A baking tray (aka baking sheet, cookie sheet, sheet pan) is a flat sheet of metal designed for baking or roasting food on in an oven. It will have either no walls, or shallow walls.
A baking tray is often one of the unsung workhorses of a kitchen, taken for granted when present but sorely missed when not.
A baking tray, or baking sheet, is a multi-function utensil, and can be used for baking anything from sausage rolls to braided breads, or roasting items ranging from vegetables to oven fries.
The two terms — tray and sheet — are often used interchangeably, or used based on regional preference.
Technically, though, there is a difference: a “baking tray” has rimmed sides, and a “baking sheet” has no rimmed sides.
In the U.S., Canada, and some Caribbean countries, the colloquial household name of “cookie sheet” comes from the food item they are presumed to be most used for: cookies.
The term “cookie sheet” appears to be limited to those two countries. As the English word “cookie” is not really used elsewhere (“biscuit” is the preferred term outside North America), it makes sense that neither obviously would be the term “cookie sheet.” Regardless, note the term is always “cookie sheet”, not “cookie tray”, whether there are rims or not.
People writing formally about food in the U.S. or Canada will usually say baking tray or baking sheet. And perhaps those terms are better, being both more universal, as well as more accurate terms reflecting the multi-purpose uses. Still, it’s hard to break the habit of calling a kitchen tool what you heard it called while growing up, and to this day, “cookie sheet” is likely still very common in millions of kitchens across North America.
Baking tray design
Baking trays are usually made of aluminum or steel. Some models are coated with non-stick surfacing. The sides may be rimmed, or completely open (in which case they are, as discussed above, “baking sheets.”)
Good ones should be stiff, and not flexible.
Some newer models of baking trays are expandable: one portion slides out from under the other to create a greater surface area.
If you are going to need one baking tray, then you probably need two. If you’re a real cookie baker, you may want three for times of big production: one in the oven, one cooling off, and one cooled-off one being refilled.
Some people feel that the open-sided trays are easier to get cookies off from, with no rim to have to lift hot, soft cookies over, though even the open-sided ones usually have one of the sides turned up to give you a bit of a handle to make it easier to lift it with. Some people even say that rims “interfere with heat circulation”, but many home bakers guffaw at the idea.
Rimmed ones can be more useful when used for purposes such as roasting vegetables, as the rims can prevent oil and juices from dripping off and dirtying the oven floor.
Baking tray sizes
U.S. baking tray sizes
In the U.S., there is a conventional though unregulated array of sizes, with the very largest appropriate only for institutional and commercial use. Some of the sizes are fractionally proportionate of other sizes, while others are not. Sevier, Joe. The Difference Between Half Sheet Pans, Quarter Sheet Pans, Cookie Sheets…and Why You Should Care. Epicurious.com. 10 September 2018. Accessed August 2020 at https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/difference-between-half-sheet-quarter-sheet-pans-cookie-sheets-article Cappiello, Emily. What’s the difference between sheet pans, cookie sheets and baking pans? cnet.com. 16 October 2019. Accessed July 2020 at https://www.cnet.com/how-to/what-is-the-difference-between-sheet-pans-cookie-sheets-and-baking-pans/
|Conventional U.S. Size Name||Outer width (in)||Outer depth (in)||Outer height (in)||Outer width (mm)||Outer depth (mm)||Outer height (mm)|
|Two Thirds (Three Quarters)||21||15||1||533||381||25|
|Quarter||13||9 (or 9.5)||1||330||229||25|
Sometimes the dimensions of the quarter size are given as 13″ x 9.5″; other times as 13″ x 9″. Sometimes a half-sheet pan is given as 18″ x 13″, other times as 18″ x 12″. ”18 by 12 a.k.a. a half-sheet pan” Westmoreland, Susan. Cookie Sheet Vs. Jelly-Roll Pan. Goodhousekeeping.com. 2 November 2010. Accessed August 2020 at https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/food-recipes/cooking/q-and-a/a21244/cookie-sheet-versus-jelly-roll-pan/ . Sometimes a jelly roll pan size is 15.5″ x 10.5″ and other times 15″ x 10″. Lately, though, consumers have been leaving reviews in some places that jelly roll pan sizes have been shrunk even further, down to 14.25″ x 9.25″ x .75″ inch, making them not big enough to hold the batter for other recipes. ”So I’ve searched all over the internet to find a true 15″ x 10″ x 1″ jelly roll pan (since most recipes do call for that specific sized pan!) and realized that NOBODY MAKES THEM anymore!! Somehow the new jelly roll pans sold today are a bit smaller (more like 14-¼″ to 14-½″ by 9-¼″ to 9-½″ by ¾″ to 1″)…. They may label their jelly roll pans as 15x10x1 but if you read the details carefully none of them are that size.” Consumer review. Nina33. Williams Sonoma web site. Accessed August 2020 at https://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/usa-pan-goldtouch-nonstick-jelly-roll-pan/
The lack of regulated, defined tray size standards in the American market can lead to pan size shrinkage and consumers feeling “ripped off.” There is no legal guarantee that you’ll get the size you think you are getting. If you want to be sure of the size you are getting, buy the baking tray in person, and take a measuring tape to the store.
European baking tray sizes
In the EU, professional and high-end consumer sizes are governed by the “Gastro-Norm (GN) sizes” fractional sizing system. Following the GN standard makes it easy to work out equivalents for various tray sizes. For instance, instead of 1x GN 1/1 tray, a cook would know right away that s/he could use 2 x GN ½ trays. Standard separator bars can be purchased to divide trays into smaller sizes. The Gastronorm measures. ItaliaGroup Corporate. Accessed August 2020 at https://www.gastronorm.it/en/The-Gastronorm-measures.d766
Insulated baking trays
Insulated baking trays have an air layer created by putting a bottom sheet under their baking surface, and enclosing that area underneath, trapping air in it. Consequently, they behave differently. The design allows air to circulate underneath, reducing hot spots, which help things bake more evenly. This helps both prevent to burnt bottoms and to ensure that the bottoms of cookies will be the same colours as the tops. Some people even say that they work so well, that the tops of cookies will burn long before the bottoms even start to brown.
Baking behaviour also changes in two ways, which you will want to be aware of:
- Cooking time can be longer on these insulated sheets, which gives cookies a bit more time to spread out before the heat solidifies them;
- Cookies might not get as crisp on these insulated sheets.
Insulated trays are not good for roasting vegetables on, as they will inhibit the bottoms of the vegetables from roasting effectively.
Don’t soak insulated baking trays in the sink, or water may become trapped in the air layer. If these sheets do get wet inside, give them some time in a warm oven (perhaps along with something you are baking anyway in the oven), or, stand them up somewhere to dry to allow drainage and drying.
Greasing baking trays
Cookie recipes will specify whether or not you should first grease a baking tray for a particular type of cookie. The less fat in a cookie, the more likely the need to grease the pan.
Cookies tend to be flatter and spread out more on greased baking trays. Don’t over grease the trays, or the cookie dough may spread out too much during baking.
Sometimes, instead of greasing, you can use parchment paper to line baking trays with. Many people in North America use waxed paper instead, even though the pros say use parchment paper, just out of habit.
You can get reusable non-stick liners made of silicone.
Let a baking tray cool before putting more cookie dough on it, or the dough will melt and spread prematurely.
Baking trays have faster cooking times than do baking pans with higher sides on them.
Some people advise to only have one tray of cookies baking in the oven at one time. With only one in at a time, the reasoning is, there is better air circulation, and that solitary sheet doesn’t have to go on the bottom rack near the oven’s heat source, where the bottoms of cookies are more likely to burn.
This thinking probably began at a time in history, perhaps the mid 1900s, when the economy was reaching a point where consumers no longer had to give cooking fuel a second thought. Before that, when you had to chop your own wood to fire an oven or cooking fuel was still pricey, cooks would have put more priority on maximizing what they fit into ovens. And now in today’s world, when we are all trying to lower both our energy bills and our carbon footprint, such extravagant advice about energy usage may once again no longer make sense.
To cook two batches of cookies at the same time in an oven, put one tray on the top rack, and one on the bottom rack. But, put that one on the bottom rack on top of a third, empty baking tray to give it extra insulation to help stop the cookie bottoms from burning. In fact, such a doubled-up tray will help prevent bottoms of cookies from burning wherever they are in the oven. Or, simply have an insulated cookie sheet, and use it as the one that goes on the bottom rack.
In England, the word “traybake” can mean several things.
One meaning is what North Americans would call “squares”: a cake-like dessert baked on a baking tray, then cut into squares for presentation. The word is also applied when the baking pan used is a regular cake pan instead.
Another meaning is an assemblage of savoury items roasted together on a baking tray, for instance a mixture of chopped or slice vegetables and meat, typically coated in oil first.  Baking dishes & roasting trays. In: Healthy Cooking Made Easy with BBC Good Food. BBC Good Food. Micro course. Step 4.9. Accessed August 2021 at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/healthy-cooking-made-easy-with-bbc-good-food/2/steps/1224913
Some dictionaries such as MacMillan give the word as two words: “tray bake”. Accessed August 2021 at https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/tray-bake Cambridge prefers one word. Accessed August 2021 at https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/traybake
|↑1||Sevier, Joe. The Difference Between Half Sheet Pans, Quarter Sheet Pans, Cookie Sheets…and Why You Should Care. Epicurious.com. 10 September 2018. Accessed August 2020 at https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/difference-between-half-sheet-quarter-sheet-pans-cookie-sheets-article|
|↑2||Cappiello, Emily. What’s the difference between sheet pans, cookie sheets and baking pans? cnet.com. 16 October 2019. Accessed July 2020 at https://www.cnet.com/how-to/what-is-the-difference-between-sheet-pans-cookie-sheets-and-baking-pans/|
|↑3||”18 by 12 a.k.a. a half-sheet pan” Westmoreland, Susan. Cookie Sheet Vs. Jelly-Roll Pan. Goodhousekeeping.com. 2 November 2010. Accessed August 2020 at https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/food-recipes/cooking/q-and-a/a21244/cookie-sheet-versus-jelly-roll-pan/|
|↑4||”So I’ve searched all over the internet to find a true 15″ x 10″ x 1″ jelly roll pan (since most recipes do call for that specific sized pan!) and realized that NOBODY MAKES THEM anymore!! Somehow the new jelly roll pans sold today are a bit smaller (more like 14-¼″ to 14-½″ by 9-¼″ to 9-½″ by ¾″ to 1″)…. They may label their jelly roll pans as 15x10x1 but if you read the details carefully none of them are that size.” Consumer review. Nina33. Williams Sonoma web site. Accessed August 2020 at https://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/usa-pan-goldtouch-nonstick-jelly-roll-pan/|
|↑5||The Gastronorm measures. ItaliaGroup Corporate. Accessed August 2020 at https://www.gastronorm.it/en/The-Gastronorm-measures.d766|
|↑6||Baking dishes & roasting trays. In: Healthy Cooking Made Easy with BBC Good Food. BBC Good Food. Micro course. Step 4.9. Accessed August 2021 at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/healthy-cooking-made-easy-with-bbc-good-food/2/steps/1224913|
|↑7||Accessed August 2021 at https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/tray-bake|
|↑8||Accessed August 2021 at https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/traybake|