Muffin pans are typically made from silicone or metal, especially aluminum, steel and cast iron. Aluminum is lightweight, inexpensive and conducts heat well, so it bakes muffins evenly. Some aluminum pans are put through an electrochemical process known as anodizing, which makes them harder as well as resistant to stains and sticking. The anodizing process also makes pans darker in color, so they absorb more heat than lighter pans and consequently tend to brown foods faster.
Steel is strong and durable, although it tends to cost more than aluminum. Stainless steel -- a category that consists of steel alloys -- is typically coated or layered with another metal, such as aluminum, tin or copper, to improve heat conductivity. Cast-iron muffin pans are a traditional choice, but cast iron is heavy and can be expensive. It also needs to be cared for carefully, to prevent it from rusting.
In tests of muffin tins and pans, experts say your best choice is a sturdy pan that's not too heavy nor too flimsy, with a dark exterior finish and handles (to help get pans in and out of the oven).
Silicone is a relatively new bakeware material. It is light, flexible, easy to clean and colorful. But experts say that silicone muffin pans don't offer an advantage over metal pans, and because they are floppy, they can be harder to use than metal pans. Some bakers complain that silicone pans do not brown muffins as well as metal pans do. And though manufacturers say silicone pans are nonstick, user reviews are mixed and many say they still need to use nonstick cooking spray.
The most frequently recommended metal muffin pans have a nonstick coating, which eliminates the need to grease the pan to prevent sticking. You should be aware that most nonstick coatings are made of Teflon or similar chemicals that are controversial. We address this issue at length in our report on cookware.
Whether or not these chemicals pose long-term health risks is open to debate; nevertheless, experts say that when using nonstick cookware of any kind, you should keep the oven temperature at 500 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, never heat an empty nonstick pan and throw out pans that are nicked or chipped.
You can find muffin pans in four common configurations: 6-cup giant muffin pans, 6-cup muffin-top muffin pans, 12-cup regular muffin pans and 24-cup mini-muffin pans. Here's what else experts say about muffin pans: