Baking is a craft of precision, so picking the right pan matters.

By Darcy Lenz
May 14, 2021
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BIUAN Glass vs Metal Baking
Credit: Getty Images

There are many common debates that arise time and time again in baking. Should I use butter, oil, or shortening? Sour cream versus yogurt — which is going to make for a moister cake? To chill or not to chill the dough? 

Obnoxiously enough, the immediate answer to all such questions is: it depends. And selecting the best pan for your next oven-bound recipe is no exception. That said, once you better understand certain properties that each cookware type brings to the party, choosing the right pan for the job at hand becomes a bit more cut-and-dry. Let's take a closer look at each:

Metal

I'm just going to be up front here — for most of the recipe categories that come to mind when you think of "baking" (such as cookies, brownies, biscuits, cakes, muffins, and the like), metal is the way to go. Metal pans are great conductors of heat; in other words, they heat up quickly, but in turn, they also cool down more rapidly once removed from the heat source. Additionally, metal pans can withstand higher temperatures than glass. Thus, metal pans are great for achieving nice, even browning (especially on foods that won't be in the oven long, like cookies or biscuits). Metal pans are equally convenient upon exiting the oven, considering that we generally want to cool our baked goods off as quickly as possible in order to proceed with eating them.

One thing that's important to remember with metal bakeware is that the color and coating of the pan will absolutely impact how its contents cook. Dark colored metal pans absorb more heat and will ultimately cause your baked goods to cook faster, and can result in over-browning on the exterior. Same goes for pans with a dull or matte finish. Alternatively, light colored metal pans with shiny finishes will retain less heat and are typically preferable for most baking projects. In fact, many professionals opt for high-quality aluminum baking pans to ensure the best results possible. 

The final quality you need to keep in mind with metal is that it is reactive with highly acidic foods, and you'll want to avoid having such food items come into direct contact with the pan. For example, baking a berry cobbler or crisp (with no bottom crust) is better handled with a glass baking pan. Using a metal or cast iron pan could result in discoloration of the fruit along with an unpleasant, metallic flavor.  

When to Use Metal

More often than not, you'll want to reach for a metal pan when baking the following:

Glass 

Glass bakeware is heavier and slower to heat than metal, but once it's hot…it retains that heat for much longer. So when using a glass pan to bake something like a cake or batch of brownies, you may find that the sides and bottom are brown at a much faster rate than the interior cooks. (A similar issue to what you can face with dark colored metal bakeware.) For this reason, glass is perfect for dishes that you will bake at a moderate temperature for a while, and then wish to keep warm after it's out of the oven— say, a casserole or pasta bake that you're taking from the oven to the table. If you do find yourself needing to bake a cake, or another similarly sugary treat, in a glass dish, many bakers suggest reducing the oven temperature by 25 degrees in order to minimize your risk of over-browning. 

That said, you'll also want to remember that glass is not ideal for intense heat (from the broiler, for example) and doesn't handle temperature transitions from one extreme to another very well. Meaning, you don't want to take a glass pan from the fridge and place it directly into a preheated oven, as it could crack. 

Unlike metal, glass is non-reactive with acidic foods, so you need not worry about having berries, tomatoes, citrus, etc. coming into direct contact with the baking dish. Another benefit of glass is that you can see through it. Accordingly, opting for a glass pie dish is often suggested for less experienced bakers so that they can better monitor how brown/crisp the bottom of their crust is. 

When to Use Glass

More often than not, you'll want to reach for a glass pan when baking the following:

Now, if all else fails and you're still not entirely sure what pan to reach for, take a closer look at your recipe — it will often give you a clue. Generally speaking, if a recipe calls for a "pan" or "tin," go with metal. And if it calls for a "dish," glass or ceramic is the right move.

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