When I’m daydreaming about my fantasy kitchen, it’s fun to think about all the big goals I aspire to, like owning a commercial deep fryer or a backlit walk-in pantry stacked floor to ceiling with OXO pop-top containers. I often take the quiet, hardworking multitaskers of the kitchen for granted. Let’s be honest—a good wooden spoon is not as sexy as a Vitamix blender, but it’s the latter you can probably live without.
Rimmed baking sheets are among the most underrated kitchen must-haves. Although their uses in the world of pastry are well known, there’s so much more you can do with them besides baking Texas sheet cakes and chocolate chip cookies.
A rimmed baking sheet is perfect for roasting vegetables—the raised edge makes it easy to flip and toss broccoli and carrots in the oven for even browning. They make the ideal roasting pan for meats, too, allowing hot air to circulate all around a roast while catching all the drippings for a flavorful pan sauce or gravy. And, of course, there's the endless potential of sheet-pan meals, like skirt steak fajitas, roasted chicken thighs with cheesy potatoes, cuban sandwiches, lemony whole fish, and more. Sheet pans are also the best tools to keep you organized while you prep, holding your mise en place so you can work efficiently when it’s time to start cooking.
Unlike cookie sheets and the like, true half-sheets, quarter-sheets, and eighth-sheets are standardized in size, which means they stack easily and fit wire racks seamlessly. The latter is where the real magic happens—the combo of a rimmed baking sheet fitted with a wire cooling rack is an unsung hero in the savory world, offering air flow and circulation for even brining, cooking, and cooling. Here’s a look at the many uses for this pairing.
Brining and Roasting Meats
We always recommend a dry brine over a wet brine for poultry and pork. Dry-brining requires nothing more than sprinkling a generous amount of salt over the surfaces of your meat (though you can certainly incorporate other seasonings, as well). The salt pulls moisture from the meat, creating a concentrated brine solution all over the surface, which is then drawn back into the loosened muscle fibers, seasoning and plumping the meat in one fell swoop. One key to properly dry-brining any cut of meat is to rest it on a wire rack after seasoning, often in the refrigerator overnight. The wire rack prevents the meat from sitting in a pool of its own juices, allowing it to brine evenly on all sides.
Another added benefit of dry-brining is that it leaves the surface of the meat dry; because less liquid needs to evaporate in the oven or on a pan, you’ll get better browning and crispier roasted skin every time. By dry-brining on a wire rack, air flows around the entire piece of meat, drying out both the bottom and the top simultaneously.
Once the meat is brined, it can go straight from the fridge into the oven for roasting because the wire rack doubles as the best roasting rack. Racks designed specifically for roasting are only useful for whole birds and tied roasts due to their “V” shape, which cradles the meat. However, a wire cooling rack has the versatility to roast anything, from spatchcocked birds and crown roasts of pork, to chicken thighs and tenderloins, keeping them hovering over their juices while cooking for 360 degrees of even browning.
Daniel has already sung the praises of smaller quarter- and eighth-sheet pans for their ability to cook smaller portions and organize your mise en place, but with a matching miniature wire cooling rack they become even more useful.
A smaller baking sheet fitted with a wire rack is ideal for resting pan-seared meats like duck breast and steak. Although this task can be accomplished with any size rimmed baking sheet and rack, keeping smaller ones around for smaller portions of meat takes up less space and makes for easier clean up. The wire rack allows for air circulation and evenly rested meat, while any drippings will be caught in the rimmed baking sheet below, rather than dribbling off your cutting board. Also, because the meats aren’t resting in their own juices, there’s no risk of losing the crusty texture of the sear you worked so hard to develop.
Draining Fried Items
For crispy fried food that’s not greasy it’s important to take a two-step approach. The first step is proper heat management, which ensures the food doesn’t get greasy to begin with, and the second step is proper draining in order to maintain the crunch.
Nothing wicks excess grease away from fried foods like paper towels, but after the initial blot it’s best to transfer fried items to a wire rack to prevent them from sitting in a pool of their own oil. Larger fried items like fried chicken tend to steam after cooking, causing the crust to quickly grow soggy. By resting hot fried food spaced out on a rack rather than piled together on a plate, they can get the airflow they need to drive away the steam and stay crunchy.
Even though I may never come to own an indoor pizza oven or fully automatic floor-model Carpigiani batch ice cream maker, at least I can supply my kitchen with stacks on stacks of rimmed baking sheets with matching wire racks. There’s room for a few in any kitchen, and I reach for them every day without a second thought.