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Test Drive: Roasting Pans

Our top picks will improve your odds for ”Oohs!” and ”Aahs!” at this year’s holiday table.

Fine Cooking Issue 113
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Photos: Scott Phillips
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The biggest meals of the year—Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Easter, to name a few—always seem to revolve around a roasted something—a turkey, a rib roast, a leg of lamb—and using a good-quality roasting pan is essential for great results. So what defines a good-quality pan? It needs to be able to withstand hot oven temperatures as well as the direct heat from a stovetop burner (for making gravies and sauces from pan drippings) without warping or buckling. To do that, it should be made of multiple layers of metal, usually aluminum (which is a good conductor of heat) and stainless steel (which is durable and nonreactive); this construction is known as “tri-ply,” “five-ply,” or “clad.”

Tri-ply roasting pans aren’t cheap, usually costing at least $100. For a holiday like Thanksgiving, though, when the goal is a perfectly browned bird and deeply flavorful gravy, the price is entirely worth it. Plus, you can use your pan for so much more throughout the year, such as roasted vegetables, lasagna, casseroles, braises, or water baths for custards and cheesecakes.

We tested a variety of large roasting pans and found two that outperformed the rest. One is top of the line; the other offers the most bang for your buck. Either will help you roast like a pro.

Ultimate Pick

All-Clad Stainless-Steel Large Flared Roaster
$249.95 at williams-sonoma.com16-3/4 x 13-3/4 inches

This 16-3/4 x 13-3/4-inch, 5-pound pan is a cut above the rest. Made of aluminum and stainless-steel tri-ply, it has broad, sloping sides and generously curved corners, so you can reach every inch with a whisk. While most roasting pans are slightly raised in the center to help maintain rigidity, this pan is perfectly flat, relying on sturdy construction to prevent warping. As a result, liquids spread evenly across the pan. Ample 4-inch-wide handles provide a sure grip with even the bulkiest oven mitts.

With its shallow 2-1/4-inch sides, this pan exposed more turkey to the direct heat of the oven, which promoted stellar browning (in fact, the best of all our tests), even along the bottom of the bird. On the stovetop, it excelled at distributing heat evenly: Gravy simmered from end to end (in other pans, it tended to bubble above the burner only), and potatoes browned nicely.

The only drawback to this pan was its roasting rack, which is flat, our least favorite design. But roasting racks are cheap, so you can always buy a better one and use the flat rack as a trivet.

Bargain Buy

Calphalon Contemporary Stainless Roasting Pan
$129.95 at cutleryandmore.com
16×13 inches

This big, brawny-looking 16×13-inch aluminum and stainless-steel tri-ply pan is well designed and reasonably priced. It has nicely rounded corners, massive 5-inch-wide handles, nearvertical 3-1/2-inch sides, and an expansive cooking area. And still, it weighs less than 6 pounds. Our 18-pound turkey browned nicely, with plenty of room to spare.

On the stovetop, this pan delivered relatively even heat, but it fared best when placed over a large burner. Gravy simmered nicely, and potatoes browned well, though the ones directly over the burner got darker. As with many roasting pans, the center of this pan’s cooking surface is slightly raised to help prevent warping and buckling. This low-angled slope didn’t affect whisking or cleaning but did mean that some liquid pooled along the edges. The U-shaped roasting rack that accompanies this pan was one of the best designs we tested.

What to Consider

Material Look for pans labeled tri-ply, five-ply, or clad. These are less likely to warp or buckle at high temperatures. Opt for one with a stainless-steel (not nonstick) interior, as it will promote better browning.

Weight A pan should weigh between 5 and 6 pounds. An empty 8-pound pan may not seem heavy, but with a rack and a turkey, it’ll be a chore to lug in and out of the oven. Pans that are less than 5 pounds often buckle and warp.

Handles Vertical handles are the safest and provide the most stability. Horizontal handles stick out and may not fit inside all ovens. Handles should be at least 4 inches wide—any narrower and it’ll be hard to get a good grip.

Sides While sloped sides are more whisk-friendly, vertical sides create a larger cooking area; select whichever works best for you. All pans should have generously rounded corners, so you can reach every inch while stirring. In terms of height, shorter sides may promote a bit more browning, since more of the roast is exposed to the oven’s heat, but add a rack to any pan, and side height becomes a moot point.

Shape As a general rule, go with a rectangular pan. Oval roasters, which usually have less surface area, are limiting.

How We Tested

We tested nine roasting pans that were approximately 16×13 inches. In each pan, we roasted an 18-pound turkey and made gravy on the stove from the pan drippings. We assessed how well the turkey browned and the ability of the pan to conduct heat evenly over a burner while simmering the gravy.
We also browned potatoes in oil as a secondary test of even heat distribution. We evaluated the design of the roaster, taking into account its shape, size, and weight; how comfortable its handles felt in bulky oven mitts; and how well its roasting rack (if included) performed.

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