The best roasting pans take you beyond the quintessential holiday gathering. They’ll serve you well as you roast weekday veggies, incorporate a Sunday roasted chicken into your repertoire or head to the barbecue with a slew of meats to smoke.
Investing in a top-tier roasting pan is worthwhile. It is important to understand just what you’re looking for because multiple factors are at play with this ingenious piece of cookware.
What Makes a Roasting Pan?
To qualify as exceptional, a roasting pan needs to be sturdy, distribute heat well, have optimal size and shape and possess features that make it easy to handle. It needs to be able to transfer from the oven to the stovetop for a post-roast deglazing – no hot spots or buckling allowed!
One of the principal roasting pan uses is to roast a large cut of meat. You start in the oven, then move to the stovetop, where stirring with a cooking utensil – whisk or wooden spoon, it’s up to you! – you can develop a gravy or sauce using the browned fat and juices from the meat. These drippings, or “sucs,” as they’re known in the French cooking vernacular, are the base for the sauce you’ll develop to accompany your roast. The best roasting pan for chicken, say, allows you to move seamlessly between these two stages. The best roasting pan for vegetables can, in fact, be this same pan, which is why it’s essential you select a first-rate product.
How to Use a Roasting Pan
How to use a roasting pan? you ask. Your options are pretty limitless. The best roasting pan for turkey and the best roasting pan for vegetables will make use of the same science to create something with an amazing texture and maximum punch.
As a home cook wields the instrument, they are coaxing incredible flavor out of a piece of meat or collection of vegetables by exposing them to high heat in an environment that is built for optimal airflow. The tool will allow you to brown exteriors, keep interiors moist, and will then work wonders finishing on a stove top. A roasting pan should be self-contained thanks to the right rack, handles and surface materials. It really shouldn’t demand extra work on the cook’s part or layering of cooking aids. That is, unless you’re working with a water bath.
Roasting Pans & Water Baths
In truth, you should not be putting water into your roasting pan at every use – this will inhibit browning and can lead to steaming; however, there are two times at which you definitely want to pour a bit in.
You should use a small amount of water with lean cuts like beef chuck, beef round or pork loin roast. Water is added to the pan to prevent the juices, which will be less ample than those coming from fattier cuts, from burning and to help encourage development of a jus. But you do not want to steam your meat, so don’t add too much water. Some folks will tell you that when cooking roast beef, you ought to add a bit of water to produce the tenderest outcome possible. Nevertheless, we are advocates of adding water when it’s needed — when drippings are browning, rather than straight out of the gate.
A pro tip: Tucking vegetables into your roasting pan will, not only contribute to flavor, but will also increase moisture levels, offsetting the need for additional water.
The other time you’ll use water in your roasting pan is to fashion a hot water bath. These are used to bake delicate custards like cheesecake and crème brûleé. A roasting pan’s high walls and sturdy handles make it an ideal vessel in which to perform this task.
Picking the Right Roasting Pan
The first and most obvious factor to consider when mulling over roasting pan options is size. You want a pan that will be large enough to accommodate a big piece of meat (turkey, prime rib, brisket, pork loin, they’re all sizeable!) without touching the sides, so that air can adequately circulate. The idea is that you’ll be able to serve a crowd with whatever you’re roasting up.
Recipes that are founded on the use of a roasting pan also often direct you to stick some hearty vegetables into the pan’s base to mingle with the protein’s juices (adding moisture and flavor while contributing to a completed dish). This means you want a generously-sized pan.
That said, if a pan is too big and too much of the bottom is left unoccupied, you can inadvertently burn the juices that get released in the cooking process. Because of this, we recommend keeping a few differently sized roasting pans on hand. One pan for large groups, one for smaller weeknight meals — a roast for one or two is a beautiful thing — and, if your storage space allows it, one pan small enough for low-lift toaster oven use.
If your storage space is limited, though, we recommend grabbing a large roasting pan and filling any unused space with robust vegetables – carrots, potatoes, onions, squash, etc.
The height of a pan’s walls is important to consider. In the roasting game, a baking sheet just isn’t going to cut it. A shallow roasting pan, with a depth of 1- to 2 inches works well for your vegetables and lean meats, but anything that is going to generate a lot of juice or benefit from basting needs higher walls.
With walls that are too low, you risk splashes and spills, particularly when braising or if you’re using a water bath. A roasting pan meant to handle turkey should have a depth of 3- to 4 inches. If walls are too high, though, you’ll have trouble accessing the pan’s contents and achieving any repositioning of meat or veg that you’ll need to do mid-roast – this will be especially annoying with heavy cuts of meat.
Feeling overwhelmed? Here’s the standard breakdown of roasting pan sizes and suggestions for what to put in them:
- Small: 14 x 10 x 3 inches. Good for vegetable sides and small cuts of meat under 12 pounds.
- Medium: 16 x 12 x 3 inches. Good for more substantial birds, weighing 12 to 16 pounds.
- Large: 18 x 13 x 4 inches. This is for that crowd you’re feeding. It is the best roasting pan for turkey (ones that weigh anywhere from 16 to 25 pounds), racks of rib and giant brisket cuts.
Roasting pans come in oval and rectangular shapes. Oval roasting pans’ lack of corners make whisking gravy and sauces a cinch. And it will come as no surprise that they work best with similarly shaped roasts like ham, chicken, turkey and prime rib. The curved corners also make for easier cleaning.
Opting for an oval pan, however, will mean you lose out on surface area. For this reason, you will come across rectangular roasting pans more often than oval. Want the best of both worlds? The best roasting pans out there are actually available in rectangular shapes with rounded corners.
One final note on the importance of a pan’s shape: Many roasting pans do not have a flat bottom. If you find a model that does have one, we recommend snagging it, as a flat base works well on the flat glass stove tops and induction ranges which seem to be growing more and more commonplace in kitchens.
Roasting Pan Materials
Here’s a rundown of the materials in which you’ll find roasting pans available. Far and away, tri-ply is the industry gold standard, but there are, of course, other reliable materials used to construct roasting pans. Aluminum, stainless steel, enameled carbon steel, nonstick, cast iron and copper all appear on shelves.
Generally, you do not need to worry about a pan lacking sufficient heat-resistance, but it should be noted that whatever material you opt for must be safe for temperatures of up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit or higher (we like ones that can withstand 650 degrees Fahrenheit).
Another result of solid material selection is that your pan will look nice! A sparkling stainless steel can’t be beat. And when stocking your kitchen, pleasing aesthetics and their impact on how likely you are to use an item can’t be underappreciated.
Also, your material selection will impact the roasting pan’s weight, which is an important factor. Given the heft of most things you will be putting in the pan, you do not want to select something that is too heavy prior to loading it up. But you certainly should not reach for anything too light. You need a pan with a gauge (that’s the system used to speak to metal thickness), that will stand up to high heat and not warp or pop out of shape.
Here are your options:
Tri-ply pans (also known as multi-ply), are made of aluminum sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel. This is your best bet because the aluminum, which conducts with extreme efficiency, will spread heat evenly, while the steel, which is not as masterful a conductor, is nonreactive and is an ideal substance on which to develop a sauce.
Copper is the most impressive conductor. It heats evenly and swiftly and is top of the class for the transition to stovetop. It is, however, very expensive, and maintaining its sheen can be demanding. Another important factor to weigh when considering copper is that it does not work with induction, since induction cooktops work using the power of magnetism. (This is also a drawback of aluminum.) To resolve this issue, you can grab yourself a conversion disk. There are also a number of copper and aluminum pans out there that boast stainless steel bottoms to combat this shortcoming.
Plain stainless-steel roasting pans are common because they are easy to clean, lightweight, durable under high heat and have a covetable luster. However, they aren’t our top pick because they distribute heat unevenly and can produce scorched and burnt food.
Steel with an enamel coating is a good bet for heat conduction and is also an option for those trying to avoid breaking the bank. But the lower price point comes at a cost: Enamel chips quite easily, meaning that this material will not get you a pan that lasts a lifetime.
Aluminum, though ideal for conduction within a tri-ply configuration, is not a wise choice on its own because it will react to anything acidic. Adding lemon, vinegar, tomatoes or anything of this sort to an aluminum pan will stain the metal, which will in turn impart a cloying flavor onto your food.
Anodized aluminum, on the other hand, does not tend to leach as untreated aluminum does. But its dark color makes tracking the development of browning on a pan’s base more difficult.
Cast iron, your beloved Dutch oven’s material, is also not ideal for this cooking implement. Its considerable weight makes periodic turning and lifting of the pan a nightmare and it is not the most even heat conductor. While cast iron will form its own nonstick coating if you treat it right[link to Home Depot treating cast iron article], the material requires maintenance. An enameled cast iron pan will serve you better in the conductivity department, and the coating helps it transition from oven to stove seamlessly. However, you are still left with the issue of weight and, as is often the case with an enamel and steel pairing, the issue of chipping.
A general rule of thumb is to steer clear of glass roasting pans. They are not safe on a hot burner, are heavy and are prone to chipping and cracking.
You should also sidestep nonstick and Teflon roasting pans. They are high maintenance, have a short lifespan, make deglazing impossible and aren’t broiler safe (you should never put something with a nonstick coating in an environment over 400 degrees Fahrenheit).
Once you’ve identified your best roasting pan’s material, you need to consider handles. Bale handles, rectangular wire ones that slide up and down, are ideal for storage because they do not add any extra length. They can, on the other hand, be a bit flimsy and unstable. Instead, we prefer large loop handles that are fixed in place, are wide enough to accommodate a comfortable grip (even with oven mitts) and are ideally situated to stand straight up, minimizing additional width.
A very important element of your roasting apparatus is its rack. A roasting rack enables air circulation around a piece of meat and staves off sogginess while juices develop. A rack is necessary to avoid any saggy chicken skin and improperly browned chuck. A good roasting rack is also essential to creating the drippings-based jus you’ll use to make any gravies or sauces.
Most roasting pans will come with a rack, but only the best roasting pans come with high-quality, reusable ones. Such a selection will be your best roasting pan for chicken or turkey, the body of which needs help sitting comfortably in a flat pan.
This should be a top priority. Having a good rack that can stand up to frequent use will increase the chances that you make the roasting pan a regular part of your cooking lineup. A good rack will also be easier to clean, an important factor when it comes to a tool whose purpose is to help collect tacky fat. Look for an elevated rack either in a U or V shape. This will sit securely in the pan and is ideal for air circulation, even when bearing the weight of a large piece of meat.
Electric Roasting Pans
Despite the winning qualities of the classic roasting pans we’ve outlined, the right roasting pan for you might in fact be an electric roaster oven. And here’s why:
- It acts as a second oven, which can be extremely useful around the holidays or if you’re just stuck with a small oven in your kitchen.
- The best electric roasting pans can also double as chafing dishes if you’re serving at a party. Though sized in a variety of ways, these pans can often handle up to 18 quarts if you select a large-volume model.
- The best electric roasting pans offer convenience. They allow you to leave that full-sized oven unheated and they can tackle tasks that aren’t just roasting — quick heating of snacks and side dishes, for example.
- Electric roasting pans function as self-contained units that can be left to do their thing without too much babysitting thanks to settings and timers.
- Because electric roasters are smaller than traditional ovens, they do not require the lengthy pre-heating that traditional ovens demand. This means your total cook-time is decreased, as is the amount of energy expended.
- Electric roasters are less drying (conventional ovens, after all, are surrounding their contents with a box of flowing dry heat) and less frequently present the flaw of heat spots.
The obvious downside of an electric roasting pan is its size – to accommodate a sizeable bird, your electric roasting pan should have a 16- to 22-ounce capacity. An electric roasting pan can take up a considerable chunk of kitchen real estate, so it’s not for everyone. But if you’re of the ranks that will get regular use out of an electric roasting pan, then it makes a great addition to a kitchen (and can even be an alternative to the traditional roasting pan if it’s compatible with your cooking style).