Cozy, comforting and delicious – casseroles are the workhorse of every cook's culinary repertoire. The casserole dish you use to make your favorite recipes can often double as a baking dish for desserts, sides and even some spectacular roasts. Given their capability as incredibly versatile bakeware pieces that can help you make everything from main dishes to sides to sweet treats, we at Williams Sonoma know there’s almost nothing casserole dishes can’t handle. The keys to getting the most out of these hardworking baking tools are knowing how to choose the right one for the job and honing your preparation techniques so that every dish you make is delicious.

Stoneware vs. Porcelain vs. Metal

Just as there’s a difference between the benefits of using nonstick, stainless-steel and copper skillets, there are also some essential differences between the materials casserole dishes are made from. They each have distinct properties that make them well-suited to specific uses.

Stoneware casserole dishes are colorful and hardworking. Stoneware is made from clay that’s fired at high temperatures. Then, it’s finished with a durable enamel layer. Stoneware is ideal for roasting and baking. It’s safe to use in the oven, broiler, microwave and freezer. However, many stoneware pieces aren’t dishwasher safe. Stoneware offers even heat distribution, and it retains heat to keep your casseroles hot longer. Stoneware is attractive enough to go from oven to table, even when you’re entertaining.

If you’re baking something delicate that might dry out in heat-retaining stoneware casserole dishes, porcelain can be a better option. It’s thinner and lighter than stoneware, so it doesn’t retain heat as long. This makes it a great option for casseroles and desserts such as custards and cakes. These casserole dishes often come in classic white, but you can find them in colors, too. Like stoneware, they’re also attractive enough to go from oven to table. Plus, they’re durable enough to use in the oven and microwave or pop in the dishwasher for easy cleanup.

Metal does a great job of conducting heat, so it offers superior browning and fast heating. Use it for anything you want to make crisp and toasty or for any recipes that go in a very hot oven. Keep in mind that some metals can interact with some acids, such as copper and acidic tomato sauce. Stainless-steel is an exception, making it one of your most versatile choices in metal casserole dishes.

How to Choose Casserole Dishes

In addition to noting the material the casserole dish is made of, there are several other important considerations. Size might be one of the biggest factors in making your decision. Smaller casserole dishes are ideal for sides or cooking for one or two people. However, if you want something large enough to handle casseroles and roasts for four or more people, look for a casserole dish that holds four quarts or more. The shape is another important element to consider. Rectangles are a classic option, but you can also choose square casserole dishes for a modern look and oval dishes, which give you a little more wiggle room for roasts. Casserole dishes that come with lids offer an extra bonus. The lid can keep your dish warm before serving. It also adds an extra decorative touch and a space for a colorful or textural design.

While you can use casserole dishes for many different things, you might use them most often to make casseroles. Take your casserole skills up a few notches with tips like using fresh veggies instead of frozen for casseroles that don’t turn out soggy. Are you using noodles? Cook them a minute or two less than the package instructions direct to prevent mushiness after your casserole cooks. Finally, make preparations easier by using a cheese grater or a microplane instead of chopping onions and garlic.

A rich casserole makes for an easy weeknight meal and a tasty party side. Whip up your most delicious casseroles yet in a piece of bakeware that easily finds its new home in your kitchen.