Pie crusts are simple but vulnerable to many different variables that can cause failure or lackluster results. The crust is the frame of your pie so it's important that it comes out as perfect as possible. I recently had a Trader Joe's pie that had such a poor, mealy crust that it disracted from the rest of the pie.
When making pie crusts, there are several things you can do to ensure it comes out as perfect as possible such as using ice cold water, Vegan Butter or margarine in stick form instead of tub form due to it containing more saturated fat, etc. Another often overlooked crust trick is the use of a pie weight.
A pie weight is used to ensure that your crust doesn't bubble up on the bottom and the sides don't slide down during the 'blind bake' (pre-baking the crust before the filling is added). This makes a huge difference in the quality of your crust because during this blind bake it stays in the shape that you originally intended. There's nothing worse than pulling your crust out of the oven only to find that the sides slid down and baked in place. Doh!
A pie weight can be anything from a couple handfuls of dried beans or rice, to specifically designed ceramic balls, or a pie chain consisting of stainless steel balls connected together. Pie weights are added during the bling bake process, uniformly covering the bottom flat area of the pie crust and removed about 5 minutes before the end of blind baking so the bottom of the crust gets a chance to bake.
Different pie weights have their advantages and disadvantages. Beans and rice are obviously free but need to be placed on wax paper so they can easily be removed. They're subject to absorbing moisture and fat so should be discarded after a few uses. Ceramic pie weights can be reused but still have to be put on a bed of wax paper in order to be removed easily. That's why I prefer pie weight chains from cookware companies like Mrs. Anderson's Baking Products that come in 6 and 10 feet lengths. Since it's a chain, it can easily be pulled off when it's ready to be removed and since it's made from stainless steel it's a one-time purchase. Positioning it is easier than beans or ceramic balls because the chain can be layed into place easly in a spiraled out fasion. The tiny balls are about the size of mung beans and hollow so they don't absorb too much heat from your oven and negatively impact blind-bake times. It's among the more pricey pie weight chains, costing about US$14 at the time of this writing but if you make any more than a couple pies per year it's a worthy addition to your pie making tool armory.