A good roasting pan is an essential item in every kitchen. From cooking Thanksgiving turkey to searing chicken thighs for a quick midweek dinner, investing in a good model will ensure hassle-free home dining and easy family get-togethers. Here's how to choose roasting pans that are the best for your home.
What's the Best Material for Roasting Pans?
Your choice of roasting pan material requires some serious thought. Let's take a look at the main types and their advantages.
Many a top chef's favorite cookware material, stainless steel is highly durable and can last a whole lifetime. While it is a poor heat conductor, most stainless-steel roasting pans are "clad" meaning they contain layers of other more effective heat conductive materials sandwiched inside.
Stainless steel is reputed for producing that tasty browning, in what is known as the Maillard reaction, making it a great choice for roasts. However, if you opt for an uncoated model to achieve this effect, be aware that cleaning it up afterward can require a fair bit of elbow grease.
Lastly, stainless steel won't rust or react with any acidic foods, making it a great all-rounder that is suitable for almost anything and everything you want to roast in it.
Made from 99% iron and 1% carbon, carbon steel roasting pans are fairly similar to cast iron ones. However, they're lighter which makes them easier to get in and out of the oven, especially with a full bird roast and trimmings. The downside is that as they are lighter, they retain heat less well than cast-iron models.
Bear in mind that carbon steel corrodes fairly easily, so you should look for a pan that has been treated - it will have a dark appearance. If yours hasn't been treated, you will need to season it by coating it with oil and heating it. This will help to make it non-stick and prevent rusting.
Cast iron is very heavy, solid, and highly durable.
Made from 97-98% iron and 2-3% carbon, it conducts heat better than stainless steel and is excellent at retaining heat. This makes a good choice for keeping your roast warm while the family gathers round the table. However, it is prone to rusting and reactive to acids - so you will need to look for a coated version or to season it well.
Enamel coated versions risk becoming chipped over time, and uncoated versions will require re-seasoning regularly. However, despite these issues, cast iron remains a highly popular, traditional choice and is virtually unbreakable.
Anodized aluminum makes an excellent choice for your roasting pan, as it is non-stick for easy cleaning and an excellent heat conductor, for evenly cooked roasts. It is also lightweight, making it easy to handle, even when you're cooking for a crowd.
Anodized aluminum is resistant to high temperatures, extremely strong and non-toxic. There is, however, the risk that the anodized coating can break down after several years of use. Frequently cooking acidic foods can also accelerate this breakdown, exposing the aluminum which can pose health risks.
So, while it makes a great choice for cooking, don't purchase an anodized aluminum if you're looking for a roasting pan to last a lifetime.
Often reserved for baking, ceramic roasting pans can also double up for your traditional roasts.
They transfer heat evenly and look great for oven-to-table serving. If you're short on cookware or just getting your collection started, you may like to start with a good ceramic roasting pan that you can use for day-to-day oven-baked meals, as well as roasts.
Of course, ceramic is more fragile and susceptible to breaking. However, it is fairly lightweight and easy to clean. If you are cooking for just one or two, you might find several different small ceramic roasting pans more useful than a large metal one, and much cheaper.
They are also available in a range of shapes and colors to brighten up your kitchen and dining table.
How to Choose the Right Size Roasting Pan?
Once you've decided on your roasting pan material, you'll need to select the right size model.
Roasting pan depth
Roasting time will be affected by your pan's depth, with deeper models preventing the hot air from effectively circulating under your roast.
The optimal depth is approximately 2.5 - 3 inches for good hot air circulation, as well as giving you plenty of space for your vegetables and gravy.
Roasting pan size
When choosing the dimensions of your roasting pan, bear the following factors in mind to select the correct size.
Number of servings - if you regularly cook for a crowd, then you'll want a large roasting pan that can accommodate a larger number of portions - 16x13" is enough for a 20lb bird for around 12 servings.
Meal types - if you are looking for a roasting pan for Thanksgiving or the holidays, then you'll be looking at a large model. However, for a weeknight, quick roast for two, a 14x10" model will be better.
When roasting meats, your pan should be a minimum of two inches wider than the meat you are roasting. This will reduce the likelihood of the juices all evaporating. In pans that are too small, your gravy may boil over, or your meat may end up stewing in its juices. Hence the importance of choosing the right sized roasting pan for what you regularly cook in it.
What Features to Look for in a Roasting Pan?
Here are some additional features you may want to look out for when choosing your roasting pan.
Dishwasher safe - save time and hassle getting cleaned up with a dishwasher-safe roasting pan. This can help a lot when you have large family get-togethers to clean up after.
Rack - some roasting pans come with a rack or trivet to hold your roast above its juices, ensuring it cooks correctly and making it easy to remove from the pan. For poultry, this can also help you to get crispy skin all over. However, some people prefer to lay their roast on a layer of vegetables and believe that using a rack prevents the meat from forming a fond - a browned residue which when deglazed makes an excellent base for gravy or stock.
Handles - removing a heavy, hot roasting pan from an oven is not the easiest of tasks. However, handles can make storage more tricky. However, if you're roasting a large meal, we say opt for a roasting pan with handles that are solidly riveted on.
Cover - purchasing a roasting pan with a cover allows you to speed up the cooking time of your roast. It is also useful if your meat is browning too quickly, as well as allowing you to use your roasting pan for cooking other liquid-based dishes, such as stews and pot roasts.