7 Tools for the Perfect Pie

As home cooks, we rely on our instincts, our knowledge, and our curiosities -- but we also have to rely on our tools. Which is why we're asking the experts about the essential tools we need to make our favorite foods attainable in our own kitchens.

Today: Our test kitchen manager and resident pie wrangler Erin McDowell explains that when it comes to pie tools, it's about quality, not quantity.

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The thing about pie is that it’s super simple to make, which means that there aren’t many tools required to pull off the perfect slice. The few tools you do need, however, make all the difference in the world.

Here are the essentials:

1. Mixing bowls
I like to use a medium mixing bowl with decent depth so that I don’t splash flour out of the sides as I mix. Glass bowls are great because they’re easy to clean and they’ll stay cool while you mix. If you have a set of nesting mixing bowls and you like mixing your dough by hand, like I do, you can place a medium bowl inside of a larger one filled with ice to keep the ingredients chilled as you mix.

More: Bye bye, pie phobia! With Erin's help, you can make the perfect crust for every filling.


2. A canning jar
Since the level of hydration in pie doughs varies based on all kinds of factors (room temperature, type of flour, temperature of ingredients), most recipes call for an estimate of the amount of cold water that will be necessary. I like to put a lot of ice and a little bit of water into a wide mouth canning jar. I then use a tablespoon to scoop the icy water onto my dough. While this is neither required nor conventional, it will save you from running back and forth to the sink. Smaller jars also come in handy for storing any extra pie filling.


3. A great rolling pin
You can use any kind of rolling pin that works for you (back in my college days it was usually an empty wine bottle), but a French pin does wonders for pie dough. It applies even pressure and offers the baker a lot of control. Another thing to look for is a nice, long pin: There’s nothing worse than having to roll out pieces of the dough in batches. Not only is it a pain, but it makes it difficult to achieve an even thickness.

More: Your foolproof rolling pin deserves a foolproof pie dough.


4. Pie plates
I like glass, ceramic, and metal pie plates, and I usually choose between the three materials based on the type of pie I’m making. I always recommend that people have at least 2 pie plates: You’ll be grateful when the holidays roll around and you’re taking fancy pies to parties. Having multiple plates also means that you can invest in different sizes, depths, and materials to ensure you have a choice when making your next masterpiece.

5. Pie weights
You can survive using beans, but if you’re a serious pie baker, you’ll love having a pie chain or a set of ceramic weights. They’re reusable, simple to clean, and easy to use.


6. Help with fruit prep
I hate kitchen gadgets that only do one thing, but I can’t live without my cherry pitter and my apple slicer. When I’m making pies, I’m making a lot of them; the amount of time these tools save me is totally worth the space they take up in my kitchen drawers.

More: No cherry pitter? No sweat. Here's how to hack one.

7. Dough scraper
While I don’t actually use this in the actual preparation of the pie, it’s 100% essential in cleaning up. One quick scrape collects the excess flour and sticky pie scraps that are lingering on my counter after rolling my dough.

More: Alice Medrich gives 4 more reasons to keep a dough scraper in your kitchen.

Genius Slab Pie

And that’s it! For a simple dessert (crust plus filling), you only need simple tools. Then again, a nice pie server wouldn’t hurt either.

What items do you count on to make the perfect pie? Share your go-to tools with us in the comments below!

Photos by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jean Rudolph
    Jean Rudolph
  • Smaug
  • Chef Lisa
    Chef Lisa
  • Jill Briscoe
    Jill Briscoe
I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, Savory Baking, came out in Fall of 2022 - is full of recipes to translate a love of baking into recipes for breakfast, dinner, and everything in between!


Jean R. October 19, 2020
Not a piece of equipment, but I must have leaf lard. I go to the Eastern Market in Detroit to a meat market that still butchers hogs. I ask for pork kidneys with all the fat still attached. That way I know they haven’t given me back fat or belly fat. I render it at home outside in a Lodge Dutch oven over a gas jet. My grandfather had a farm in Romeo, Michigan. My grandmother let the pigs eat the windfall pears from the orchard. Wonderful pork and pork fat! The secret to perfect pie crust.!
Smaug November 12, 2015
I used to make crusts with a table knife, but a pastry blender is near essential. Otherwise, not much is really essential; you can always improvise a rolling pin, you can make a galette if you don't have a pie plate- or use a skillet or paella pan or (rumor has it) a mason jar, you can use a glass (I pre freeze the glass) or anything else to add water (tablespoons, or even teaspoons, are huge increments for a pie crust, I generally just dribble it in- sometimes just moisten my hands and turn the dough a few times), beans work fine, and I've used the same ones for at least ten years). Bottom line, cooking is very seldom about buying equipment, out of line as that may be with the American way of life.
Chef L. October 20, 2014
Chef L. October 20, 2014
I've never seen round zippered bags. Where might I find that?
RSVPPDQ36 October 20, 2014
I got mine at a kitchen store at an outlet mall in Vero Beach Florida, but I've seen them at other kitchen stores, just not Sur La Table or WS. The zipper runs around the outside edge and when open, it looks like an 'eight'. Could be useful too, if you have both gluten free and gluten tolerant people in your house by dedicating one to each side. Sure keeps the mess down.
RSVPPDQ36 October 18, 2014
Believe it or not, I've this zippered round plastic bag the allows me to rollout the dough to perfectly round, evenly thickness with no flour all over my countertop and usually floor. My mother sneered at this until I bought her one, she tried it and pronounced it marvellous. I think so too.
Jill B. July 19, 2014
Crust shields and a pastry blender.
Sarah J. July 21, 2014
Wow -- I had never heard of a crust shield before! What a cool idea.
Felicia F. July 19, 2014
Wax paper. You pictured it with the rolling pin but didn't mention it's benefits. Roll the crust between two sheets of wax paper. Peel the top layer off. Flip the crust into the pan and then remove the other layer.
AntoniaJames July 17, 2014
And my kitchen scale, for weighing ingredients (and apportioning dough, like FrankA). How did I ever bake without one? Now, if Food52 would kindly do the same (provide weight measures in the recipes you post here), so many of us would be more grateful than you can imagine. ;o)
FrankA July 16, 2014
I use a non stick mat to roll out my dough. It has graduating concentric circles in the middle in 1 - 2 inch increments starting around 6 inches and extending out to 14 inches. Makes it a lot easier to measure your pie shell and helps with clean up. Roll it up and pop it into the sink. I also use a scale to weigh my portioned dough prior to shaping it into discs for a double crust pie.
AntoniaJames July 16, 2014
My bench scraper has a nice sharp blade, so I use it to cut butter into small pieces before popping them into the freezer to chill -- also helpful when adding tiny bits of butter to a sauce, one at a time. ;o)
Katelinlee July 16, 2014
I pick up a few extra glass pie plates on the cheap at Goodwill for pies I give for gifts or bring to parties, just in case I don't get them back. I also have been known to travel with my pastry blender.
Erin J. July 16, 2014
I love the idea of giving pie plates away! So cool.