If you’re looking for ways to make life easier and more efficient in the kitchen, look no further than the humble half sheet pan. Not to be confused with a cookie sheet, which is rimless, a sheet pan is made of sturdy aluminum or stainless steel (18-gauge or heavier works well for home use) with a 1-inch rim around all edges. A full sheet pan, used mainly in commercial cooking and measuring 18×26 inches, is usually too large for home ovens, but a quality half sheet pan at 18×13 inches is an indispensable tool that costs less than $20.
Sheet pan dinners have skyrocketed in popularity because they’re such an easy way to cook veggies and proteins together in one pan, allowing flavors to blend and avoiding a sinkful of dishes to clean. But that’s not all the mighty half sheet pan can do. Here are 10 creative ways to use this low-tech workhorse in your kitchen.
1. Freezer Tray
I lament the end of fresh fruit season, but a sheet pan makes it easy to freeze my favorites. Slice fruit and place it in a single layer on a sheet pan. Place the pan in the freezer and allow the slices to freeze until solid. Remove, place slices in a resealable plastic bag, then return them to the freezer until ready to use in smoothies or crisps.
(Check out these surprising foods you may not know you can freeze.)
2. Prep Space
Experienced cooks advise prepping all your ingredients and equipment prior to cooking, also known as mise en place. (If you’re a messy cook like me, that means ingredients all over the counter.) As you chop or dice, pile each ingredient onto the sheet pan. This keeps them together at your fingertips, ready to go as needed. It also frees up space on your countertop and makes it easy to transport ingredients from the counter to the stove.
(Need more room in the kitchen? Try these 12 simple tricks to gain more counter space.)
3. Oven Protector
There’s nothing I like better than hot blueberry pie—unless it’s bubbling on the bottom of my oven because the juices overflowed from the pie plate. Slip a sheet pan on the bottom rack of your oven every time you cook a pie, souffle, lasagna or any other dish that might bubble over, and you’ll save yourself the hassle and time of a messy cleanup. It’s much easier to simply wash the pan rather than scrubbing residue off the inside of the oven.
4. Slab Pie Baker
And speaking of pie, slab pies are a great way to feed a crowd. Press homemade or store-bought pie dough into the bottom and up the sides of a sheet pan. Fill with your favorite filling and top with lattice strips for a pretty presentation. Try it out with this recipe for apple cranberry slab pie.
5. Dish Carrier
A sheet pan is the perfect tool for loading and unloading individual ramekins into and out of the oven. It’s also handy for transporting hot dishes or dishes that might spill on their way to a potluck. And how many times have you sloshed water out of the ice cube trays when carrying them from the sink to the freezer? Load them onto a sheet pan and then simply dump any excess water off once you get the trays in the freezer.
6. Drying Tray
I love to preserve the fresh herbs from my garden for the winter, and my sheet pan is indispensable. Snip herbs first thing in the morning when they’re at their peak. Lay a tea towel or paper towels in the sheet pan and spread the herbs out in a single layer to dry. You can easily move the pan if you need that space temporarily. Once dried, crumble and place the herbs in an airtight container. A sheet pan also works well to dehydrate apple and orange slices. After drying, simmer slices in a saucepan with water, cinnamon sticks and cloves to fill your home with a lovely aroma.
7. Big Breakfast Hack
Need lots of eggs or bacon for the brunch crowd? Rather than make them a few at a time, make them all at once on a sheet pan. For a frittata, double the recipe, grease and flour the sheet pan, spread your filling ingredients across the bottom, then pour on the beaten egg mixture and top with cheese. Place in the oven and cook until set. Follow the same steps with pancake batter. Remove from the oven and cut into squares to serve. (This works for big-batch sliders, too!)
8. Pizza Pan
Cooking pizza on a preheated pizza stone makes it nice and crispy, but how do you get the pizza into and out of the oven? Flip a sheet pan over and use the back side to transfer the pizza without losing the toppings. If you don’t have a pizza stone, preheat an oiled sheet pan in the oven. Place pizza dough in the sheet pan and top with your favorite sauce and toppings. Cook until done, cool slightly, cut into slices and serve.
9. Juice Catcher
If your portable cutting board doesn’t have a rim, slicing juicy foods like pineapple or watermelon for fruit salad recipes can be tricky. To avoid juice dripping down the front of your cupboards, place a cutting board in a sheet pan before slicing. The sheet pan catches the excess juice and contains the mess. This also works when cutting the kernels off an ear of corn.
10. Pantry Organizer
Corral your baking soda, baking powder and other baking goodies onto one sheet pan on a pantry shelf. That way you can just slide the sheet out of the pantry when you’re ready to bake up a vintage cake instead of rifling through boxes and cans to find what you need. This is especially helpful if you have wire shelving—nothing falls through!
Bonus: Use a Wire Rack
Double your sheet pan’s uses by fitting a wire rack inside. Proteins can roast evenly because air circulates all around the food (it’s perfect for roasting bacon in the oven). A sheet pan with a wire rack is the trick to keeping things warm in the oven without allowing condensation to form on the bottom (think loads of waffles for that brunch crowd). Line the sheet pan with paper towels, pop on the rack, and use it as a drip tray for foods you’ve deep fried. Cool cookies on a rack in a sheet pan and you’ll contain the crumbs and catch any leftover drizzle of frosting.
My father-in-law always said, “If something’s too hard, you’re either not doing it right or you’re using the wrong tool.” A half sheet pan is just one of the essential kitchen tools everyone should have. And if you love to bake, check out these must-have baking tools. Happy cooking!