Just give up on your sheet pans

It's OK for things you use to look used

By Margaret Eby

Published May 25, 2022 3:29PM (EDT)

 (James Ransom / Food52)
(James Ransom / Food52)

This story first appeared on Food52, an online community that gives you everything you need for a happier kitchen and home – that means tested recipes, a shop full of beautiful products, a cooking hotline, and everything in between!

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I am not, by any standard, a neat person. I try to corral my chaos into various acceptable containers — junk drawer, closet, under the bed, giant plastic tubs of doom — and when guests come over, maintain the illusion that I have a handle on my life. I'm not a slob, but I am a maximalist, and my whole life, I have felt deep shame about it. Particularly when it comes to my kitchen.

I am a food writer and I love having people over to eat dinner, so my friends and acquaintances see a fair amount of my kitchen. And until pretty recently, that kitchen was the size of a tiny closet in a Brooklyn apartment, where I have stuffed all my equipment and various salts. I use sheet pans for everything: spare counter space, serving dishes, places to organize my ingredients. And as a result, they are far from sparkling silver.

No matter how much I scrub at them, no matter what method — baking soda and vinegar, Bar Keepers Friend, industrial-grade oven cleaner — they accumulate along with the telltale grime of use at the corners. Every time a new article pops up with a brilliant, no-fail cleaning method for making baking sheets look brand new, I click. And every single time, my baking sheets, though perfectly clean, would not look anything like new. They look used because I use them.

Aside from throwing out my sheet pans every six months, a practice that seems environmentally catastrophic, expensive, and just plain silly, there is not a great solution. So this is what I have learned to do: Make peace with your sheet pans. Make peace with your well-loved Dutch Oven and your scratched utensils. Maybe it's fine for things not to look brand new out of the box when, in fact, you use them to make meals every week. I promise you that in the back of every incredibly fancy restaurant on earth, there is a share of dinged-up pots and spattered sheet pans, well-used knives and stained kitchen towels. They're all perfectly clean and functional, but they just have acquired the aesthetic of wear and tear. (Plus, food photographers and stylists tell me, used and dented sheet pans make for the most gorgeous backdrops.)

We are, as Americans in 2022, generally positioned to appreciate novelty over maintenance, new things over old ones. Who could blame us? Social media and advertising continues to pump out images of beautiful, impossible Nancy Meyers-esque kitchens, full of glinting copper pots and double-wide countertops. People in Silicon Valley keep accidentally inventing the bus over and over. I keep putting caftans in my cart even though I have a closet full of perfectly serviceable caftans.

That's something that's hard to change in a sweeping structural sense. But in a small way, in my own kitchen, I have come to appreciate equipment that shows the marks of use. Yeah, this sheet pan might have marks I can't get out, and it also was the receptacle of a sheet cake I made to surprise a neighbor. Sure, this pan has a few scratches and imperfections in it, but I still use it to cook eggs every morning.

Some kitchen items are appreciated with age — cast-iron pans, that comfy wooden spoon that you slowly break in until it fits your hand just-so. Every item in my kitchen has a story because I use it. It's my kitchen, not an anonymous, perfect, glossy Instagram one. My kitchen towels have stains on them from sopping up sauces and averting curry catastrophes. My old, spattered, inherited Dutch oven has spots that won't come off for love nor money, but it still bakes an incredible loaf of bread. The pastry cutter my dad gave me is slightly bent from over-enthusiastic biscuit making. Who cares? I'm going to keep trying to keep things as clean as I can, but I'm going to let go of that shame. My sheet pans are perfectly good as they are. So are yours.


Margaret Eby

Margaret Eby has written for the New York Times, The New Yorker, Salon and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she now lives in New York City.

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