So you want to bake a pie. Great! Need to blind-bake that pie crust? No problem. Just FYI: You’re gonna need some pie weights. While not all crusts require a blind bake (it depends on what kind of pie you’re baking; more on that below), when necessary, it’s a step you can’t skip, and pie weights are pivotal to its success.

Pie weights perform the necessary function of weighing down an empty pie crust while it parbakes, helping the pie shell keep its shape. They also prevent air pockets from forming and encourage the crust to crisp (no soggy bottoms here). While you can buy weights made explicitly for pie baking, many bakers turn to pantry staples like dried beans, rice, or even popcorn kernels in their place. But as it turns out, the best pie weights aren’t any of these. More on that in a minute, but first:

Why should I blind-bake a pie crust?

The primary goal in baking a homemade pie is to achieve a golden brown crust and a perfectly set filling. But what if the pastry requires a longer bake time than the stuff inside of it? That’s where blind baking comes in.

Blind baking (or parbaking) allows the crust time to set its shape and turn crisp before the pie filling ever comes into play—think of it as a head start in the race toward browning. Whether or not you should parbake the crust depends on the type of pie you’re making. Most fruit pies (like blueberry, peach, and apple pie) call for a very long bake, with ample time for the filling to thicken and the crust to turn crisp and brown. But egg-based custard pies (like lemon meringue, pecan, and pumpkin pie) can be more temperamental. Pour the filling for a custard pie into a raw pie shell and by the time the crust has crisped, the filling will have become sweet scrambled eggs. Prebaking the crust ensures sufficient time to cook it through without overcooking the pie filling.

In addition, without the presence of a filling, pie crust can slump down into the dish as it bakes. Pie weights help hold the crust in place during its preliminary bake, preventing air pockets and a shrunken shell.

So what are the best weights for pie crust?

The problem with traditional ceramic pie weights is that they’re expensive and you somehow never seem to have enough of them. You’d have to buy at least four standard packages to fill a 9″ pie shell—at $7.99 per pack, that adds up. A pie chain, a long strand of metallic pie weights, is slightly heavier than the ceramic balls but doesn’t support the sides of the pie and can lead to slumping. Common pie weight substitutes like dried beans are a budget-friendly option, but keep them around for too long and they’ll eventually go rancid, imparting your pie with a less-than-pleasant aroma.

Our genius solution? Small stainless steel balls that can be purchased at any hardware store (or online).

Steel Shot Slingshot Ammo BallsSteel Shot Slingshot Ammo Balls$27 at Amazon

Otherwise known as ball bearings, these tiny oven-safe stainless steels balls—which, fun fact, are also used as slingshot ammo—are much heavier than ceramic weights. One package of Mrs. Anderson’s ceramic pie weights clocks in at a third of a pound; that doesn’t hold a candle to 7 pounds of pure steel balls (bonus: they’re virtually indestructible, i.e., reusable for life).

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