Why do maple syrup pans have dividers?

Maple syrup is a popular natural sweetener produced by boiling down the sap of maple trees. The process of making maple syrup begins each spring when maple sap starts to flow from taps inserted into maple trees. The clear, almost tasteless sap is collected into buckets or tubing systems and then boiled down to turn the sap into delicious, viscous maple syrup.

One of the classic pieces of equipment used to boil maple sap into syrup is the maple syrup pan. These wide, shallow metal pans have interior dividers that create separate channels. Sap is poured into one end of the pan and boiled as it flows through the divided channels. The dividers serve an important purpose in the syrup-making process.

In this article, we’ll explore why maple syrup pans have dividers and examine their benefits for maple syrup production.

Maple Syrup Production Process

To understand why maple syrup pans need dividers, it helps to first review the basic maple syrup production process:

  • Maple sap is collected and stored in buckets, tanks or tubing systems.
  • The clear, thin sap contains only 2-3% sugar on average.
  • The sap is boiled to evaporate water and concentrate the sugar.
  • As water evaporates, the sugar concentration rises.
  • It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup.
  • Syrup is achieved once the sap reaches a sugar content of 66 percent.
  • The syrup is filtered and packaged while still hot.

Maple syrup pans help facilitate the crucial evaporation and boiling process that transforms maple sap into maple syrup.

Design of Maple Syrup Pans

Maple syrup pans are specially designed for the task of maple syrup production:

  • They are wide and shallow to allow for rapid evaporation over a large surface area.
  • They are made from stainless steel or other metals that distribute heat evenly.
  • The interior is divided into channels or compartments by metal dividers.
  • There is a spout at one end to draw off the finished syrup.
  • They can be set over an open fire, on a grill, or heated with steam.
  • Commercial operations use extra-large pans that can hold hundreds of gallons.

It is the dividers inside a maple syrup pan that create separated pathways for the sap to follow as it boils. But why are these dividers necessary?

Purpose of Dividers

Maple syrup pan dividers serve a few critical purposes:

1. Control sap flow

The dividers control the flow of sap through the pan during boiling. The sap is poured into one end of the pan and then flows through the divided channels towards the opposite end. This creates a continuous flow pattern for the sap as it boils and concentrates. The dividers prevent the sap from swirling and mixing randomly in the pan.

2. Extend heating time

By directing the sap along a winding path rather than letting it spread out over the whole pan, the dividers force the sap to take more time traversing the pan. This extended travel time allows the sap to boil for a longer period as it moves slowly through each channel. The longer boiling means more water can evaporate from the sap, increasing the sugar concentration.

3. Prevent burning

If sap spreads out over the whole pan, some areas would end up overheated while other spots don’t get hot enough. The dividers compartmentalize the pan so that the sap heats evenly as it flows through each section. This prevents burning or caramelization before the ideal syrup concentration is reached.

4. Improve efficiency

The dividers allow maple syrup producers to boil more sap in each batch. The channels prevent overcrowding and mixing of new and already-boiled sap. This makes the evaporation and sugaring off process more efficient.

Alternatives to Divided Pans

Early maple syrup producers simply used metal kettles with no dividers. However, this often led to scorching, uneven heating, and lower syrup yields. Other alternatives include:


Modern commercial operations often use alternating metal evaporators. Sap flows back and forth through a series of connected pans while hot steam or flue gas provides even heating. Flow is controlled between pans.


Some producers use reverse-osmosis machines to pre-concentrate sap before boiling. This removes some water early in the process so sap doesn’t have to be boiled down as long. However, boiling in divided pans is still needed to finish concentrating the syrup.

Vacuum pans

Applying a vacuum during heating allows sap to boil at a lower temperature. This can reduce burning and cook times. But dividers are still beneficial in the pans.

History of Maple Syrup Pans

Early maple syrup production used metal kettles suspended over fires. As demand grew in the 1800s, specialized equipment was developed.

Early pans

Early specialty pans were made of tin with strip dividers. These allowed larger sap batches than basic kettles.

Grimm design

In 1872, Wilhelm Grimm patented a new maple syrup pan design. It featured rectangular compartments and a flue for heating. This efficient design increased yields.

Evaporator development

In the 1930s and 40s, energy efficient evaporators were introduced. These used steam heat and continuous flow between compartments.

Modern pans

Modern commercial pans are made from stainless steel for durability and ease of cleaning. New shapes and diagonal dividers optimize sap flow and heating exposure.

Homemade Maple Syrup Pans

Small-scale syrup producers can create homemade divided pans using simple materials:

  • Rectangle aluminum roasting pans
  • Baking sheets with 1-2 inch sides
  • Steel grazing pans used for feeding farm animals

Dividers can be fashioned from:

  • Aluminum strips
  • Small metal rods or dowels
  • Heat-safe silicone strips or metal sheets

The dividers should create zig-zag channels when placed in the pan. A spigot can be made with a cork or drill hole for drawing off syrup.

Key Considerations

Here are some key points to keep in mind when using divided maple syrup pans:

  • Pan material should be stainless steel or food-grade metal.
  • Make sure dividers are securely attached.
  • Dividers should create channels wide enough for sap flow.
  • Heat the pan gradually to prevent scorching.
  • Test syrup concentrations as sap boils.
  • Draw off syrup promptly when ready.
  • Clean pan thoroughly after each use.


Maple syrup pans with dividers are specially designed to maximize syrup yields and quality. The dividers control sap flow, extend heating time, prevent burning, and improve efficiency during the evaporation process. While early pans were simple kettles, advancements led to rectangular dividers and eventually continuous-flow evaporators. Divided pans remain an essential tool for hobbyists and large producers alike when boiling maple sap into sweet maple syrup.

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