If you're like me, your passion for baking — both sweet treats and savory dishes — is inversely proportional to your zeal for cleaning up afterward (and unlike many New Yorkers, I actually have a dishwasher!). It's particularly annoying when, no matter how well you think you've greased the sheet, something sticks. Or, ugh, when the oil itself becomes a gummy mess.
To get smarter about the art of cookie-sheet care, I chatted with Dana Norsten, a rep for Nordic Ware, the bakeware company known for its bundt pans, cookie sheets, and various novelty pans.
1. Cool before cleaning.
"But it's so much faster to just stick the pan in the sink," you say. You'll also be replacing your pan that much faster, says Norsten. "A hot sheet that hasn't had time to cool will pop or warp under immediate contact with water depending on the construction of the sheet," she says. You had to wait for the oven to do its thing; you can handle a few more minutes for the sheet to cool down.
2. Stick to hand-washing.
For longest-lasting pans, you gotta give 'em a little TLC. "Harsh dishwasher detergents can mar and discolor nonstick or natural finishes," Norsten says. In most cases, some mild dish soap, warm water, and maybe a light pass with a no-scratch scrubbie will do the trick, no matter what type of pan it is (nonstick-coated, aluminum, or aluminized steel). If stuff is a bit more stuck, soak the pan for a bit in a warm bath and try again. (Hrrmph. So much for my humble-bragging about having a dishwasher.)
3. Scrape with a spatula.
Got a real mess on your hands — melted sugar, burnt-on chocolate, gummy cheese — that's too much for the scrubbie to take? While you might be tempted to reach for a knife (or an ice pick?) and hack away at the crustiness, you run the risk of scratching a nonstick coating or just denting the pan. Your best tool is the plastic spatula you used to scoop off your food; it does great double duty as a scraper. Again, a good, long soaking and some soap will help loosen things up.
May we suggest a spatula?: Mighty Handy! Wide Flexible Spatulas
4. Sometimes greasing isn't enough, but parchment is.
Sometimes a pre-greasing isn't enough. "Foil can prevent stains when cooking with high heat or when you're cooking tomatoes, curry, and other colorful foods," Norsten says. "Using parchment paper when it makes sense is a good idea, too, as it keeps foods from sticking and this in turn leads to less scrubbing."
More on parchment paper: What Is Freezer Paper, and How Is It Different from Wax Paper & Parchment?
5. Replace your pans (if you want).
"If a baking pan has become unsightly due to scorch marks, a dull finish, or scratches in the nonstick, it's time to replace it," says Norsten. "Pans such as this often continue to function, but if you don't enjoy using a pan because of how it looks, it's probably time to get a new one." Aluminum is what pro bakers use because it distributes heat best for even browning, although the natural finish will discolor over time and is harder to clean, which is a reason why you (or I) might opt for a future pan with a nonstick coating.
Read this before you trash your cookie sheets: 3 Reasons You Probably Shouldn't Throw Out Your Old Baking Sheets