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Buying Guide: The Best Roasting Pans For You

The authors of The New Cooks' Catalogue certainly know what to look for when choosing cooking equipment. These leading culinary experts have been evaluating cooking equipment for over 25 years. The following information is what they consider important when selecting a roasting pan.

All Roasting Pans »

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What to Look For

  • The best roasting pans, called "French" roasters, feature upright handles riveted to the sides of the pan.
  • Copper, anodized aluminum, or stainless steel with a thick core of aluminum or copper are all excellent materials.
  • A pan with a nonstick interior is easier to clean, but may not deliver the caramelized pan drippings that are required for a well-flavored sauce or gravy.
  • Before purchasing a large pan, be sure to measure the interior dimensions of your oven. There should be 2" between the sides of the pan and walls of the oven.
  • Most roasting pans have low sides but some cooks prefer high covered roasting pans for turkey and ham.

More information

Introduction

Low, open roasting pans are designed to expose the roast directly to the oven's hot air and create a brown exterior and a moist interior. They must be sturdy enough to handle the weight of the food without buckling, but they should not add unnecessary pounds to the total you must lift. You need a metal pan that is thick enough to conduct heat evenly. Stainless steel with an aluminum or copper core--anodized aluminum and copper are excellent choices.

Although baking pans made of heatproof glass, ceramic, or earthenware are fine for roasting vegetables or fish steaks, they are not the best choices for roasting meats. They may crack when subjected to direct heat on the stove and in most cases the handles were not designed for heavy roasts.

Secure handles are essential. The best design, known as the French roaster, has roomy, upright handles that are riveted to the sides of the pan. Avoid pans with inset handles or those with no handles at all.

When it comes to size, consider the dimensions of the foods you roast most often. You may choose a smaller pan for chicken or pork tenderloin, and a larger pan for your turkey. Bear in mind that pan drippings from a small roast in a large pan will burn. Make sure that there will be about two inches of space between the meat and sides of the pan and an additional two inches between the sides of the pan and the walls of the oven. Measure the inside of your oven before you select your pan.

Roasting Racks

A number of leading chefs prefer their roasts to be in direct contact with the pan, which they believe produces superior drippings for their pan sauces. But James Beard liked to roast in a heavy low open pan with a V-shaped rack, which holds the meat out of the fat and juices and permits the circulation of hot air all around the food. A rack is useful for roasts that won’t sit securely in a flat pan–the meat will stay where you put it. The rack’s handles help to remove the roast from the pan for carving.

There are five types of roasting racks: vertical poultry roasters, basket racks, nonadjustable V racks, adjustable V racks, and flat racks. Whichever design you choose, the rack must be well constructed and sturdy. It must fit easily into your pan and, with a large roast positioned on it, allow for at least 2" of clearance at the top of the oven. The handles must be securely attached and easy to grip, even when your hands are in bulky mitts. Stainless steel is a good material, and a black, nonstick coating helps with cleaning.

High Covered Roasting Pans

The high covered roasting pan cooks with steam rather than dry heat. Some experts claim that nothing in the world can equal the moist tenderness of a large turkey roasted in a high-sided pan. High roasters are often made of enameled steel, anodized aluminum or stainless steel. Many come with a flat rack that fits inside the pan.

Those who have taken the high (covered) road believe that the term roaster should only be applied to deep-sided pans. They maintain that the function of a roaster is to create a second, smaller oven inside the oven that greatly magnifies the heat as it bounces off the hot walls of the pan. Furthermore, with a high-sided pan you can cut the cooking time in half, because of the intensified heat. Make sure to adjust recommended temperatures and cooking times accordingly. The high-sided experts suggest covering poultry for most of the roasting time, then removing the top for the last few minutes to brown and crisp the skin.

Clay Roasters

Before there were pots, prehistoric peoples in search of a good dinner took their poultry or meat and surrounded it with wet, clay-laden mud. They put the pack into the embers, and when food was cooked, cracked open the hard shell that formed as the mud dried in the fire. The wet clay and the ingredients’ natural juices kept the food from drying out, and the gently steamed dinner was tender.

Earthenware wet-clay “roasters” are designed to mimic these earliest cooking techniques. All or a portion of the pot and lid are soaked in water and give off steam in the oven. The food inside the vessel self-bastes in its own juices. Little or no fat is needed, and few nutrients escape during cooking. Some wet-clay cookers are completely unglazed, but in these modern times, manufacturers realize the appeal of easy cleanup and produce some with partially glazed interior surfaces.

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