Choosing a rolling pin used to be simple: Almost all were made from wood, and the only question was whether to go with handles or without. Nowadays, the choices for materials and designs could take hours to consider. To see if innovation could trump the tried and true, we rounded up nine pins—including our former favorite—in wood, metal, and silicone, tapered and straight, with handles and without, priced from $9.99 to $45. We wanted an all-purpose pin, so we set to work rolling out pie crust, yeasted rolls, cookies, and pizza.
Since rolling out pie crust is job No. 1, we started there. A good rolling pin should spread this finicky, delicate dough easily and smoothly, without sticking or tearing. A handled pin of nonstick-coated steel looked promising, but it was so heavy it smashed dough, generating cracks and sticking. This metal pin lifted whole swaths of dough onto its surface. And because of their smooth finishes, pins in metal and silicone couldn’t hold a dusting of flour (an old trick to keep pie dough from sticking). Was wood the only way to go? Maybe, but some of the wood pins were also too smooth, resisting a flour dusting. The dusting clung best to slightly rough-textured wood, which gripped dough just enough to roll it out.
In the test kitchen, we’ve long preferred handle-free French rolling pins for flattening pie dough, since they give us a direct sense of the dough’s thickness and of how hard we are pressing down. Most of our tapered French models weighed less than the handled pins but had just enough heft for this task. One of our handled pins also worked well—at just under 2 pounds, it was slightly less maneuverable but didn’t leave us with cracked, crushed dough.
Should a pin be straight or tapered? One tapered model left pie dough thick at the edges; others rolled evenly. We got out our measuring tape and discovered that the problematic pin started tapering from closer to its middle. So fat-bellied that it resembled a lozenge, it provided only 4 inches of straight, flat rolling surface. Considering that the bottom of a standard pie plate measures 7 inches across, pins that stay straight for at least 6 inches function best.
The dramatically tapered pin was truly cumbersome when we rolled out stiff gingerbread cookie dough, leaving hills and valleys in its path. For this task, the heaviest rolling pins with the longest untapered expanse worked best. Featherweight pins did almost none of the work for us, and we found ourselves going back over the same areas to get a 1/8-inch thickness for cutting out cookies. Plus, using these lighter pins took so long that the dough had ample time to warm up, making it harder to cut out neat shapes.
As for handled pins, some simply spun in place instead of rolling over the parchment-covered cookie dough. Our go-to pin for this job turned out to be a 19-inch, handle-free straight dowel in slightly textured maple. At 1½ pounds, it was just weighty enough to lend us a hand but light enough to let us maneuver it easily. Another straight, handle-free dowel rolling pin initially looked perfect for the task, since it comes with attachable rings for rolling out cookie dough to a desired thickness. But with rings for only 1/16-, 1/4-, and 3/8-inch thicknesses, that function was limited—and at 13½ inches in length, it made our arms feel cramped when using it.
Most of the pins proved equal to the tasks of rolling out springy yeasted doughs for pizza and crescent rolls. But since the pizza dough required rolling into a 14-inch round, the longest, straightest model, that 19-inch straight dowel, served us best.
When all our testing was done, we found to our surprise that our three favorite rolling pins are all made by the same maker, J.K. Adams—also the maker of our former favorite pin. These pins, each in a different style, had the same slightly rough texture to their maple surfaces. Each offered enough flat surface area for efficient rolling and fell within the weight range that worked best for us. Our new winner, the J.K. Adams Plain Maple Rolling Dowel, offered moderate weight, a 19-inch straight barrel, and a slightly textured surface to move dough without slipping or sticking. It’s old-fashioned, relying on no new technology, but it works.