There are two main styles of rolling pins to choose from, but experts say no shape is inherently better or worse -- it's mainly a matter of preference and what you're used to using (or what your mom or dad used). Traditional rolling pins use a uniform barrel with swiveling handles on either end. This type of rolling pin is often recommended for less experienced bakers; the handles and uniformly sized barrel help you maintain even pressure on the rolling pin to keep your dough even.
French rolling pins do not have handles; they're shaped from one piece of wood or other material. Rather than handles, you roll the pin by grasping the ends. This style is often preferred by bakers who want their hands closer to the dough or who want to drape dough over the length of the barrel to move it from surface to surface, including onto a pie plate or as a crust for meat. These pins have a rolling surface of approximately 20 inches -- longer than the standard 12-inch barrel on rolling pins with handles. They are either of uniform thickness or have tapered ends. French rolling pins are often a little less expensive, and because they are one piece, they're a little easier to clean.
Although you'll see rolling pins made from wood, nylon, silicone, metal or marble, wooden rolling pins are the most common. Although these have a nice traditional look, expert testers say wooden rolling pins aren't the best choice, now that silicone pins are on the scene. Wooden rolling pins typically need a liberal coating of flour to keep dough from sticking; this can get messy and introduces additional flour into your dough, potentially making it more rubbery. Wood is also prone to scratches and nicks, which over time can attract bacteria, or it can warp as a result of exposure to moisture.
The silicone-coated barrel on the Sil-pin Traditional Soft Grip Rolling Pin (*Est. $40) has many advantages over wooden rolling pins. According to one foodie magazine, it requires a lot less flour to keep dough from sticking. Additionally, the silicone doesn't have pores that can trap food particles or bacteria. It is safe to wash with soap, which can give bakers more peace of mind after rolling out dough with raw egg (which can promote the growth of bacteria if left uncleaned). Experts and owners say this rolling pin's unusual contoured rubber handles are easy to grip, and the stainless-steel bearings make it easy to roll. Elisa Huang at Bon Appetit says it has an "exceptionally smooth feel." And the Sil-pin Soft Grip rolling pin is also the favorite of five tested models in a review at AnnaAndKristina.com. A few owners posting reviews at Amazon.com were disappointed that the silicone wasn't completely nonstick, but the majority of owners say it has a good weight and is easy to use. A few wish it was a bit heavier.
Another handled rolling pin that experts and owners find easy to grip is the Oxo Good Grips Rolling Pin (*Est. $27). Owners say this heavy rolling pin practically rolls out dough by itself. It has a barrel that's 12 inches long and 3 inches in diameter like the Sil-pin, but at 2 pounds 10 ounces, it weighs 6 ounces more. One handle has a hole that allows it to be hung from a pot rack or hook. The most notable feature is that it's dishwasher-safe. This rolling pin ranks second out of 15 models tested by Good Housekeeping, and testers say the nonstick finish requires "barely any additional flour during rolling." However, one foodie magazine's editors say the nonstick surface on the Oxo Good Grips Rolling Pin is no better than wood. Good Housekeeping says one drawback is the handle design, which caused testers' knuckles to bang on the counter when rolling.
Two other rolling pins with handles that cost less are Fante's 12-Inch Wooden Rolling Pin (*Est. $20) and Fox Run's Marble Rolling Pin and Base (*Est. $14). Fante's 12-Inch Wooden Rolling Pin is the big winner in one major comparison review, but it's only available online through Fante's Kitchen Wares Shop. The Fox Run Marble Rolling Pin and Base is a favorite of owners posting to Amazon.com, who say this attractive rolling pin is extremely heavy and dough doesn't stick to it as much as to wood. The Fox Run is one of the rolling pins included in Kristina Matisic's and Anna Wallner's review. It wasn't their favorite; it was judged too small, but the handles were comfortable.
French rolling pins are usually made of wood, often maple. Some bakers prefer their one-piece design for its flexibility, which makes it easier to vary the thickness of dough. However, editors at Good Housekeeping say it's easy to apply too much pressure, resulting in dough that could be too thin. The long design does make it easy to drape large dough pieces over the pin -- handy for moving large crusts, cake fondant or pasta dough. However, because you're holding on to the pin itself rather than rolling handles, getting the hang of the movement takes some time.
Fante's Wooden Rolling Pin With Tapered Ends (*Est. $7) is a top pick in one comparison review, and it's one of the least expensive rolling pins we found. Experts like this rolling pin's subtle taper, which leaves a generous rolling surface. It's made of maple or birch and has a length of 20.5 inches. The diameter at the center is 1.75 inches, and it tapers to a diameter of 1.25 inches. This brand is only available online, and you'll pay extra for shipping -- $6 in the continental United States or $14 to Alaska or Hawaii. That makes Fante's rolling pin not so inexpensive after all.
Two other French rolling pins receive recognition in reviews and are easier to find in stores. Bon Appetit picks J.K. Adams Co. French Dowel (*Est. $12) as its favorite wooden rolling pin. Writer Elisa Huang says the "simplicity of the design" is easier to clean and store than a wooden rolling pin with handles. Alternately, the Vic Firth French Rolling Pin (*Est. $14) garners mostly positive reviews from 75 owners at Amazon.com. They agree that this simple maple rolling pin rolls dough evenly and is easy enough for a child to use.
All of the above rolling pins taper at the ends; this gives your fingers a little bit of clearance above the dough. Also available are straight-dowel rolling pins, which don't taper. We didn't find nearly as many reviews for this type, which is sometimes called a baker's style rolling pin.
Also included in reviews are some stay-cool rolling pins. These usually have a hollow barrel that you can fill with ice or water. Keeping your pin cool helps minimize sticking, plus it keeps the butter in dough from heating up; cold butter is one of the keys to flakey crusts. We saw a couple of reviews for the Cuisipro Stay Cool Rolling Pin (*Est. $40). Editors at Good Housekeeping mainly like this rolling pin, which did seem to keep sticking to a minimum. However, editors say that the handles aren't comfortable. The Cuisipro rolling pin is also tested by Kristina Matisic and Anna Wallner, but say it leaked and note that filling it with water is an extra step.
Matisic and Wallner's review also includes the Danesco stainless-steel rolling pin (*Est. $20), a hollow tube that you can choose to fill with cold water or ice. Matisic and Wallner dislike the fact that you have to put it in the freezer before using it. The Bennington Flameware Glass Rolling Pin (*Est. $20) is similar; this is a glass tube with stoppers at either end. In one professional test, editors say it seemed like it would work well -- at least until you drop it.