Pie plates are usually made of one of three materials: metal, ceramic or glass. Metal pie pans range from thin, disposable aluminum pans that might come with a store-bought graham cracker crust to heavy duty steel pans. Glass pie pans, which includes Pyrex brand plates, and ceramic pans are typically thicker and heavier than metal pans. There are so many pie plates to choose from, that many people find themselves wondering which plate is best for baking and which type they should stock their kitchens with.
Metal pans are lightweight, inexpensive and can last just about forever. They can, however, heat unevenly, so pies made with these plates sometimes have portions of crust that are more done than others. If they are made of aluminum, there is a chance that the fruit filling can react with the metal of the pan, giving the pie an off-flavor. Additionally, if you are using a very thin pan, you may have to reinforce the pan with a baking sheet or second pie plate, as it may not be strong enough to support the weight of a baked pie without bending. If you are opting for metal, a good quality steel pan is your best choice.
Pyrex or other glass pie plates retain heat and heat very efficiently, which means that they also distribute heat evenly and your pies will bake evenly in these. Since the pans are clear, it is very easy to visually check the pie crust for doneness – and you can adjust the baking time to give the pie more color. The bottom of the crust will also keep cooking for a few minutes after the pie comes out of the oven, which minimizes the risk of a soggy crust. The downside to a glass pan is that it can break if you drop it, especially if you’re working over a hard floor, it just isn’t worth the risk of all that cleanup to some cooks. Fortunately, these pans are quite durable and inexpensive, so if you are careful with your pans they will last you a very long time.
Ceramic pans are the most expensive type of pan, but are a favorite of many bakers. Ceramic offers the same heat-retention properties as glass, so your pie crusts will bake evenly. These pans also tend to be very pretty, with colorful finishes that make for a great presentation when you serve your pies. The only real downside is that, unlike the glass, you can’t see through the ceramic to check for crust color. Some ceramic pans are very thick and need a few extra minutes in the oven to get warmed up (like a pizza stone), which means that some recipes might have to be adjusted slightly depending on your pan.
In short, all of these pans will work to bake a pie, but as long as you are not worried about breaking your pans, glass and ceramic tend to perform a little bit better than most metal pans. I stick with pyrex and ceramic pans because I like the golden brown crusts that they reliably produce, and would recommend both to anyone looking for a new pie plate. The fact that you can see the crust cooking has always been a plus for me when it comes to pyrex, though I love the look of ceramic pans. If you want another look at pie plates, Cook’s Country has rated pie pans in the past and given top marks to both pyrex and ceramic pans, as well, with pyrex coming out on top thanks to its lower price point.