Martha Stewart was placing two apple crisps on a sheet pan to catch the juices that bubble out during baking when she said, "If you saw how many sheet pans I owned, you would be quite horrified. I have a lot of sheet pans."
And she's accumulated them over a long time: Stewart was first introduced to commercial sheet pans — the thick, uncoated aluminum baking sheets with 1-inch-high rims and rolled edges — by Fred Bridge in the 1970s. She had a catering business in Connecticut, and he owned Bridge Co., a professional kitchenware store in Manhattan.
"That's where I really started learning about high-quality, restaurant-quality, long-lived equipment," Stewart said. "I bought my best things from Mr. Bridge."
On her first TV show, two decades later, she used sheet pans on set, showing them to home viewers repeatedly — though not intentionally. Like most professional chefs in America, and bakers in particular, Stewart relied on those pans even if she didn't showcase them.
No one did until recently, because sheet pans have neither the vintage-car shine of copper pots nor the allure of carbon-steel knives. Sheet pans are essential to professional kitchens, but with far more function than form, they don't scream for attention. The best ones cost less than $20.
And yet this utilitarian piece of equipment has become a star. That can be attributed in part to a surge in popularity of sheet-pan recipes, a new genre of weeknight cooking that provides an entire meal on the pan. Cousins of one-pot meals, sheet-pan suppers combine vegetables, protein and starch in a single piece of cookware, but offer a larger canvas to compose a range of shapes and colors. The actual cooking requires nothing more than passive waiting.
But popularity is fleeting. Sheet pans are not. Available in four sizes, they are the bedrock of many American restaurants, bakeries and food-service kitchens.
Full-sheet pans are designed to fit commercial ovens; half-sheet pans are half the length at 17-by-12 inches; and so on down to eighths. While home cooks toss around the term "sheet pan," chefs shorthand their names by size: "Bring me that half-sheet of almonds. Prep that foie on a quarter-sheet." (Most sheet-pan recipes for home cooks are developed for half-sheets.)
Half-sheets are astoundingly versatile, partly because they're the perfect size. Chefs grab them to move ingredients to walk-ins, dirty tools to dishwashing and clean pots to the stove. They use them as trays to organize mise en place. They throw half-sheets in ovens to toast breadcrumbs, roast bones or dry tomatoes.
Hometown cookware company Nordic Ware began selling the pans to home cooks in 2001. "It wasn't a success out of the box," said Jennifer Dalquist, executive vice president of sales and marketing. "It took years to get on its feet because it's not a glamorous-looking product."
Dalquist declined to share exact numbers, but said that for more than a decade, the company has experienced double-digit growth in sheet-pan sales year over year. Their pan, which is universally praised in cookware reviews, comes with a lifetime guarantee. "Unless you run it over with a car, it's going to last you forever," she said.
When seeking out half-sheet pans, pure aluminum is best, as it conducts heat more evenly than aluminized steel. Avoid coatings of any sort: Pans with nonstick finishes can't withstand high oven heats, get scuffed and need to be replaced every three to five years. For sturdier options, look for thicker pans according to the metal's gauge (12- to 18-gauge works well); the lower the number, the thicker the aluminum. Once you've used true half-sheet pans, you can't go back to flimsy tins.
Some people complain that sheet pans are difficult to wash by hand. (Using the dishwasher discolors them, but doesn't affect performance.) Stewart said that washing is simple as long as soiled pans are crisscrossed, not stacked inside each other. If they're washed in hot soapy water right away, everything "comes right off," she said, and they look just as they did before.
"These sheet pans from my catering days, all the way from the early '70s — they're still perfect," she said.
Note: Baking pancake batter in a sheet pan is a smart way to get a big batch ready all at once. Even more brilliant? The way Jerrelle Guy applies a technique used for biscuit dough, ensuring fluffier pancakes. If you like, you can stir a teaspoon of vanilla extract into the batter, sprinkle it with finely chopped fruit, or mix and match toppings to please the crowd. If you don't have a food processor, whisk the dry ingredients in a bowl, then cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two butter knives. Make sure the oven is fully heated before putting in the prepared sheet pan. From the New York Times.
• 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened, plus 8 tbsp. unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into 1/2-in. cubes and chilled
• 1 1/2 c. cold buttermilk
• 1 1/2 c. cold whole milk
• 3 c. flour
• 1/4 c. sugar
• 1 tbsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
• 3/4 c. mini chocolate chips
• Maple syrup, for serving, optional
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Grease a 13- by 18-inch sheet pan using 1 tablespoon softened butter, then line it with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a large measuring cup, combine the buttermilk and milk; set aside.
In a food processor, add the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and blend until combined, about 30 seconds. Sprinkle the chilled butter cubes on top and pulse until the butter is coarse and sandy, and some pieces are the size of peas. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and pour the buttermilk mixture on top. Whisk to combine, then let stand for 5 minutes. Place the prepared sheet pan in the oven on the middle rack to heat while the batter sits.
Remove the hot pan from the oven, add the remaining 2 tablespoons softened butter to the pan and return to the oven until the butter is melted and bubbling, about 1 minute. Remove the pan and carefully tip to spread the melted butter around. Working quickly, stir the risen batter one final time and pour it into the center of the pan, tipping the pan again to spread the batter evenly. Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the batter.
Return the pan to the oven and bake until cooked through, 13 to 15 minutes. Broil until the top turns golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Let cool slightly, then cut into squares. Serve warm, with maple syrup, if desired.
Note: You'd think the star of this dish from the New York Times' Ali Slagle is the slab of salmon — and you'd be right — but what makes it sing is the surprising pairing of ginger and dill spread on top. Those two ingredients also season a refreshing citrus salad, crunchy with spicy radishes and creamy with avocado. Piled on top of the fish, it turns this into a meal that tastes as good warm as it does at room temperature. This can be made two days ahead and refrigerated.
• 1 (1 1/2-lb.) salmon fillet, skin-on or skinless
• Kosher salt and black pepper
• 6 tbsp. finely chopped fresh dill
• 1 (2-in.) piece ginger, scrubbed and finely grated
• 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
• 1 grapefruit
• 2 oranges
• 6 small radishes, cut into thin wedges
• 1 avocado
• Flaky sea salt, for finishing, optional
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Pat the salmon dry, then place on the tray skin-side down (if there is skin) and season with salt and pepper.
In a medium bowl, stir together the dill, ginger and olive oil until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Spread half of the dill-ginger mixture over the top of the salmon. Bake until cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. (You'll know the salmon is done when the fish flakes or an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part is 120 degrees.)
As the salmon cooks, cut off the top and bottom of the grapefruit and set the grapefruit down on one of the cut sides. Follow the curve of the fruit to cut away the peel and pith. Squeeze the peels into the dill-ginger mixture to get out any juice. Cut the fruit in half from top to bottom, then slice into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons and remove the seeds. If your pieces are especially large, halve them again. Transfer the fruit and any juice on the cutting board to the bowl. Repeat with the oranges. Add the radishes, season generously with salt, and stir gently to combine.
Break the salmon into large pieces, and divide across plates with the citrus salad. Peel and pit the avocado, then quarter lengthwise and add to plates. Season with salt. Spoon the juices from the bowl over top, and season with black pepper, another drizzle of olive oil, and flaky sea salt, if using.
Baked Feta With Broccolini, Tomatoes and Lemon
Note: Here's a way to transform feta: Bake it. With almost no effort on your part, the fresh tangy, briny cheese develops a creaminess similar to goat cheese. You'll want to toss slabs in the oven all the time. In this especially easy vegetarian dinner from the New York Times' Yasmin Fahr, broccolini chars alongside the feta as grape tomatoes burst, red onions caramelize and lemon slices soften. Eat the mix warm straight from the pan or serve over a pile of orzo or with bread. Broccolini has a tender, delicious stalk, so trim only the bottom half-inch and enjoy the rest. If you like, cut the broccolini, feta and lemon into bite-size pieces and toss with the orzo for a salad.
• 1 bunch broccolini, ends trimmed, thick stalks split lengthwise, or broccoli, stalks trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
• 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved (about 2 c.)
• 1 small red onion, peeled, quartered and cut into 2-in. wedges
• 1 lemon, 1/2 cut into thin rounds and the remaining 1/2 left intact, for serving
• 3 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for serving
• 1 tsp. ground cumin
• 1/2 tsp. red-pepper flakes
• Kosher salt and black pepper
• 2 (6- to 8-oz.) blocks feta, cut into 1-in. slices
• Cooked orzo or farro, for serving
• 1/2 c. fresh basil or cilantro leaves and fine stems, roughly chopped, optional
Preheat oven to 400 degrees with a rack set in the lower third. On a sheet pan, combine the broccolini, tomatoes, onion and lemon slices with the olive oil and toss. Add cumin and red-pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper, and toss again until evenly coated. Nestle the feta slices into the vegetables. (It's OK if they break apart a little.)
Roast 15 to 20 minutes, stirring halfway through but leaving the feta in place, until the broccolini is charred at the tips, the stems are easily pierced with a fork and the tomato skins start to blister and break down.
Serve over orzo or farro. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with the remaining lemon half for squeezing. Top with fresh herbs, if using.
Chicken With Squash and Dates
Note: What makes this chicken dinner exciting is everything under, around and on top of it. Kay Chun of the New York Times gives this dish a riot of tastes and textures: toasty chickpeas, sweet velvety squash and even sweeter soft dates. Over all that richness is a lemony olive-caper relish with fresh parsley, bolstered by pan juices. This makes for a fantastic vegetarian meal for two if you skip the meat. Chop up leftovers and repurpose them in a rice salad with crumbled feta or grated Parmesan for extra tang.
• 2 lb. delicata squash (about 2 large), scrubbed, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced crosswise into 1-in.-thick pieces
• 1 (15-oz.) can chickpeas, rinsed
• 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
• Kosher salt and black pepper
• 4 whole bone-in, skin-on chicken legs (about 3 lb.)
• 4 oz. pitted large medjool dates (about 6), quartered lengthwise
• 1/2 c. pitted green olives (about 2 oz.), coarsely chopped
• 1/2 c. coarsely chopped fresh parsley
• 1 tbsp. drained capers, plus 2 tbsp. caper brine
• 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges, for serving
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, combine squash and chickpeas with 3 tablespoons oil; season well with salt and pepper. Toss to coat, then spread in an even layer. Rub chicken with 1 tablespoon oil, season with salt and pepper, and arrange on top, skin-side up. Roast for 20 minutes, then stir in dates, and roast until squash is golden and chicken is cooked through, about 20 to 25 minutes longer.
While the mixture roasts, in a small bowl, whisk the remaining 1/4 cup oil with the olives, parsley, capers and caper brine, and lemon juice. Season the olive relish with salt and pepper, then set aside.
Divide the roasted chicken, squash, dates and chickpeas among plates. Stir any pan juices into the relish, then spoon the relish on top of each serving. Serve with lemon wedges.