Sheet Pans Aren't Cookie Sheets: A Baking Sheet Explainer

With the right design, these multi-sized pans can become some of the hardest workers in your kitchen.

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baked cookies on a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan.

Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Straight to the Point

You can read our full review on half sheet pans here (as well as more about our top picks from Nordic Ware and Chicago Metallic).

Growing up, my mother never used rimmed baking sheets. Instead, she had thin, edgeless pans, which she employed exclusively to bake cookies. For roasting meat or vegetables, she’d use either a frying pan or glass casserole dish. I didn’t even know there was a difference between cookie sheets and rimmed sheet pans until I, as a teenager, attempted to roast asparagus for the first time. I coated the spears with olive oil and seasoning, layered them on a cookie sheet, and popped them into the oven. A few minutes later, the smell of burning oil let me know I made a mistake. Without sturdy sides to contain it, all of the fat pooled in one warped edge, then rolled off the pan and onto the bottom of the oven, where it sizzled, then smoked. 

It was then I realized how useful rimmed sheet pans are. If you grew up with them (lucky!) or use them regularly, you already know this. Not only are they great at roasting vegetables, they can bake a sheet cake and accommodate an entire dinner’s worth of food. Fit one with a cooling rack to aid in air flow, and they become superior resting trays for cooked meat and fried items

Nordic Ware Naturals Baker's Half Sheet
Chicago Metallic Commercial II Traditional Uncoated Large Jelly Roll Pan

Most rimmed sheet pans are made of metal like steel or aluminum. And we prefer bare sheet pans over ones coated with a nonstick layer for most cooking tasks, as they can handle extremely high temperatures, making them good vessels for browning and broiling. Rimmed sheet pans can also moonlight as informal serving platters, and keep condiments, kitchen tools, or mise en place tidy while you’re cooking. 

During a recent Instagram Q&A, we polled Serious Eats readers on their gear-related questions. A fair share of them were sheet pan-related. So, we compiled a full explainer—with all of your burning baking sheet questions—below. 

What is a rimmed baking sheet?

Roasted cauliflower florets on a rimmed baking sheet

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

A rimmed baking sheet is a flat pan with 1-inch edges on all sides. The sides are typically rolled—if they aren’t, we recommend continuing your search for a pan that does have rolled sides; they make for a comfier grip. This pan differs from cookie sheets in its higher profile—cookie sheets tend to have one very short, angled edge, and are open on the three other sides. Rimmed baking sheets also have fairly standardized sizing measurements (a half-sheet size is roughly 18 inches long and 13 inches wide).

They’re also more versatile than cookie sheets, due to their design and construction. Rimmed baking sheets are also colloquially known as sheet pans, baking sheets, or rimmed pans. They’re sometimes also called by their size; most commonly a “half sheet” or “quarter sheet.”

How big is a half sheet pan? How big is a quarter sheet pan? 

A half sheet pan measures 18 by 13 inches and has 1-inch walls, approximately. This size pan is so-called because restaurants and professional kitchens use full sheet pans—those are 18 by 26 inches. Although you can buy full sheet pans at specialty restaurant supply stores, they’re not a helpful purchase for home cooks: they’re too big for most residential ovens.

Nordic Ware Naturals Aluminum Quarter Sheet

A quarter sheet pan is 13 by 9 inches. This less-popular size is actually a smart buy because it’s ideal for cooking smaller portions of food; a helpful thing when you’re only roasting a handful of potatoes or a couple of chicken breasts. (Quarter sheet pans are also fantastic for toaster oven use or baking, say, two portions of cookie dough.) Beyond that, eighth sheet pans—9 by six-and-a-half inches—are less common in the home goods retail sector, but nice to have a few of, as we explain here.

Seasoning beef on an eight-sheet pan

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

If you have off-brand, very old, or mysteriously sourced baking pans, you may notice that their sizes are slightly off. In fact, I have two half sheet pans from a popular direct-to-consumer cookware company that differ by a half-inch in length. This is likely due to a change in manufacturers, but because they both fit in my oven and can handle high heat without warping, I don’t worry too much about it. (It could mean, however, cooling racks fit differently.)

Does the material of a baking sheet matter? 

an aerial view of a few sheet pans stacked on top of each other

Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

The material matters when it comes to choosing high quality baking sheets. In our review of half sheet pans, we found ones made of heavy gauge metal, like aluminized steel and uncoated aluminum, performed better, with more consistent and even temperatures across the surface. They also resisted warping in extreme heats.

The thickness of your sheet pan doesn’t matter as much. Indeed, in our test we discovered that the heaviest was too unwieldy to be useful, no matter how evenly it conducted heat. 

The finish of a standard, uncoated sheet pan—matte or shiny—matters only in terms of aesthetics. A matte finish will hide scratches and scrapes, although even these will start to show signs of wear and discoloration with regular use.

Also of note is whether the baking sheet is coated with nonstick material, like ceramic. This extra layer can make cleanup easier, and release food with less sticking. On the other hand, nonstick pans can’t handle as high temperatures as uncoated pans—and their lifespan is shorter as with anything nonstick. This is why we recommend standard, uncoated sheet pans for most cooking tasks.

What size baking sheets should you buy?

Slow-roasted pork shoulder ready to be finished under high heat.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

For most home cooks, half sheet pans and quarter sheet pans are the most useful. Although you can find half sheet pans at many large grocery stores, quarter sheet pans are more widely available online (it’s worth shopping on the web for all rimmed sheet pans anyway, so you have your pick of brands). Eighth sheet pans are also immensely useful, so if you’ve got the space (and they are pretty tiny), keep a few on hand. The key thing here is having a few of whatever size you like. Multiple pans is more efficient—as anyone who’s had to wash a baking sheet in the middle of dinner prep could tell you.

What’s a jelly roll pan? 

A jelly roll pan is a slightly smaller version (usually 9 or 10 by 14 or 15 inches) of a standard half sheet pan. They’re ideal for cooking sponge cakes, as they’re proportioned to hold a standard amount of cake batter. Jelly roll pans sometimes have a layer of nonstick coating, to help the delicate cake they're named after release from the surface. Like rimmed baking sheets, jelly roll pans have 1-inch edges. If you’re serious about your annual Bûche de Noël, you could invest in a jelly roll pan, though our recipe just calls for a half-sheet pan (as does this jelly roll).

Are sheet pans dishwasher-safe? 

a stack of half sheet pans

Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Most sheet pans are dishwasher-safe. But just because you technically can do something doesn’t mean you should. Dishwashers can decrease the longevity of a sheet pan because of the high temperatures, agitating wash cycles, and strong detergents—not to mention the discoloration, dulling, and speckling effect on the finish. To protect your pans for years of use, it’s best to wash them by hand using a non-abrasive sponge. 

What’s the best way to clean a baking sheet?

Most often, you can clean a baking sheet with hot, soapy water and a nonabrasive sponge. Be sure to get into the corners and the underside of the pan, where grease can collect or hide. (Residual fat that gets heated past its smoke point results in a sticky, thick resin over cookware.)

For stubborn stains, like burnt sugar or caked-on grease, you can soak the pan before washing it. Better yet: Apply a paste made from baking soda and water, let it sit, then go to town with a sponge. Let the pan cool completely before washing it; blasting a hot pan with water can contribute to warping.

Finally, embrace the patina. A pristine baking sheet is simply one that doesn’t get used.