Large roasters are a must for Thanksgiving turkey, of course, but we also like to use them for big cuts like leg of lamb or prime rib, roasting two chickens or numerous game hens at once, and browning roasts or even large batches of stew meat on the stovetop. So for this review, we set the bar high by looking for roasting pans that could multi-task. (Read Picking a Roasting Pan for tips on how to pick the right roasting pan to use both on Thanksgiving and all year long.)
We limited the lineup to heavy-duty stainless-steel roasters. No lightweight or nonstick models this time around. Because all the pans were high quality and had so much in common, we thought at the outset that they might all perform equally well. But after putting the pans through their paces, the four roasters shown here ultimately distinguished themselves as the best of the best.
We began our tests by roasting turkeys, a classic task for a large, heavy-duty roaster. Had we stopped there, it would have been hard to pick a winner because each turkey from each pan roasted to perfection. Forging ahead with our tests—making gravy, searing a roast on the stovetop, and browning another in a high-heat oven—we experienced the "aha!" results that weeded out the merely good pans from the great ones. These tasks really tested the pans' ability to conduct heat.
How we tested
We limited our tests to large roasting pans (15 to 17 inches in length) under $275 with sides at least 3 inches high, fixed handles (welded or riveted), and stainless-steel finishes. In each pan we roasted a 12-pound turkey, made gravy from the turkey drippings, seared a London broil roast over two medium-high flames (roasters were heated empty for 40 seconds before adding the oil-coated roasts), and finally, browned a top-round roast for 20 minutes in a 500°F oven. Other roasters tested were made by All-Clad, Anolon, Calphalon, Cuisinart, and Matfer Bourgeat.
A warped surprise
During gravy-making, the best pans browned the roux evenly and simmered the gravy gently without signs of hot spots—no frantic whisking or heat adjustments necessary. And during stove-top and high-heat oven searing, the best pans held steady and browned the roasts evenly, while the worst pans smoked and—thwap!—buckled.
Admittedly, we were surprised to see hefty stainless-steel pans warp. But a little research helped us understand why. Although stainless steel is a great metal for a pan's interior and exterior surfaces (because it's nonreactive, durable, and easy to clean), it's not the best heat conductor. To improve conductivity, manufacturers sandwich at least one layer of a good heat-conducting metal, such as aluminum, between the interior and exterior layers of steel. A pan's ability to conduct heat evenly and at a controlled rate—the key to preventing warping—depends on the composition and gauge of the aluminum layer, or layers, as well as whether it's located both in the base and up the pan's sides. The manufacturers I talked to didn't want to disclose the precise composition of their pans' cores, but it didn't matter. The proof of quality was in the performance.