan that's used to make thin cakes, such as sponge cakes and jelly rolls. Some people call them baking or cookie sheets, but technically, a baking sheet has a rim on just one or two sides. Jelly roll pans come in shiny and dark finishes, and may have nonstick surfaces.
With sides only a couple of inches high, a shallow baking dish allows foods to cook quickly and brown evenly. These dishes come in ovals and rounds as well as squares and rectangles. You probably have at least one, but you might not call it that: An 11 x 7-inch baking dish is a commonly used 2-quart shallow baking dish.
The 10-inch tube pan, also called an angel food cake pan, is a classic tall-sided, round cake pan with a tube in the center. Sometimes it has a removable center; sometimes it doesn't. Some types have small metal feet so you can turn the pan upside down for cooling. If your pan doesn't have feet, and your recipe tells you to "hang" the cake upside down to cool, as many angel food cake recipes do, you can invert it on a bottle with a long neck.
Recipe: Dutch-Chocolate Angel Cake
A soufflé dish is round and has tall, straight sides (5 to 7 inches high) so your egg mixture will climb the sides and rise high. And because they were designed to go from oven to table, soufflé dishes are usually attractive enough to use as a casserole or serving dish.
Recipe: Greens and Cheese Souffle
Roasting pans are designed for cooking large cuts of meat, such as a pork loin or Thanksgiving turkey. These heavy pans come in large rectangular or oval shapes with 2- to 4-inch vertical sides, which keep the pan juices from overflowing in the oven. They sometimes come with racks to keep the meat raised above the drippings as it roasts; if your pan doesn't have a rack, you can elevate the meat with vegetables (such as whole carrots and ribs of celery) or a wire rack that fits the pan, unless the roast has to cook for several hours (in which case the drippings help the meat stay moist). A good substitute is a broiling pan with a removable rack.
A Dutch oven is neither Dutch nor an oven, but a deep pot with a tight-fitting lid that can go from cooktop to oven-most cookware sets include a pot that fits this description. It usually holds 3 to 6 quarts. Some versions come with a long handle, like a skillet. If you choose one with a handle, make sure there's also a "helper handle" on the side, since a hot Dutch oven full of food can be quite heavy.
Recipe: East African Braised Chicken
Baking pans are made of metal; baking dishes are made of glass or ceramic materials. Glass conducts heat better than metal, so if you use a baking dish in a recipe that calls for a pan, you'll need to decrease the oven temperature by 25 degrees.