A 13 by 9-inch baking dish is the tote bag of kitchenware. It’s inexpensive, functional, and great for transporting goods, and most people have at least one (if not a couple). In the test kitchen, we put 13 by 9-inch baking dishes under the broiler when we want to crisp bread crumbs atop dishes such as macaroni and cheese and when making recipes such as Savory Noodle Kugel, Candied Sweet Potatoes, New Orleans Bourbon Bread Pudding, Oven-Barbecued Beef Brisket, and more. But broiling is a direct-heat cooking method that can subject these dishes to temperatures of up to 550 degrees, which is too hot for our favorite glass baking dish as well as our winning 13 by 9-inch baking pan.
Rather than give up broiling foods, we needed to find an alternative that could withstand the heat as well as look nice when brought to the table for serving. We purchased seven widely available broiler-safe baking dishes that measured roughly 13 inches by 9 inches and were priced from about $37 to about $110. All were made of ceramic or porcelain; these materials can withstand extreme heat because they are hardened by being fired in a kiln at temperatures well over 1,000 degrees. We made three dishes in each one: yellow cake, Classic Macaroni and Cheese, and One-Pan Salmon with Rice, Broccoli, and Shiitake Mushrooms.
During testing, we learned a lot about the dishes, and we also learned that sharing seven baking dishes’ worth of macaroni and cheese can do wonders for your popularity. In each case, the dishes’ performance was roundly satisfactory—we were happy with all foods baked in these dishes, and all were fairly easy to clean. (Caked-on cheese and residual cake were a cinch to remove, but we had to scrub a bit more to remove the salmon glaze from each dish.) But two key factors separated the winner from the rest: handle design and capacity.
The dishes offered two types of handle design: loops or tabs. The looped handles were shaped like a squared-off C with space for your fingers in the middle. The tabs resembled the tabs you’d see on top of a manila folder.
The advantages and disadvantages of the two handle designs became clear once we were faced with lifting the hot dishes and removing them from the oven. The dishes with tab handles were problematic. We didn’t struggle much when putting these dishes into the oven, but the handles made it challenging to rotate the dishes midbake and to remove them from the oven. We couldn’t easily or securely grab the tabs, especially while wearing thick oven mitts or while trying to grip them with slippery dish towels (we tested with both). One model’s tabs stuck out just ¾ inch from the sides of the dish, which didn’t give us much room to grip. On two other models, the tabs slanted upward at about a 45-degree angle, giving us much less leverage when lifting. One of these dishes was also one of the heaviest in the lineup at 5 pounds 8.4 ounces, creating a double-whammy of difficulty and making us constantly fearful that the hot dish would slip right out of our hands.
The dishes with looped handles were much easier to maneuver and carry because we could securely grasp the loops with our fingers (even when protected by oven mitts or dish towels). It was also easier to rotate these baking dishes in the oven because we could easily grab the handles, which were longer and stuck out farther from the dishes than the tabs did. Our favorite baking dish had looped handles that offered plenty of room, which is crucial given how heavy these dishes can be when filled with food.
We measured the outer dimensions and the volumes of all the dishes. There wasn’t much variation in the dimensions: Most measured roughly 13 inches by 9 inches, and two were closer to 14 inches by 10 inches. But when we measured volume—by filling the baking dishes to the brim with water and noting how many cups of water fit in each—we saw that the capacities ranged from 12 cups to a hefty 19⅜ cups. We also noted the depth of each dish, with measurements ranging from 2¼ inches to almost 3 inches—a substantial difference that helped explain the dishes’ varying capacities.
Baking dishes with smaller capacities, ranging from 12 cups to 13 cups, were slightly narrower than other models. This wasn’t a deal breaker, but we occasionally found it harder to arrange food—the broccoli and shiitake mushrooms in the one-pan salmon recipe were crowded and crammed in. Food also sat higher in these dishes, so when we sprinkled bread crumbs on top of mac and cheese, some of the bread crumbs fell on to the counter instead of being neatly contained in the dish.
Working with the largest dish, which measured 14 inches by 9¾ inches and had a huge 19⅜-cup capacity, posed unique challenges. We had to jiggle the dish to spread the cake batter so that it would cover the entire bottom, and one colleague commented that the macaroni and cheese looked “a little sad” because it sat lower in this dish than it did in others. The dish’s larger dimensions also meant that there was less space to maneuver when we rotated the dish in the oven and when we tried to remove it from the oven.
Our favorite dishes were generously sized but not too big, with capacities ranging from 14¼ cups to 16¼ cups. When we made one-pan salmon in the 16¼-cup dishes, some rice peeked through the vegetables instead of being entirely covered by them as the recipe dictated, but this was a minor issue. We preferred having a little extra room to wishing we had more. Our favorite baking dish had a 14¼-cup capacity, which was the sweet spot: large enough to accommodate all our recipes with no crowding of food yet small enough that every recipe turned out aesthetically pleasing.
One dish was easier to use than the others owing to its easy-to-grip looped handles and its optimal 14¼-cup capacity. The Mrs. Anderson’s Baking Lasagna Pan with Handle (Rose) delivered exactly what we wanted: well-cooked food and a great design that made it easy to handle. Cleanup was simple, too, whether we washed it by hand or in the dishwasher.
We love our winning rectangular glass and metal baking dishes, but they’re not broiler-safe. We set out to find a table-worthy baking dish that could handle the broiler’s heat and be easy to use.