While cooking can be challenging in itself, cleanup is almost always more complicated. If you struggle with food sticking to your oven trays as I have in the past, you may wonder if there is a better way to cook—and there is!
To prevent food from sticking to your oven tray, follow these 7 tips:
- Grease the tray and sprinkle it with flour.
- Preheat your oven tray.
- Use silicone mats
- Season your oven tray.
- Line the tray with aluminum foil
- Flip and move your food frequently.
- Sear food in a stovetop pan before moving it to the oven.
So, why does food stick to oven trays, and how can you prevent it? I’ll give you all of the details and share some of the pro tips I’ve learned over the years so that you can have a clean, nonstick finish every time you cook.
Why Does Food Stick To An Oven Tray?
Often, even when you think that your food won’t stick to the tray, it does, leaving your confections in pieces, which gives you a tricky mess to clean up. However, understanding why certain foods stick to trays is the first step to ensuring that your culinary creations won’t crumble.
Food sticks to oven trays because some of the compounds in the food, especially proteins, bond with the metal. Oven trays also have porous surfaces, which makes foods more likely to cling to them.
So, there are a couple of reasons why food can stick to oven trays. Let’s talk more about how each cause affects your cooking process.
Raw Protein Bonds With Metal
Have you ever noticed that meat, cheese, and eggs stick to your oven tray more than other foods? Well, the reason for that is entirely scientific.
Foods with high amounts of protein are prone to sticking to pans since raw protein bonds with metals. At low temperatures, raw proteins change at an atomic level. As you cook your food, the protein chains slowly fold and rearrange to give your food a crispy, film-like exterior.
However, during this change, the proteins can bind with the ions in metal, especially in steel and iron. Depending on the chemical makeup of your food and the metals in your oven tray, the bond can either be weak or strong.
Still, most protein-rich foods stick to your oven tray to some degree unless you create a protective barrier that keeps the food from coming into direct contact with the metal surface. On the other hand, only raw proteins stick to metal, so your food is less likely to stick if you sear or preheat it.
Metal Is Porous
Stainless steel and aluminum trays look shiny, glossy, and smooth, but they still have tiny pores on their surfaces underneath their reflective appearance.
Most metal surfaces have tiny craters that you can only see under a microscope. Depending on the quality of your oven tray, the metal might have more or fewer craters, so if you have a cheaper pan, you might experience more sticking.
When you cook food on a metal surface, some of the oils, proteins, and starches may sink into the pores of your tray. Then, once the food has seeped into these crevices, it cooks and hardens, practically glueing your food to the baking sheet.
For this reason, the more you use your oven tray, the more nonstick it will become.
However, that means there are food particles and oils trapped inside the pores of your tray. These particles will burn over time, leaving a black, sticky residue on your stainless surface, which is why it can also be challenging to keep an oven tray clean.
How To Stop Food Sticking To An Oven Tray
So, what can you do to keep the proteins in your food from binding to the metal, and how can you create a barrier that keeps your food from seeping into your oven tray’s pores? Let’s take a closer look at the steps you can take.
1. Grease the Tray and Sprinkle It with Flour
We all know that we are supposed to grease pans before baking cookies or cakes, but using oil is an easy way to prevent any type of food from sticking to your oven tray.
That’s because oil sinks into the pores of a metal baking sheet, filling them so that food cannot get stuck inside the tray. It can also act as a barrier that keeps raw proteins from bonding with a metal pan.
Adding a bit of flour on top of the grease will make an even thicker barrier because flour traps the oils in the pores of your oven tray. In addition, the flour absorbs some of the oil, ensuring that any raw proteins in your food cannot come into contact with the metal baking sheet.
To use this method:
- Grease your tray: Before you put your food in the oven, generously coat your tray with your favorite kind of grease, whether that is olive oil, butter, canola oil, or some other type of fat. For best results, use a brush to rub the oils into the pores and crevices of your tray. You can also use a paper towel or your fingers if you do not have a brush.
- Coat the tray in flour: Next, sprinkle your oven tray with a light dusting of flour. Be sure not to rub the flour in with your fingers since you want an even coating on top of the grease.
- Add your food: Place your food on the oven tray. Once you put the food on the tray, do not move it until it has been in the oven for at least a few minutes since you want the flour and oil to stay in place until your food has already heated up.
2. Preheat Your Oven Tray
Preheating your tray will sear your food when you put it in the pan, keeping proteins from bonding to the metal surface. Still, it is best to use this method with some sort of oil since the oil will create the barrier you need to keep your food from settling in the pores of the tray.
To preheat your tray:
- Grease your oven tray.
- Put the tray in your cold oven.
- Turn on your oven and preheat it to your desired temperature.
- Prepare your food.
- Carefully take the tray out of the oven and place your food on it.
- Put your food back in the oven.
3. Use Silicone Mats
One of my favorite hacks for preventing my food from sticking to my oven trays is putting a silicone mat underneath my food. Silicone mats like these Silicone Baking Mats are simply unparalleled in their effectiveness at keeping food from sticking to any oven tray.
These mats work because silicone is not porous at all, and it can withstand very high temperatures without getting too hot or melting. So, on one of these mats, your food will stay nonstick, even without adding grease or flour.
You can cook almost anything on these silicone mats, but they are especially beneficial for baked goods, dairy, and meats since they keep the food’s proteins from bonding with the baking sheet.
Another material you can use on your pans is parchment paper or aluminum foil. Both of these allow you to bake items without too much of a mess. If you’re using foil, spray a little oil on it before putting your food on the tray.
Still, it is essential to note that you cannot use silicone mats at temperatures higher than 450°F (232°C) since they may melt and discolor. However, at temperatures lower than that, they do very well and can last for many years.
They are also dishwasher-safe, making for the most effortless cleanup.
4. Season Your Oven Tray
Seasoning your oven tray with oil or grease is an excellent way to fill the metal’s pores and create a protective barrier that keeps food from sticking to it.
Just like seasoning a cast iron pan, following these steps will keep your tray from rusting, chipping, or getting stuck to the foods that you cook on it.
To season your baking tray:
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (177°C).
- Grease your tray with a thin, even coat of oil, preferably with an oil with a high smoke point such as grapeseed, canola, or flax oil.
- Put your tray in the oven and let it cook until it starts to smoke (usually after about an hour).
- Take the tray out and turn the oven off.
- Immediately wipe out the excess oil from your tray with a dishcloth or sponge.
- Let the pan cool to allow the oils to solidify, leaving a dark patina.
- After you cook on your pan, clean it with cool water and no soap for best results.
5. Line the Tray with Aluminum Foil
Lining your tray with aluminum foil is an easy way to keep it in pristine condition. Aluminum foil is much less porous than most oven trays, which makes it much more stick-resistant.
It also doesn’t bind with protein as much as most baking trays.
Still, sometimes, protein-rich foods may stick to aluminium foil, so it is still best to grease your foil before you cook on it. For best results, use an oil like canola or vegetable oil since they have a high smoke point.
However, you can use any grease you have on hand, but other oils, especially those high in saturated fats, might burn before your food is done cooking.
6. Flip and Move Your Food Frequently
To keep your food from bonding to your oven tray, keep it moving.
Moving your food around can be challenging when you are cooking in an oven, but flipping or sliding your food around every 5 minutes or so can go a long way in preventing sticking.
Once your food is hot, it shouldn’t stick much, so you will only need to move it around on the tray for the first 15 minutes of cooking time.
7. Sear Food in a Stovetop Pan Before Moving It to the Oven
Searing foods like meat is an excellent option if you want to prevent sticking. When you sear your food, you heat the outside, causing the proteins to rearrange before putting the food on your baking tray.
That way, the proteins cannot bond with the metal in the oven tray while you bake it.
As a bonus, searing or braising your food traps in all flavours, creating a solid outer coating that adds additional flavour and crunch to your food. So, you get the best of both worlds with this method.
You can use a pan or skillet to sear your food before you put it on the tray, or you can use a blowtorch to braise your food. Either way, creating that protein barrier is essential if you want to prevent your food from glueing itself to your tray.
What Foods Are Likely To Stick To An Oven Tray?
Some foods stick to metal trays more than others. If you know what is prone to sticking, you can always take the proper precautions.
Protein-rich foods, baked goods, and low-fat foods are more likely to stick to an oven tray. While they aren’t the only things that will stick, they’re certainly more likely than most foods to do so.
Let’s talk more about how you can prevent sticking, even if you are cooking something prone to get stuck to your oven tray.
1. Protein-Rich Foods
Foods that contain an abundance of protein, such as eggs, meat, and cheese, are incredibly prone to sticking, especially if you don’t add oil or grease to them.
When you add heat to protein, a chemical change occurs that makes the food stick to itself. That’s how raw meat, eggs, and cheese get their texture, crispy coating, and flavour from being cooked. However, this chemical change also makes the protein stick to some metals.
In the case of meat, searing or braising it before you cook it on your tray can keep the proteins from getting stuck to the metal. Adding oil or grease can also help.
I swear by a silicone mat for protein-rich foods since I don’t even have to add any oil to my food to keep it nonstick. However, if you don’t have a silicone mat, you can use greased aluminium foil, parchment paper, a preheated tray, or a seasoned tray to keep your food from getting glued down.
2. Baked Goods
Baked goods such as cake, bread, cookies, and muffins get stuck to pans because they rise. In addition, the eggs and other protein-rich foods in baked goods can also cause them to bond with the metal.
You might know that baked goods increase in size as they heat up, but at a molecular level, the protein, sugars, and starches in the foods grab onto the pan as they rise, often filling the tiny pores in your baking tray.
That means that as your food bakes, it expands into the metal tray, making it stick.
Greasing your tray is the best way to ensure that baked goods do not get stuck on your cookware since the grease will fill the pores of the metal, forcing the food to rise upwards and not into the baking sheet.
You can also use aluminium foil, silicone mats, or a seasoned tray for cooking your baked goods. As long as there is a barrier between your baked goods and the metal, your confections should stay stick-free.
3. Low-Fat Foods
Vegetables, grains, and other low-fat foods are likely to stick to oven trays because they don’t produce oil. Instead, they absorb oil. If you have pre-treated your oven tray with oil, these low-fat foods can absorb the grease that is in the pores of your tray, cooking it into the cracks and crevices in the metal.
That’s a recipe for unnecessary sticking.
To prevent low-fat foods from sticking, coat them in oil or grease before you put them on the tray. That way, the oil on the food will create a barrier between them and the baking sheet.
You can also use aluminium foil, parchment paper, or a silicone baking mat to protect your low-fat foods from the grease in the pan if you don’t want to add extra oil to your meal.