Cookie sheets, or sheet pans, are really a must-have for a busy chef – these flat trays are abundantly useful in the kitchen. Yes, chefs use them to bake cookies, from oatmeal raisin to chocolate chip to the famous snickerdoodle – but they also use them to roast potatoes or other vegetables, or to cook various other ingredients at specific oven temperatures, with a minimum of mess.
These sheet baking trays are versatile, but they’re also vulnerable to having certain kinds of residue build up on the surface. You put them into the oven and pull them out later, and various fats, oils, and other elements of the food have spread around and burned or stuck to the tray. After that stuff dries, as the tray cools, it’s even harder to get off!
With that said, you’re not going to try to scrub the trays as they come out of the oven, unless you want some serious burns. So kitchens have to have a plan to handle the accumulated grime. Here are some time-tested steps to making the most of your cookie trays and keep them in excellent condition for years to come.
Choose Your Plan of Attack
Chefs and kitchen workers have a lot of choices for effectively cleaning cookie trays. You have your garden-variety baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar approach, but you also have people cleaning with borax, cream of tartar, oven cleaner or even ketchup. Different cooks and kitchen managers will swear that one or the other of these conventional (or less conventional) methods works best for them.
There are different application methods for each process, too. Some cleaning enthusiasts have set up a rating system to look at what's most effective and easiest for cleaning cookie trays – but trial and error is best, because some of this involves what feels best to you, what you have on hand, and what specific types of trays you’re dealing with. In general, the most common approaches are combining the baking soda with either the hydrogen peroxide or the vinegar, which is a natural acidic go-to for everything from grill cleaning to unclogging drains.
A chef who has been doing this for a while might suggest adding sea salt or table salt to the baking soda solution. Some call salt a “gentle yet effective scouring agent” or a “catalyst” for other ingredients of a natural cleaner. The oven cleaner approach, in which chefs often use steel wool to scrub, is not unheard of, either. Cream of Tartar is a common choice for some types of sheet trays, too. After you have your chosen method, the one that you want to use for the long term, stock up on whatever it is your cleaning agent is going to be, and make sure that people know where it's located in the kitchen. Training is an essential part of this process, unless one person is going to be the “tray cleaning czar” forever.
Apply All Over
Whatever it is you're using to clean, it will work better if you apply it evenly over the surface of the tray. It's especially common to see buildup in the corners or handle indentations, or any crevices that your sheet trays happen to have. That's why some chefs prefer buying flat trays with very little ornamentation. As we mentioned, some applications are better for some types of trays. For example, where baking soda and vinegar is fine for steel trays, non-stick cookie sheets need a softer application, like cream of tartar, and more caustic elements might damage the non-stick coating.
Give it Time
After you've correctly applied your chosen formula to your cookie pans, or cookie sheets, you want to let them alone for a while to let the chemical substance work. Over time, any of these popular solutions will break down the built in grease and congealed material, and get your cookie sheets the right color again. How shiny will they be? It depends on various factors. Optimal times also vary. For instance, there’s yet another method involving ammonia, where chefs may combine the cleaner and the tray in a sealed bag to let the cleaning agent do its work. That might take a while, so be patient.
Prevent Further Buildup
Here's an additional tip – if you use items like silicone baking mats or parchment paper, you can protect that surface of the cookie sheet, and you'll have to clean it fewer times as you use it over and over again. You can read about silicone baking mats, and how to use them on our website, with care tips and more.
Use Sheet Trays to Present and Store Food
Cooking isn’t the only thing that cookie trays are useful for. Professionals who want to show off their creations in a new way might use these trays for interesting presentations table-side. Cookie trays can also be useful for storing leftovers in a walk-in. Just be sure to properly cover food for storage. With the right care and attention, your cookie sheets are going to be a reliable way to get food into the oven and do important prep work for those meals and menu items that you can cook in batches and plate out later.
At Chefs’ Toys, we are experienced in how restaurants work and what happens in a busy kitchen. We are “for chefs, by chefs” and it shows! Ask us any questions about the best gear for your restaurant operation.