My cousin called me up the other day and asked what he should use for a lasagna tray. He was surprised to learn that there was a bit of nuance to the answer – he had assumed that it was totally fine to use any oven safe baking dish. While this is conceptually somewhat accurate, there are a few minor hang-ups that might prevent your lasagna from being perfect if you’re not aware of how different types of baking trays work.
Making the correct adjustments, however small they may seem, is the key to preparing lasagna properly in the baking dish that you have at home.
So what are these adjustments?
How do baking dishes differ?
Let’s dive into the differences between common types of baking pans by taking a close look at several different categories and discussing the steps you should take to adjust your lasagna recipe for each dish.
Why Pyrex Performs So Well
When baking lasagna, you want an oven safe dish that’s non-reactive, easy to clean, and durable. Pyrex ticks off two of these boxes very, very well. While it’s not quite as durable as enameled options (like the one we recommend below), it’s nevertheless the best option for home cooks who want a simple pan or two for lasagna.
I think this is the case for several reasons. Chief among them is cost. Pyrex is cheap. This particular set of two tends to be less than half the cost of a nice enameled baking dish. While it’s somewhat more fragile, the risk of accidentally dropping and damaging your Pyrex bake ware is easily offset by the fact that you can replace each glass lasagna pan up to four times for the cost of a single enameled dish. This lets you save lots of money while populating your cupboards.
The second factor is visibility. For me, lasagna is a celebration of flavors that’s presented in a beautiful layered casserole. A glass baking pan lets you check out these layers from the side. This is very nice when it comes to cooking, since it lets you look at how much meat you’ve added in previous layers to get things nice and even, but it’s also nice when it comes to serving. Your guests will be able to see each delicious, mouthwatering layer of meat, cheese, and pasta long before you pierce the lasagna with your serving utensil and deliver it to their plates.
Pyrex has the additional advantage of being non-reactive. Tomatoes are fairly acidic and don’t get along with metal lasagna pans very well. We’ll cover this in more detail in a bit, but the general idea is that putting tomato sauce (like the stuff you use in lasagna) in direct contact with a heated metal surface will often discolor the metal and make the tomatoes taste funny. This is especially prevalent with aluminum. Pyrex is not metal. It does not react with tomatoes, meaning it won’t discolor and it won’t make your lasagna taste bad.
There are a handful of chefs out there who might suggest that you abandon Pyrex in favor of a non-stick lasagna pan. This is a matter of preference, but I think it’s very much not true. A properly prepared Pyrex pan that’s used for lasagna will be very easy to clean.
At worst, you’ll have to soak it in some water with a bit of dish soap before casually scrubbing off any burnt-on cheese with a few strokes of a sponge. Overall, the process will hardly ever take more than a minute of your time and attention.
So why these Pyrex pans in particular?
This set is made out of the “good stuff,” a material called borosilicate glass. Borosilicate glass is more durable and heat resistant than soda glass, the cheaper alternative that’s used in most US Pyrex. This Amazon-branded set offers higher quality materials while being extremely affordable, making it an ideal way to get your hands on some durable Pyrex baking dishes.
If you’re after a set of inexpensive, multi-purpose baking dishes that are heat resistant, see-through, and pretty darn durable, these Pyrex lasagna pans are a great choice. They might not be as long-lasting as the more expensive enameled dish below, but they’re still a great choice for any kitchen that wants to pick up a great set of lasagna pans without spending a lot of money.
The Second Best Lasagna Baking Dish: The Ancient Secret of Enamel
Metal lasagna pans are reactive, meaning that you don’t want to allow any tomato sauce to touch the pan directly. One way to get around that is to coat the metal surface of the pan in another material that’s safer for your tomatoes.
Enamel is one of the safest and most reliable materials around when it comes to kitchen usage. It’s fairly non-stick, it’s very durable, and it’s been around in various forms for many, many years. This means that unlike things like Teflon or non-stick ceramic, we’ve had many, many decades to study its effects. In other words, enamel is one of the safest materials out there.
Made from enameled cast iron, this deep lasagna pan is incredibly good at staying hot for long periods of time. It’s an ideal cooking vessel for things like lasagna, cornbread, and slow-roasted meats. The cast iron used in its core is thick, practically impervious to damage, and will stay hot for a very long time after its heated. This means it’s very good at maintaining an even temperature in the oven. For slow cooking, it’s one of the best materials around.
Enamel itself also has a number of advantages. While it might chip if you drop it, it’s very durable under normal kitchen use situations. You don’t have to worry about your enamel coating flaking off or wearing out. In fact, you might have family members who have been using enameled cooking dishes for a decade or more.
This stuff will last for a seriously long time in your kitchen.
The other big advantage is that it’s essentially non-stick. Enamel isn’t quite as slippery as something like Teflon, sure, but you’re not trying to fry an egg over easy in this lasagna tray. Instead, you’re looking for a surface that will separate easily from any cheese, meat, and tomatoes that are baked on. Enamel is brilliant for this purpose. Just like Pyrex, you might occasionally have to soak it in water for a couple minutes, but in most cases you can easily wipe your dish clean with a sponge with no effort at all.
Like Pyrex, enamel’s non-reactive nature makes it ideal for acidic dishes like lasagna. There’s no additional prep involved in order to make sure your pan is safe for the food you plan to cook in it. Instead, you just load it up and throw it in the oven, no effort required.
When you purchase this pan, you’re making a hefty investment into the future of your kitchen. Not because it’s expensive – the price is very reasonable when you consider the quality of the piece and the extreme durability of the materials involved – but because it’s heavy.
This cast iron lasagna pan frequently surprises customers when they first take it out of the box. It’s a bit harder to maneuver around the kitchen than a light Pyrex or aluminum baking tray. When it’s loaded up with meat, cheese, and sauce it can be a bit of a pain to lift with one potholder. Be sure to have a paired set handy when you want to remove this dish from the oven.
Of course, like other baking trays, this lasagna pan can be used for much more than layered pasta dishes. It’s great for all sorts of cheesy bakes and even simple vegetable dishes. I’ve used my enameled baking pan for many meat dishes and even an occasional cornbread or cake. When you combine this versatility with the fact that this dish will last you for a very long time, it’s easy to see why it’s such an incredible purchase.
Cuisinart has a pretty solid reputation as far as kitchenware goes, and this pan is no exception. User reports indicate that their quality assurance is astounding when it comes to this particular baking dish. You can be quite confident that you’ll get an excellent lasagna pan that will be heavy, durable, and perfect for a wide variety of baked dishes.
I’ve mentioned a few times that this enameled cast-iron baking dish is more durable than the Pyrex options above. This isn’t because enamel is indestructible. It’s not unlike thick glass in the fact that it might chip or shatter if you drop it, although it’s somewhat more resistant to damage than glass in my experience.
The real advantage that this has over Pyrex is that it handles temperature a little bit better, which is saying something. Enamel is frequently used for tasks that involve temperatures of more than 500 degrees. Pyrex, on the other hand, doesn’t like temperatures above 400 F. This means that you have a lot less to worry about when you choose this Cuisinart lasagna pan over the Pyrex pair above.
While I think that the paired Pyrex baking pans above are the more economical choice for many consumer kitchens, this Cuisinart enameled cast-iron lasagna pan is the better choice for more serious households. It’s a bit more durable, it handles temperatures better, and I think it’s much more likely to last for many years in your cupboards. If you’re in it for the long haul, this is probably the best lasagna pan for you.
Can I Use A Metal Pan For Lasagna?
While metal pans might not be ideal for lasagna, there are two solutions you can use to safely cook this acidic dish in an aluminum pan.
Use A Non-Stick Coated Baking Dish
Aluminum pans don’t always have an aluminum cooking surface. Instead, they’re usually coated with a type of non-stick stuff that makes them safer to cook on and easier to clean. This OXO Good Grips nonstick lasagna pan is a perfect example of such a baking device. While it’s not perfect for lasagna – you’ll have to make some small adjustments to the heat you use or how hot your oven is – it’s still a very good option that has the upside of being perfect for baked goods as well.
I’ve thrown the term “non-reactive” around a lot, mostly in reference to how things interact with acidic foods (like tomatoes) at normal cooking temperatures. It turns out that how “reactive” a material is determines how “sticky” that material is too. This means that things like non-stick ceramic, PTFE, and Teflon are extraordinarily non-reactive. When they come into contact with something, they’ll almost always end that contact smoothly with no change in either material.
As you might imagine, this is a good thing when it comes to lasagna. You don’t have to worry about the inside of your baking dish making your tomatoes taste funny or your tomato sauce eating a hole in your baking pan. With that said, you might still want to use the second trick presented here and use some parchment paper to line your baking pan or even elect to use a non-coated baking pan instead.
The reason for this has to do with heat.
Non-stick materials actually don’t perform that well at high temperatures. Old school Teflon, notably, likes to be below 350 F when possible. More modern non-stick coatings are somewhat more forgiving, sure, but most people buy baking pans so that they can put them in the oven. Being limited to 400 or even 450 degrees can be a deal breaker if you want to broil a dish or even caramelize the crust on a crème brulee.
Non-stick coatings also break down over time. You never know when the PTFE-style non-stick on a baking dish like this will start to flake off, exposing the aluminum underneath. You won’t die when this happens, but it will expose the metal to any tomato paste or sauce in your lasagna, and this can lead to a bad tasting dish. Lining the pan with parchment paper helps ensure that this doesn’t happen, especially if your baking pan is on the older side.
I personally love having baking pans like this one around, but not for lasagna. Pyrex and enameled baking dishes don’t heat up in the oven the same way as non-stick pans like these, so they deliver slightly different cooking characteristics. I’ll break out my non-stick baking pans when I want my food to cook from the bottom a little bit or finish a recipe in a hurry. That said, I definitely try to choose cheap pans that I don’t mind replacing when the coating starts to wear off.
In general, experts suggest dropping about 25 degrees off of your oven temperature when you switch to a metal pan and checking for doneness a couple minutes early. Take notes the first few times you do this and adjust future recipes based on the results!
If you want a lasagna pan with lid support, this non-stick Rachel Ray branded product is an acceptable answer.
The lid isn’t oven safe, unfortunately, but it’s still great for storing leftover lasagna without using cling film.
Regrettably, the plastic cover is somewhat “cheap” feeling. It’s still one of the better solutions if you need something non-stick, but I’d suggest checking out the metal-lidded NordicWare below if you’d like a more solid product.
Use Parchment Paper
All-metal options like this won’t last forever. With no non-stick coating to “wear out,” however, you’ll usually get a bit more use out of a baking pan like this.
For lasagna, however, it’s absolutely imperative that you line the inside of the pan with something like parchment paper that’s both non-reactive and oven safe. This trick ensures that your lasagna tastes great and makes cleanup incredibly easy – just throw away the paper when you’re done!
Again, I’m a big fan of having baking pans like these around in my kitchen, but they’re not my go-to when it comes to cooking lasagna. If layered Italian casseroles are your go-to meal, be sure to factor in the cost of buying a few rolls of parchment paper before purchasing this as a primary pan.
You’ll save yourself a bit of headache in the future.
Still, the parchment paper approach is not without its upsides. I mentioned this earlier, but cleanup is a total joke. Since you literally dispose of the soiled surface, this pan tends to be ready for use seconds after you finish your lasagna. Like the other metal pan, it also tends to reduce cook times by a couple minutes and allows you to use a more flexible range of temperatures.
Finally, the all-metal construction makes this the most oven-safe baking dish on this page by a small margin. If you think you’ll use your broiler, this might be the baking pan for you.
Unlike the Rachel Ray lasagna pan above, the lid included with this Nordic Ware lidded cake pan is made of metal and can go in your oven. This makes it a darn good choice for roasting and performing other oven-based tasks that benefit from controlling moisture.
The solid lid feels much more durable than the plastic cover included in the Rachel Ray product. I’d strongly recommend this lasagna pan if you’re after something with a lid that you can throw in the oven.
Lasagna can be made in any sort of baking pan, be it round or rectangular. This means there aren’t really pre-defined lasagna pan sizes. Instead, you’re free to choose whatever cooking utensil you have handy and use that to make a cheesy layered casserole of the size of your choosing.
This doesn’t mean that every pan performs equally. In my opinion, Pyrex and enameled pans offer the best blend of durability, ease of cleaning, and performance. If you don’t mind some added complexity, non-stick and metal pans can be used, too, although you’ll need to adjust your cooking times and possibly use parchment paper to keep your pans safe from the acidic sauce used in your lasagna.
All of the options above are excellent lasagna pans that can be used to produce a wide range of incredible dishes. Whether you’re making classic casseroles, roasting meat, or simply reheating a plate of leftovers, the baking pans above are some of the most cost effective, high-quality, durable pieces on the market. You’ll love how they perform in your kitchen!