Best Cake Pan of 2021
From unsurpassed durability to an easy-to-handle design, the All-Clad Pro-Release 9" Pan ticks all of the boxes of a professional-grade cake pan. There is a common thread among the best pans we test — aluminized steel combines the heating and cooling benefits of aluminum with the uniform heat distribution of steel, resulting in superior baking performance. This pan is also one of the few we tested with a PFOA-free nonstick coating that is reinforced with ceramic, which, like [Dutch oven | enameled Dutch ovens], helps the pan withstand scratches, stains, and scrapes. From tapping out air bubbles to putting it into the oven, wide handles make this pan easy to maneuver while keeping the batter even, helping you to produce perfectly even cakes. Though subtle, the 9" diameter is also a nice improvement over standard 8" round pans, which might just allow you to squeeze one or two more cinnamon rolls in.
The All-Clad Pro-Release is highly responsive to temperature — and, as a result, requires some monitoring to ensure even baking. It's a good sign when our only real criticism is actually just a reflection of the exceptional conductivity of aluminized steel pans — or possibly a complaint on the uneven heating of most home ovens. While professional bakers may appreciate this trait, more casual bakers could find this pan annoyingly sensitive to temperature changes. Regardless of the venue or the baker, however, this top-quality pan is sure to impress on all levels.
There is no need to sacrifice value for durability when considering the Wilton Perfect Results 8" Square Pan. As a testament to longevity, our lead tester's mother has baked brownies in these pans for decades. The pan's steel construction is hearty and cooks with an even heat distribution and temperature profile that is great for more than just a simple sheet cake like a brownie. We particularly love the large, wing-like handles that make these pans easy to remove from the oven.
Like all generic, PFC-based nonstick coatings, we would love to see the one on this pan replaced with something more natural, like a ceramic-based coating — even if it takes away from the overall durability. While we didn't notice any flaking during our testing period, we know from previous experience that these will mildly scratch and scour over time. The slightly slanted sidewalls are also not ideal for every shape of cake. But at the same time, this set of two might just help you produce a tiered cake with a very unique design.
Whether you want to bake a tiered cake for dessert or a batch of cinnamon rolls for breakfast, the Chicago Metallic 3-Piece Set is a versatile collection of round pans. This set includes a 6", 8", and 10" pan — when directly compared to other sets, the larger diameters make these pans more adaptable to a variety of kitchen tasks. The BPA-free (though not PTFE-free) coating is remarkably nonstick, with zero residue left after effortless cake release. The consistency of heat distribution is due in large part to their heavyweight, carbon steel construction, which also increases durability.
Although we love the size of these pans for versatility, plan on increasing your quantities — at least when baking a tiered cake — as they are a little too large for a single cake recipe. We'll spare you the monotony of remarking on their PTFE-coating and comment instead on the fact that the coating is so nonstick that these pans are almost slippery to handle. These are a nesting set of pans, but the smaller two extend slightly beyond the rim height of the largest pan, somewhat abating their ease of storage.
Even though we only had the pleasure of testing the USA Pan 8" Round, we can only assume that all the shapes and sizes live up to the same top-notch craftsmanship — we're certain we could easily substitute any one of them and be just as satisfied as we were with this one. A heavy-gauge aluminized steel makes this a durable, commercial-grade option with outstanding heat distribution. The patented "Americoat" nonstick coating, which is free of PFOAs, PTFEs, and BPAs, is paired with a fluted bottom for easy cake release and cleaning.
A minor criticism is that the aluminized steel takes slightly longer to heat up and cool down than a fully aluminum pan. But even when baking a clafoutis — which cools in the pan — we had no issues with an over-browning crust. Based on price alone, this pan is likely better suited for the home-baker who aspires to create professional-level desserts than the professional chef looking to stock a kitchen. But considering it is available in a variety of sizes and shapes, either kitchen would benefit from the addition of this exceptional pan.
The OXO Good Grips 9" Square Pan improves upon your classic piece of bakeware in a number of significant ways. The aluminized steel is lightweight, yet more durable than a standard aluminum pan, and provides a much more even temperature profile that is perfect for cakes and brownies. The dimpled bottom improves cake removal, but the secret to this pan's success is in the nonstick coating. The ceramic reinforcement of the coating not only makes this cake pan exceptionally easy to grip but seems also to discourage the flaking that is so common after repeated handwashing.
Despite the improved durability of the nonstick coating, we would like to see poly-based finishes like PTFE (e.g., Teflon) become a thing of the past. On top of that, this pan is certainly on the more expensive side for a single pan, which might dissuade many professional bakers looking to outfit a new kitchen. But it is available in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, from loaf and muffin tins to deep-dish pizza pans and even standard, quarter-sheet pans, making this an enticing option, to say the least.
The Wilton Perfect Results 9" Fluted Tube Pan is not only an exceptional value for a specialty cake pan but also offers the superb cooking performance to back that value up. The heavy-gauge chromium steel is the secret behind its evenly distributed temperature profile. Wide, shallow grooves give your tube cakes a classic look but also contribute to an effortless release. Most importantly, this pan is designed with ease of use in mind: solid handles offer an improved grip, and a wide lip is there to catch any extra batter, just in case your cake bubbles over while baking.
This sturdy pan is surprisingly lightweight for its construction, but its overall size does not make it particularly easy to store. This is eventually going to sound like a broken record — but we also wish that the nonstick coating was both PFOA- and PTFE-free. Additionally, it would be nice to have this pan available in a variety of sizes because its deep, 9" shape ends up making a big cake — so make sure you're ready to share the goods.
No baker's cupboard is complete without a springform pan, and the Hiware 6" Springform is a durable option, thanks to its lightweight steel construction and stainless steel buckle. Springform pans are noted for their versatility and for excelling in baking delicate, crusted desserts and dishes, like cheesecakes. Not only is this pan thoughtfully designed to last, but Hiware graciously includes 50 pre-cut parchment linings. This pan is available in 6", 7", 8", and 10" diameters, and all are designed to fit either a six- or eight-quart pressure cooker.
We more than appreciate the chemical-free coating on this pan but concede to the irony of wishing that it was more nonstick. Despite the springform design and pre-cut parchment inserts, we still had to use a knife to separate the Graham cracker crust of our cheesecake from the bottom of the pan. Fortunately, this pan is very easy to clean and store and will undoubtedly become a constant companion in your baking adventures.
Just like the Wilton square pans above, the 10" Wilton Angel Food Cake Tube Pan offers a top-quality piece of bakeware at an exceptional value. Although it is also offered in a chromium-steel version with a nonstick coating, we opted to test the more professional, quick-cooling aluminum model. We picked this model particularly because it offers a removable bottom/core and feet that elevate the pan for uncomplicated cooling. When compared to the classic method of cooling a delicate Angel Food or chiffon cake — which requires careful balancing on a longneck bottle — this pan offers a simple alternative.
We are surprised at just how thin the aluminum sidewalls are on this pan but are overall impressed with its baking performance when compared side-by-side to the heavier-weight option from Nordic Ware discussed below. It is certainly not a "heavyweight" pan as advertised, but based on our baking experience, we see no reason why this pan won't last years with proper storage and care. The PFOA-free nonstick coating allows the sides of a cake to slide out with ease. However, we had a particularly tough time cleanly removing the pan's core without pulling away part of the cake top. But to its benefit, this is a constant struggle of baking cakes for which you cannot grease the pan.
The aluminized steel construction of the Cuisinart Chef's Classic 9" Round Pan provides the opportunity to bake top-quality cakes at a fraction of the cost. In side-by-side tests with direct competitors, this pan baked a simple yellow cake more evenly than even the top-scoring pans. Even though the aluminized steel is not quite as thickly cast as other comparable pans, you still reap the benefits of uniform heat distribution and enhanced durability.
It is unfortunate that this pan is coated with Xylan, a PTFE-based nonstick coating. Regardless of the potential health concerns, Xylan is at best a mid-tier nonstick coating, which doesn't befit an otherwise great pan. But if you are able to care for it properly, the Cuisinart Chef's Classic 9" is nearly a professional quality pan at a much more affordable price point.
Whether you are already a pastry chef or a soon-to-be Cake Boss, the Fat Daddio's 3-Piece Celebration Set might be your next set of professional bakeware. From the pro-perspective: hard-anodized aluminum construction is lightweight, durable, and offers incredibly rapid temperature adjustment. For the home-baker: the set perfectly fits the batter from a single recipe (even a single box-cake mix), and the 3", 5", and 7" pans offer versatility at an affordable price.
Why we make the distinction that these are best suited for a professional kitchen comes down to cleaning. These pans have a non-reactive finish which reduces chemical residue or off-putting metallic taste. But without a coating, they must be washed (or at least soaked) immediately after a cake is removed. Annoyingly, this is also another nesting set that doesn't stack quite evenly. But their durable aluminum construction makes it likely that these pans will last generations, even if they get knocked around in the cupboard.
The Fat Daddio's Round Cheesecake Pan is, for all intents and purposes, identical to the pans included in the Celebration Set described previously. The main distinction is the removable, "push-up" style bottom, which makes it a great alternative to the classic springform pan. Just like the other Fat Daddio's pans we tested, this is made with a lightweight, quick-cooling, and impressively durable hard-anodized aluminum — perfect for the rigors of a professional kitchen. Like the Hiware Springform pan, this cheesecake pan is designed to fit into a pressure cooker for easy baking. But unlike the Hiware, this one is offered in more sizes and depths to accommodate 3-, as well as 6- and 8-quart instant pots.
We only tested the miniature, 3" diameter pan, which was perfect for baking adorable, single-serving cakes — or, in the case of a rich cheesecake, a perfectly shareable portion. The non-reactive aluminum cleans easily enough, just as long as you remember to soak it as soon as the cake is removed. While the push-up design works well for smaller cakes, we can see it providing a bit of trouble for clean removal of larger diameter cakes, at least until you perfect this style of removal.
We absolutely love this Nordic Ware Heritage Bundt Pan, not only for its unique design, but for its unsurpassed baking performance. Cast aluminum is very different from extruded or hammered alloy — the metal is actually poured into a cast rather than stripped or pounded thin, resulting in a pan with the heavy-duty durability of steel plus all of the heating and cooling benefits of aluminum. The cast construction gives this Bundt pan superb heat distribution, with the ability to produce intricate cakes that cook perfectly and pop out easily without falling apart.
As a specialty item, this tube pan is not nearly as versatile as other bakeware we tested. It could best be improved with handles to help support its heavy weight, especially when removing it from the oven. The Nordic Ware Heritage Bundt pan is designed with a beautifully complex shape that turns heads at any bake sale, but unfortunately, these deep grooves prove difficult to clean. Beyond those relatively minor flaws, it is simply tough to justify spending nearly twice as much on a Bundt pan that performs only marginally better (yet lacks the improved design characteristics) of our top choice, the Wilton Perfect Results Fluted Tube pan.
The battle between tube pans — in both subcategories of Angel Food and Bundt — was overall a very similar one. For each category of tube pan, we directly compared models from Nordic Ware and Wilton. The chromium steel construction of the Nordic Ware Heavyweight Angel Food Cake Pan is plenty capable of producing a well-baked cake but completely omits any of the design attributes that help you through the baking process.
The rounded seams actually make it harder to cleanly cut away a cake because you cannot bend a knife blade to cleanly separate the cake from the pan where the sidewalls meet the bottom edge. It took a lot of effort to remove cakes from this pan — involving multiple rounds of cutting and knocking — only to end up with a lot of the cake still stuck to the pan. The silicone coating of the Nordic Ware Heavyweight Angel Food is indeed very easy to clean, but that's only a slight reprieve after fighting to free your cake. So unless you exclusively cook with nonstick, steel bakeware, we suggest saving half of your money and checking out the Wilton Perfect Results before baking your next Angel Food or chiffon cake.
The Simply Calphalon Nonstick 8" Square pan is a price-point option if you want to experience the difference of carbon steel for yourself. Carbon steel pans are significantly lighter weight, yet provide many of the same heat distribution advantages of cast iron. While it will not heat up as quickly as aluminized steel or a simple aluminum pan, once up to temperature, you can expect an even heat distribution that results in ideally browned cakes. While carbon steel cooking pans do need to be seasoned like cast iron to avoid a sticky mess, the toffee-colored nonstick coating of pans in Calphalon's Simply Nonstick series lives up to the claim that it "releases twice as easily as Calphalon Classic Nonstick" — indeed, even an accidentally overbaked yellow cake slid out with little effort.
For all of its positive qualities, the Simply Calphalon Nonstick presents some potentially serious durability issues. We noticed that the "interlocking" design of the nonstick coating scratches very easily, which can allow moisture to get up underneath and loosen the layers of nonstick coating. Once the coating has been compromised, water can penetrate and begin to rust the iron core. There are many reports of this happening to folks, though we did not experience it during our relatively short testing period. If you are able to avoid scratches by using silicone utensils, this pan does present a fairly good value for quality bakeware.
Why You Should Trust Us
One of our kitchen experts, Aaron Rice, volunteered for the tough task of baking and eating all of these cakes (although admittedly, many were shared with friends.) More of a self-proclaimed cook than a baker, Aaron also enlisted the help of his talented wife, who has baked everywhere from professional kitchens to Dutch ovens over a campfire while leading expeditions in Alaska. Together, they also co-manage an on-site culinary garden for a fine-dining restaurant in Santa Fe and spend much of their free time cooking and baking at home — the perfect arena for the ensuing bake-off that put all of these cake pans to the test. Beyond cooking, baking, and growing food, you will likely find Aaron somewhere in the high mountains of New Mexico — he additionally works as a full-time ski patroller and avalanche educator.
Before any actual baking occurs, our experts perform their collective due diligence, spending hours online researching the market's top products. After narrowing the selection down, we purchase all products at retail value so that we can write as unbiased and objective reviews as possible. This comprehensive review of cake pans is the result of weeks of intensive, side-by-side testing. We used these products daily in our kitchens — ones that likely look very much like the one in your own home — and back-up that home-grown experience with assessments designed to scrutinize every detail of each pan. By directly comparing some of the highest quality products on the market, we can bring you a truly helpful and definitive review. Whether you are a professional with years of experience or a home-baker looking to hop on the train of the next baking craze, this guide will help you find a pan (or pans) that best suit the needs of your kitchen.
Analysis and Test Results
It doesn't really matter whether you would like to build a beautiful, tiered cake or bake a simple batch of brownies. If you want to bake your own delicious sweets, then you are likely going to need a baking pan — often referred to as a "cake pan" — to help satisfy that sweet tooth. To directly compare the options, we considered four key components that help define a great cake pan: baking performance, utility, ease of use, and versatility. We recognize that heat distribution is likely more important to you than storage capability, so these factors are all individually weighted. Beyond technical examination, we baked a list of items nearly as varied as the shapes and sizes of these pans, including everything from boxed cake mixes to a classic French clafoutis. We compared these pans side-by-side, which allows us to rank them relative to one another within the confines of these comprehensive and mutually exclusive metrics. It is important to note that since we only test high-quality products, we firmly believe even the lowest-scoring pans are a worthy addition to any bakeware collection.
Baking performance is mainly a question of how a pan controls temperature; namely, how efficiently and evenly heat is distributed and dispersed within a pan. That question can often easily be answered by determining the type and quality of the material used to make the pan. Steel tends to be great in terms of consistent heat distribution and an even temperature profile but often takes longer to heat and cool due to its thermal properties. Conversely, aluminum has the ability to heat up and cool off quickly but doesn't always disperse heat evenly. Both materials have their merit, depending on what you want to bake.
But when it comes down to the quality of material and craftsmanship, it is hard to argue a fine-quality pan against one of a lesser constitution. Our testing has proven that aluminized steel is at the top of the list when it comes to baking performance. Options like the All-Clad Pro-Release 9", USA Pan 8", and Cuisinart Chef's Classic 9" round pans, as well as the OXO Good Grips 9" square pan bake with even, well-dispersed heat that offers the feel of a commercial-grade product.
Not far behind are the cold-rolled and chromium steel-built pans like the Wilton Perfect Results 8" Square and 9" Fluted Tube — these pans are slightly heavier and cool slightly slower than their aluminized steel counterparts but still offer impressively even heat distribution. The surprising outlier is the Nordic Ware Heritage Bundt pan, which likely produced the most well-baked cake of our entire review. We attribute this to the cast-aluminum construction — this process results in a thick-walled, heavyweight aluminum pan that practically combines the best qualities of aluminum and steel.
The more and more we use a piece of cook- or bakeware, the more sentiment we tend to attach to that item — if we're lucky, they get passed down as an heirloom pan, to be enjoyed for generations to come. In assessing the overall utility of a baking pan, we heavily weight durability in our considerations. But it is also important to focus on how this new piece of bakeware influences your here-and-now — so be sure to take into account certain design specifics, notably the nonstick coating or finish, that help you produce more beautifully baked goods.
Good ol' steel — whether it is cold-rolled, aluminized, carbon, or chromium — is a safe bet when it comes to the durability and longevity of a pan. Notably, we have consistently been impressed with aluminized steel for its ability to deftly incorporate chemical-free, nonstick coatings into a strong pan with the weighty feel one would expect from a professional pan. The highly-regarded All-Clad Pro-Release 9" Round and OXO Good Grips 9" Square pans are the only two pans we tested that have ceramic-reinforced nonstick coatings for extra durability. Notably, the lightweight, steel construction of the Hiware 6" Springform pan also utilizes a PFOA-, PTFE-, and BPA-free nonstick coating. Although it isn't finished with the same chemical-free coatings as the pans we just described, the heavyweight, cast-aluminum build of the Nordic Ware Platinum Collection Bundt pan certainly passes our standards of what may be considered a true "heritage" piece of bakeware.
The Science of Nonstick Coatings
We've already made a major point of discussing the different types of nonstick coatings, and it is probably obvious that our lead-tester is not a fan of PTFE-coated cookware. So what's the big deal?
PTFE, commonly known by the brand name Teflon, has been used to coat pans since the late 1950s and is still considered safe according to the American Cancer Society. However, PTFE is a fluorocarbon-solid and like other PFCs, still presents a significant pollution risk.
But PFOA is a more nefarious chemical that, up until 2013, was used to make PTFE. PFOA-based nonstick coatings can produce toxic fumes when heated near 500 degrees Fahrenheit — well within the range of any oven, even if you are not generally baking at those temperatures.Finally, many of us are aware of the concerns surrounding BPA, particularly as related to water bottles. But that same chemical compound is sometimes used in the production of cookware and is particularly toxic when heated.
Ease of Use
In general, when it comes to cookware, it is safe to pass initial judgment on a particular product by asking a fairly simple question: does it make it easier to complete the task at hand? We tack on serious bonus points if there are certain characteristics that are thoughtfully applied to a design. As with all things cooking-related, after cooking comes the inevitable task of cleaning, so we also assess these pans on how easy they are to clean and store.
The more complicated the cake or pan design, often the more there is to dissect in terms of ease of use. The tube pans — both Angel Food and Bundt pans — presented plenty to discuss on this topic. In both categories, the Wilton Perfect Results pans won out over the Nordic Ware pans, offering better design features and a better value. The Wilton Angel Food pan includes feet which allow for a much more effective cooling method, and the Wilton Fluted Tube pan includes large handles and a nice, wide lip to catch any over-bubbling batter that would otherwise be destined to burn to a crisp on the bottom of your oven. As it seems that Wilton built their company on thoughtful design, the Perfect Results 8" Square pans also have wing-like handles that greatly improve their stability when removing a hot pan from the oven. The same benefits of oversized handles extend to the award-winning All-Clad Pro-Release 9" round pan.
We certainly appreciate any pans that incorporate a base design that not only helps improve its nonstick capability but cuts down on scrub time — this includes the fluted bottom of the USA Pan 8" Round, the dimpled texture of the OXO Good Grips 9" Square, and the wide, shallow grooves of the Wilton Fluted Tube pans. Even though we love the unique design of the Nordic Ware Heritage Bundt pan, the deep grooves that make the shape so spectacular are also surprisingly tough to get clean, despite its top-notch nonstick coating.
We ranked versatility less than the other metrics, simply because when it comes to the world of baking, you often need a specific pan to bake a specific cake. For instance, you wouldn't expect to use a tube pan to bake lemon bars, just as you could never produce a classic Bundt from a round pan. There are certainly types of pans, like a classic springform pan, that can be used to bake a variety of dishes from sweet to savory, cheesecakes to quiche. While we take that adaptability into account, we also heavily adjust versatility scores based on the variety of shapes and sizes available for a particular model of cake pan.
It should not come as much of a surprise that the sets we tested score highly in terms of versatility because you are getting two or three pans for the price of one. In this regard, the Chicago Metallic 3-piece set offers more value than the Fat Daddio's 3-Piece Celebration Set because you are able to use these wider diameter pans for baking pies, family-size crisps, and even cinnamon rolls. If you're seeking the versatility of a wide pan without having to invest in a set, the Cuisinart Chef's Classic 9" round pan offers a nice median between standard 8" pans and the 10" ones that often only come in sets.
As single pans, the models from USA Pan and OXO Good Grips score highly because these manufacturers offer a large variety of shapes and sizes. The versatility of a quality springform pan like the Hiware model cannot be understated for any dessert involving a crust. It is just as amazing the mileage you will get from a truly quality set of square pans, like the set offered from Wilton Perfect Results. We particularly like the extra depth of the Simply Calphalon 8" Square pan for baking other things besides dessert, like a deep-dish lasagna.
However you decide to move forward with your baking, whether personal or professional, any of these pans will offer a great place to start. We hope that our comprehensive review similarly offers a great place to start, breaking down some of the nuances between these pieces of bakeware to better inform your purchasing power.
— Aaron Rice