Most roasting done now is technically actually baking, but the pans are still referred to as roasting pans.
In England, the Sunday roast dinner is still a very common occurrence, so roasting pans get very frequent use. In many North American households, they live most of the year in a basement, attic or at the back of a cupboard until an occasion arises for a roasted piece of meat (typically Thanksgiving and Christmas.)
Roasting pan uses, however, aren’t restricted just to roasting meat. They can be used to as a water bath, or as an oversized casserole-dish for pot-luck sizes of lasagna or baked beans, shepherd’s pie, cobbler, or scalloped potatoes. Small ones can be used to bake sausages in, make toad in the hole, etc. They can also be used for roasting vegetables.
Roasting pan materials
The pans are made of metal or Pyrex. Some may come with a lid. The metal can be made of stainless steel, cast iron, enamelled or a non-stick coated material. Cast-iron ones, which can be plain or enamelled, can be very heavy, even before you start loading food into them. Blue-speckled enamel roasters with lids are a North American classic.
Dark-surface roasting pans cook food faster, and brown it better, than do shiny ones. The problem with dark-coloured roasting pans, though, is that it can be difficult to tell when the juices are nicely carmellizing, and when they are just plain burning.
Some stainless steel roasting pans have bottoms that contain an aluminum core to help heat distribution. Some people think this is an important feature; some don’t (given that the heat is coming from the air in the oven, not from the bottom of the pan, except if you’re making gravy in them at the very end.) If you think this is important, double-check, as there has been some confusing advertising around which pans have this aluminum core. Generally, an aluminum or copper core bottom is only useful if you intend to put the pan on a stove burner afterward and make gravy in it.
Roasting pan racks
Some roasting pans come with racks. There are two kinds of racks. The more traditional rack is a V-shaped one that you lay into the bottom of the pan, which you then lay a fowl or joint of meat on top of. A newer kind of rack is a vertical, “beer-can style” of rack, that fits into the cavity of a bird, holding it upright. Some racks will fold flat for storage.
Some people feel that racks get your roasting process closer to true roasting, by allowing air underneath the meat, so that the underside doesn’t just steam or bake, and by allowing the drippings to actually drip off the meat. Others feel that the rack allows the roasting pan to heat up too much, because the mass of the food isn’t touching it directly to absorb the heat, which consequently allows the juices to evaporate too much. Still others feel that the racks are just a nuisance, because too much of the meat ends up sticking to them making for more difficult clean-up.
Even though the roasting pans themselves may be stainless steel, the racks that can come with them are often just chrome-plated steel, which can wear off over time and rust, and may not be dishwasher safe. It can be very, very hard to find a replacement the right size.
Some people just use a rack on top of a heavy-gauge baking sheet with edges all round.
Roasting pan lids
Some roasting pans may come with a lid. You may see these called “covered roasters.”
Many cooks will say that roasting should never involve a lid. They say a lid should only be used if you are making a pot roast or braising something. While they acknowledge that a lid may speed the cooking times, they also feel that a roast will end up being steamed, as opposed to roasted.
Lid proponents, though, say that when cooking something dry like a turkey, a lid traps moisture which condenses on the top and drips back down onto the bird, essentially turning the roaster into a self-baster as turkey roasting bags do, negating the need to do many futzy things people do now such as brining, bagging or basting the bird. The lid may have protruding or corrugated areas on it to encourage the moisture to condense in and drop down from those spots.
Lid fans also argue that a lid reflects heat back onto food, helping it to cook more evenly (useful, for instance, in the case of turkey, they say.) And lastly, they add, a lid can help keep an oven cleaner by reducing splatter.
Clear lids can help you to see what is going on inside.
Lids can be useful if you want to use the roaster to make large casseroles, or a large batch of something such as baked beans. A lid can also be useful in keeping something warm for a while after removing it from the oven.
Some lids can be flipped over and used as a second roasting pan (the handles for these lids will probably be on the side, not the top.)
If you are using a covered roaster with a lid, make sure it is big enough for any turkey, etc., that you are roasting in it so that the bird doesn’t stick to the lid.
Roasting pan sizes
Roasting pans come in many sizes. When purchasing one, one of the first things you should do is measure your oven.
If you’re not sure visually how big a pan will handle how big a turkey, for instance, go to the grocery store, pick up a disposable tin foil roasting pan in one aisle, carry it over to where the turkeys are in the chiller section, and have a look to see what size turkey fits in what size of pan — then you can use your visual impressions to go to a kitchenware store and buy a roasting pan. (It’s probably best to do this well before the Thanksgiving or Christmas rush.)
For a low pan, look for something with a 5 to 7 ½ cm side (2 to 3 inches).
Some say that if you’re in doubt about what size to buy, to remember that a large roasting pan can be used for something small; while a small one can’t be used for something large. But, if you use a roasting pan that is too large for what you are cooking, leaving too much exposed surface around the meat, it will allow juices to evaporate away more quickly, and burn, and you can give up any hope of gravy from them. It can also reduce heat circulation, leading to longer roasting times required.
On the other hand, if the roasting pan is too small and the bird is squished into it, the sides won’t brown, just steaming instead, and end up white and squidgy. The advantage to smaller ones is that they can take up less shelf space in the oven, allowing room for something else — often a major consideration at the high holidays when shelf space is at a premium. They are also easier to fit into crowded dishwashers afterward, and easier to store.
Here’s a rough guide for roasting pan sizes for a turkey. Assume low-side roasting pans about 6 to 9 cm tall (2 ½ to 3 ½ inches):
|Relative Pan Size||Turkey Weight (US)||Pan Dimensions (US)||Turkey Weight (Metric)||Pan Dimensions (Metric)|
|Medium||10 to 14 pounds||10 by 14 inches||4 ½ to 6 kg||25 by 35 cm|
|Large||14 to 20 pounds||11 by 17 inches||6 to 9 kg||28 by 43 cm|
|Extra-Large||Over 20 pounds||14 by 19 inches||Over 9 kg||35 by 48 cm|
Blue enamel roasting pans
A North American classic roasting pan is made of blue-speckled enamel with grooved indents in the bottom, and with a matching lid. They are actually dark blue, so dark it’s almost black. These are typically oval though rectangular ones are also available. The GraniteWare Company has been a long-time maker of these (as well as of the blue-speckled enamel water bath canners.)
Most North Americans think that all roasting pans are either disposable foil or blue-speckled — such is the extent that the blue-speckled enamelled ones have come to dominate the market there over the decades. They have high-domed lids so they can be used for braising and pot roasts, and have higher sides to prevent splattering. Some say, though, that the high sides inhibit the hot air getting to the lower parts of what you are roasting, with the result that you never get proper browning the way you do in a low-edged roasting pan.
They are quite light considering their size.
Oval ones are harder than the square ones to use for other things such as pot-luck size lasagna, etc.
Foil Roasting Pans
Foil pans are inexpensive, and are meant to be disposable, meaning no clean-up. Because you buy them as you need them, and then toss them, they require no storage space.
Some makes may leak.
They are not as sturdy as a “real” roasting pan. Foil pans can buckle from the weight of a large turkey when you lift them — lift them out of the oven with caution to avoid hot grease pouring on you. For this reason, most warn to lift and hold them by the bottom, not the sides.
You may wish to put a heavy-duty baking sheet underneath them, and lift the sheet instead. If you put a baking sheet underneath, be aware that some people say the baking sheet underneath impedes heat flow and slows down the cooking times. Some people like to buy two disposable ones, and double-them up, which also solves any leakage problem.
Foil roasting pans can be useful if you want to use a roasting pan in your outdoor smoker or grill; the sides of whatever roasting pan you use can get quite dirty from the smoke and flames.
You can’t put foil roasting pans on top the stove to make gravy in.
Often the advertising or maker’s packaging is stuck to the bottom inside the pan with some glue. It can be hard to get all the glue out, which people want to before they put their food in.
Foil pans are recyclable in some areas. Others counter that recycling is still not as good as re-using, which a “real” roasting pan lets you do.
On a related note, some people try to get the benefits of easy foil clean up combined with a regular roasting pan by lining their roasting pans with tin foil. If you do so, you will not be able to do any deglazing to make proper gravy.
Making gravy in roasting pans
Some roasting pans with less sturdy bottoms may warp if used on a stove top. Making the gravy right in the roasting pan can result in a darker, richer gravy.
If you want to make good gravy on top the stove in the roasting pan, then you don’t want a non-stick roasting pan. Scraping the surface would ruin it, plus there’d be nothing to scrape anyway: the non-stick prevents the flavour bits from forming.
A good roasting pan for gravy shouldn’t have grooves in it, the way the blue-speckled enamel ones do. The grooves make it harder work to get at all the brown flavour bits, and provide hiding places when making gravy for your thickener to cake up in.
A cast-iron frying pan with a cast-iron handle can be used as a roasting pan. CorningWare casserole dishes can be used for small chickens or pieces of beef.