The lowly muffin pan has morphed into an entire category in recent years, as manufacturers seek to address consumer preferences for different muffin sizes, muffin shapes and pan features. There are pans that make regular-size muffins, jumbo muffins, mini muffins, muffin tops, and even muffins shaped like hearts, stars and other shapes. Pans can be lightweight or heavy duty and made from metal or silicone. Nonstick coatings, which can help muffins release more easily from the pan, are also something to consider. It all comes down to deciding which features meet your needs and then finding a corresponding pan at the best price.
While there seem to be a zillion muffin tins and pans on the market, critical reviews are decidedly lacking. We found a short three-pan review at Cook's Illustrated, but the majority of reviewers' comments are devoted to the silicone bakeware and whether or not these flexible pans deliver on their promises: easy cleanup, even baking and no sticking. ConsumerReports.org, Australia's Choice magazine, New Zealand's Consumer magazine and The New York Times have all reviewed silicone cookware, including muffin pans.
The Cook's Illustrated review from March 2005 is the only comparison we found that covers metal pans, sizing up three types of pans -- a standard muffin tin, a heavier professional model and an air-cushioned muffin pan (which sandwiches air between two layers of metal). A video review from May 2009 adds some new information and recommends a different muffin tin.
We found a lot of user reviews of muffin pans at Amazon.com, Cooking.com and a handful of other retailer websites. And while many muffin pans get 30 or more owner-written reviews, the reviews are almost universally glowing for all metal pans, making it tough to tell from user reviews which models might be overall favorites. User reviews for silicone muffin pans are more mixed.
Despite the lack of solid comparison reviews of specific models, we gleaned enough advice from our research to make some solid best-bet choices. For example, testers at Cook's Illustrated magazine say there's really no reason to pay more for so-called professional muffin tins. And testers advise choosing a muffin pan with handles to avoid batter-soaked oven mitts or dinged-up baked goods. Lastly, pans that have a darker surface color (such as nonstick muffin pans) are more likely to produce evenly browned cupcakes and muffins, while those made with lighter, shinier metal were more likely to produce over-browned tops and under-browned bottoms.