Should You Use a Metal, Glass, or Cast Iron Pie Pan?

Should You Use a Metal, Glass, or Cast Iron Pie Pan?
Photo: Rachel Fairbank

If you’re only an occasional baker, you might find yourself wondering what the difference is between all of the different pie pans. How will it affect how the pie turns out? Will you need to adjust your recipe? What about the bake times — does the type of pie pan change that?

What kinds of pie pans are there?

Most of us use whatever pie pan we have available. Growing up, my family had metal pie pans, so that was what we used. For holidays, when we needed to bake more pies than we had pans, we used disposable aluminium pans.

When I moved out, I somehow ended up with a glass pie pan, which seems to have grown in popularity over the past few decades. I’ve been using this glass pie pan for years, churning out a number of highly respectable home-baked pies. I also own a cast iron skillet which, as I recently discovered, can also be put to use for baking pies. Other people will use a ceramic pie pan.

There are some important differences to take into account when you’re either choosing which pie pan to use or trying to make use of what you have on hand. Depending on what you need, what your kitchen is stocked with, and what your comfort level is as a baker, you may prefer one type of pie pan over another.

Here are some of the factors to take into account when you’re thinking about which pan to buy and what to bake in them.

Using a metal pie pan

A metal pie pan is a true classic, and for a good reason: It heats up quickly and evenly, producing reliable results. When it comes to pie crust, it’s that quick heating that ensures a good crisp bottom crust, rather than a soggy, undercooked mess.

“One thing to keep in mind is that darker metals brown faster than lighter ones,” said Christine Pittman, founder of COOKtheSTORY. “A medium grey coloured pan has always produced the best results for me.”

Using a glass pie pan

One of the reasons glass pie pans are so popular is that you can see the bottom crust as it bakes. For more inexperienced bakers, having this visual is comforting, as it helps you gauge when to take out your pie, without worrying that it’s under baked.

As useful as this benefit is, there are some drawbacks to consider when using a glass pie pan. “Glass and ceramic will heat slowly and are typically not the best for browning and crisping pie dough,” Pittman said. “The slippery surface tends to promote dough shrinking.”

Using a ceramic pie pan

A ceramic pie pan will be very similar to a glass pie, except that you won’t be able to see the bottom crust as it bakes. For that reason, unless you already have a ceramic pie pan that you really want to use, opt for another type.

Using a cast-iron pan

Cast iron pan are a versatile, all-purpose tool in the kitchen, as they can be used for a wide range of cooking uses. Given how versatile they are, this means that if you only have limited space or resources, a cast iron skillet is a highly utilitarian item.

Cast iron pan can also be used to bake pies. If you’re in a situation where you’ve been asked to bring the pie for Thanksgiving dinner, but you don’t own a pie pan and don’t want to use a disposable one, using your skillet is an option. Unlike glass or ceramic, a cast iron skillet will evenly distribute heat, although it will take longer to heat up. The drawback is that the crust won’t be quite as flaky, and it will need a bit more time in the oven.

To use a cast iron pan as a pie pan, you’ll need to adjust the pie crust ratio, while keeping in mind that this will be a deep-dish pie. (In my opinion, that’s a plus. Stack up those layers of fruit, please.) Generally speaking, it’s good to split your dough into a 60/40 ratio, to use for the bottom and top crust, respectively. You’ll also want to prevent the dough from overhanging the sides of the pan.

What happened when I tested different pie pans

I’ve been baking pies, off and on, for many years, as they’re one of the baked items I feel are worth the time and effort to make at home rather than buying at the store. When it comes to pie, I like them to have a flaky, all-butter crust, and to be packed with lots of lightly sweetened fruit, which is a combination that’s hard to find at commercial bakeries, especially if you’re on a student/writer’s budget.

Over the years, I’ve worked out a method that (usually) yields pretty good results, in spite of the fact that I am, at best, an average home baker. Given the differences between pie pan types, I was curious to see how they would stack up when tested side-by-side.

In order to get a sense of how these pie pans vary from each other, I made a triple batch of my standard all-butter pie crust, a triple batch of apple filling, and then assembled three pies, one in a medium-grey metal pie pan, one in a glass pie pan, and one in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. I popped these pies into an oven that was preheated to 200ºC, baking them until they were a light golden brown.

For the metal and glass pie pans, it took about 65 minutes. For the cast iron skillet, which takes longer to heat up, it took 80 minutes.

How did the different pies turn out?

The result were three tasty apple pies, each slightly different, but the best-tasting pie was the one baked in a metal pie pan. The crust was the exact combination of flaky and tender that I love, with no soggy bottom. (There’s a reason the metal pie pan is a time-honoured classic.)

The second-best pie was the one baked in the glass pie pan. Although it wasn’t quite as tender, the crust was still flaky, and rates as one of the better crusts I’ve made.

The big advantage, as always, was that I could see the bottom crust as it baked, which meant I had a good idea of when it was done. Sometimes, having that peace of mind is worth it, especially if you’re a little on the distracted side.

With the cast-iron pan, I overshot the mark, baking it for too long, which led to a tough, brown bottom crust. I suspect, looking at the top pie crust, which was a slightly darker shade than the other two pies I baked, that if I’d taken it out a little sooner I would have had a decent crust. I wouldn’t rule out using a cast-iron skillet just yet, as I really do like how versatile it is, but I would recommend caution.

My verdict? Use a metal pie pan for the best result, or a glass pie pan if you aren’t quite confident of your ability to gauge when the pie is done. And if you have a limited kitchen set-up or are an experienced baker, you might consider experimenting with a cast-iron pan.

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