Non-stick cooking sprays have come under scrutiny for being expensive, bad for your health, and harmful to the environment. Whether you’re here for the same reasons—or simply ran out of Pam and have no time or intent to go the store—what can you substitute for cooking spray when baking?
As regular readers of my blog know, I do a lot of home baking and just as much experimentation. Then I write about my findings and share my recommendations here.
After a week of baking and testing out different methods, here’s my four best ways to grease a baking pan without cooking spray.
Why Food Sticks to Baking Pans
Food sticks to baking pans for two reasons:
Reason #1. No matter how perfectly smooth your baking pan looks to the naked eye, it’s actually filled with microscopic cracks and crevices. And when you heat them, the metal expands—allowing food to get trapped in the small holes, then burn.
Reason #2. High heat causes the proteins and carbohydrates in your food to form bonds with the surface of your cookware. Simply said, eggs and meat stick to metal because they form bonds with it. This is why aluminium pans can sometimes add a metallic flavor to your food.
If you’ve ever wondered why we need to use cooking spray in the first place, now you know. Now let’s get down to what you came for.
What are the best alternatives to cooking spray?
1. Brush Your Pan With Cooking Oil
Commercial cooking sprays are made with cooking oil, water, and an emulsifier. If you’re out of cooking spray, grease your pan with any cooking oil at your disposal. Best to use a vegetable oil like canola oil or avocado oil. Both have a neutral flavor and high smoke points (400°F and 370-400°F, respectively).
There are three ways to apply the cooking oil:
- Pour cooking oil directly on the pan and grease it with your hands;
- Use a silicone basting brush to do the same without getting your hands oily;
- Soak a paper towel in some oil and rub it on the cooking surface.
I’ve seen that using a paper towel gives me an application as close to cooking spray as possible, but either method will work just as fine.
When I was a kid and visited my great grandma in her country house in summer, I remember how she’d always grease the pan with her hands when baking. Sometimes, the simplest methods are best, you know.
You could use extra-virgin olive oil instead of vegetable oil. Keep in mind that it will add a peppery, tangy, and slightly nutty taste to your food (a sign you’re using high-quality olive oil).
Pungency, bitterness, and nuttiness generally go well with food and add some serious depth of flavor. But I’m guessing that’s not really an effect you’ll be looking for on all of your baking.
2. Coat the Baking Pan with Butter
To grease a baking pan without cooking spray or cooking oil, take a stick of room-temperature butter in your hand and brush it over the cooking surface. The milk fat in the butter will coat your pan with a slick, non-stick-like film.
This method works best when the butter has been brought to room temperature first. Take the stick of butter out of the fridge and let it sit for 45-60 minutes before you use it to grease your cooking spray.
If you forgot to do that and are in a hurry, place your pan in a preheated oven for a couple of minutes until warm, then take it out and apply the butter. The warm (but not hot) surface will help melt the cold butter.
To add a little creaminess and saltiness to your baked foods, grease your pan with salted butter. This one time, I was baking focaccia bread and I only had salted butter in the fridge. Let me tell you now, I’m really happy this happened!
Always match the cooking temperature called for in your recipe with the smoke point of your oil. Butter has a much lower smoke point (300°F) than canola oil (400°F), for example. If a recipe calls for cooking spray and a baking temperature above this threshold, butter is not a good choice because it will burn.
3. Grease the Pan with Lard or Bacon Fat
Okay, okay, I hear you guys and gals loud and clear… I know not everyone has a jar of lard lying around in their kitchen. And you need bacon to render bacon fat. But when you have one of these two options, consider them.
Lard is practically tasteless, which makes it universally applicable for all your baking. Bacon fat, on the other hand, is meaty, salty, and aromatic—and will only work when you want to infuse its flavors in the food you’re baking.
You can argue if and why it’s better to use vegetable oil or animal fat for baking—and that’s one of those debates where there’s no true answer. But if you’re eating on a diet that permits you to use animal fat for baking, try this option out.
Not every supermarket carries lard. At those stores that do, the best places to look for lard is in the meat section, near the cooking oils, or in the ethic cooking isles (where it’s sometimes labeled as “manteca”).
Lard gets a bad wrap, but it’s actually healthier than butter and most cooking oils. How about that? Lard has plenty of monounsaturated fat (the same type of fat we tout extra-virgin olive oil for being rich in) and contains 20% less saturated fat than butter.
4. Use Parchment Paper Instead of Grease
To keep food from sticking to the bottom and sides of your tray when baking, line it with parchment paper. The parchment paper will protect the metal from coming into contact and forming bonds with your food.
Parchment paper is cellulose-based paper that’s been chemically treated with silicone to create a non-stick coating. It comes in rolls, just like waxed paper or aluminium foil. Look for parchment paper in the baking aisle at the supermarket, grocery store, or dollar store.
If the recipe calls for greasing the bottom and the sides of the pan, use enough parchment paper to cover the sides of your pan. Rather than tearing it by hand, I prefer to cut mine with scissors (as this gives me more control over the shape and helps me avoid waste).
Remember, parchment paper is non-stick. You don’t need to use any grease—and baked goods will slide off of it when you’re done cooking. You will still need to clean your pan after, but cleaning will also get easier.
By now, you’re either already smearing your baking pan with butter or I’ve got you permanently hooked on the best cooking spray alternatives.
Or at least that’s what I hoped to achieve with this blog post. Let me know if and how these tips worked out for you in the comments below.
If you don’t have cooking spray handy, don’t worry. You can use avocado oil, canola oil, or olive oil instead. You can also grease your pan with butter, lard, or bacon fat. Bacon fat works especially well when you want to add a slightly meaty taste to your baked goods.
Last but not least, if you don’t want to use any grease at all, simply use parchment paper. It’s paper that comes with silicone non-stick coating and in convenient rolls that you can cut to any length you need. Plus, cleaning your pan gets way easier when you use parchment paper.
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