Once upon a time, way back in the annals of home cooking, there was an era before sheet-pan suppers.
In that dark age, even well-equipped kitchens did not have so much as a single professional sheet pan, let alone the two or three deemed indispensable today.
Sure, there were deep-sided roasting pans, cookie sheets, and narrow, thin-gauge jellyroll pans — all perfect for their designated purposes.
But none has the same functionality and convenience as the humble, heavy-duty, 13-by-18-inch rimmed sheet pan. Not only can you use it to cook an entire meal for four in your oven all at once, it can also help you heat up a dozen bagels simultaneously. It has enough room to cradle your bo ssam or Thanksgiving turkey, and, in a pinch, it can double as a cookie sheet.
However, as useful as regular sheet pans are, their capaciousness can be unwieldy when you’re dealing with just a halved acorn squash or that quartet of trout fillets you’re planning for dinner tonight. Even worse, sheet pans can also be too big to fit into the dishwasher, especially if you’ve used more than one.
Measuring approximately 9 by 12 inches, it’s the helpful little sibling of your standard-size sheet pans.
I can fit four in my oven all at once, which makes them highly flexible when you want to cook several things at the same time. Then I can toss them into the dishwasher, where they scarcely take up more room than my plates.
For example, what if you wanted to cook up a wintry dish of paprika-rubbed chicken legs, potatoes and turnips in the oven all at the same time? If you arranged all those ingredients together on one large pan, you’d be hard pressed to get the timing just right so the vegetables and chicken all come out evenly cooked and gorgeously caramelized.
Separating the chicken and vegetables onto two small pans, however, gives you a lot more control. You can remove each pan from the oven exactly when its contents are perfectly done, without worrying about over- or undercooking.
Here, it means pulling out the chicken and letting it rest while cranking up the oven to crisp the potatoes and turnips. You’ll have juicy chicken, crunchy potatoes, and a lot less stress getting them there.
The same logic can be applied to a sheet-pan supper of sausage Parmesan and garlicky broccoli. Using two pans prevents the sausage juices and tomato sauce from seeping all over the broccoli, making it soggy.
Or, in the case of cumin-rubbed pork chops with brussels sprouts and crispy sage leaves, while the ingredients would all taste great cooked together on one large sheet pan — the rendering pork fat mingling gorgeously with the sprouts and sage — it would automatically make the vegetables unfit for any vegetarians at your table. And keeping the meat away from the vegetables encourages the porky edges to crisp, which is always a good thing in a chop.
If you can find the space to store a few of these quarter-sheet pans (maybe stacked inside your larger sheet pans), buying them isn’t at all expensive. They cost less than $10 each. I’d suggest starting with two, and if you find yourself reaching for them often, you can always pick up a couple more.
Whether you use big pans or small, once you immerse yourself in the tasty, convenient world of sheet-pan suppers, you won’t want to stop.