A roasting pan goes far beyond Thanksgiving. But what is a roasting pan? Once understanding its features & how it works, you’ll be using yours a lot more often.
Roasted vegetables, baked ham, braised ribs, oh my! Thanksgiving is undoubtedly a roasting pan’s time to shine. But upon learning all of its other uses and just how many things it can help make, we bet your roasting pan will become a regular in the rotation.
What is a Roasting Pan?
A roasting pan is a large, relatively deep, high-walled pan. It’s kind of like an oversized casserole dish. Or a baking sheet with taller sides, but no, it isn’t the same thing as a baking sheet. The most common size roasting pan is 16-inches long.
Essentially, a roasting pan is a large, high-sided pan with handles, sometimes with removable racks, and sometimes with a ribbed bottom. Getting into detail about the specifications of cookware may feel a little silly, but these details are important. The hundreds of variations of cookware and kitchen tools that we see in the home hardware stores aren’t just for fun; small nuances in design affect the final outcome of our cooking.
For example, the high sides of a roasting pan trap heat and allow for storage and accumulation of liquids. In other words, you can fill your roasting pan with ham and freely drizzle your pineapple sauce with no worry of an overflow. The high sides also allow for the option of covering your pan with aluminum foil to create a mini “tent,” trapping heat and building a makeshift Dutch Oven.
Features of a Good Roasting Pan
It’s a big wide world of cookware out there, and sometimes it can seem a little overwhelming or even excessive. While we definitely don’t disagree with that, we’re also here to assure you that it's all for a good reason. If you want the dish you’re cooking to be as delicious as possible (which you do) and get through the recipe with ease and minimal clean-up to do afterward (which you do), then it’s important to understand how to choose the right pot or pan for the job.
We’re about to give you a quick rundown on the features and specifications of roasting pans and how they play into helping make your dish the best it can be. Let’s get crackin’.
Because the primary function of a roasting pan is roasting, the ideal material will be thick, heavy, and able to distribute heat evenly. The weight and thickness will ensure optimal heat-conducting capabilities and even distribution, meaning your Thanksgiving masterpiece will be perfectly cooked throughout.
Stainless steel and aluminum are the most common materials, with copper, cast-iron, and carbon steel alternatives also available. It’s a fine line striking a balance between sturdy enough to trap heat yet still manageable to move around the kitchen. Cast-iron pots and pans do a marvelous job at cooking and roasting (hello, skillet cookies and skillet pizza), but for cookware as large as roasting pans, the weight of cast iron may make it difficult and impractical to use.
The heavier, the better, as long as you can manage it with relative ease. Aside from even heat distribution, a roasting pan with some heft to it also ensures the pan won’t twist or flex under pressure when it’s heavily loaded (AKA full of a big and juicy turkey).
The standard size of a roasting pan is 16”, with smaller variations around 14” and larger around 18”. For reference, small, medium, and large pans will be able to accommodate turkeys up to 12lb, 16lb, and 20lb, respectively. Big pans mean serious business, right?!
Assuming you aren’t a catering chef or cooking dinners for the entire neighborhood, a standard, medium-sized 16” roasting pan will do everything you need it to. Now, when it comes to depth, general consensus is that three inches is the ideal height for the side walls. Too shallow, and you’ll spend too much time worrying about spills and calculating exact volumes. Too deep, and you may end up accidentally steaming your ingredients rather than roasting them.
Handles are important. Some handles are permanently extended, providing reliable stability and easy access, but this extra space may prevent the pan from fitting inside your oven. Other handles will be foldable, but given the nature and intended use of roasting pans, flimsy handles often take away more value than they add. We recommend looking for a roasting pan with fixed, thick, and riveted handles to support you and all of your recipes to come.
To Rack, or Not to Rack?
Any respectable roasting pan will come with a removable rack, but racks in roasting pans are actually somewhat controversial. Don’t worry; we’re here to help, and we’re about to give you both sides of the argument.
- To rack? A rack is intended to keep whatever you’re roasting out of its juices, which may prevent the bottom of your roast from becoming soft or floppy. This feature also works to promote air circulation, facilitating even roasting and perfect outer crispiness. Racks also allow any drippings to drip (instead of soaking with the main dish), which for some recipes can “make it or break it.”
- Not to rack? On the other hand, a downside of the rack is that it often sticks to the food. Even with supposedly non-stick roasting pans, this feature doesn’t extend well to the racks. Another potential downside of a rack is that the pool of liquid that it allows to gather at the bottom may evaporate in the high heat and burn.
When to Use Your Roasting Pan
If your roasting pan is currently only being used annually, such as for Thanksgiving or Christmas, you’re missing out.
Roasting meat really is where roasting pans get their time to shine. Their large size and considerable depth make them the perfect vessel for cooking whole birds, large cuts of meat, and everything in between. For roasting meat, you may opt to use the rack feature to ensure proper air circulation and even cooking. If you’re going for more of a braise, you may want to omit the rack and let the meat soak in all of its deliciousness.
Dishes like Thanksgiving turkey, roasted chicken, baked ham, and braises will all be delectable made in your roasting pan.
The size of a roasting pan means there’s plenty of room for vegetables. A roasting pan may be better suited for the job than a sheet pan because a crowded tray of vegetables is likely to come out “steamed” and soggy rather than crispy and golden.
Again, given the size of a roasting pan, you can also bypass the prepping bowl. Go ahead and throw all of your ingredients into the pan, drizzle with oil, mix and stir, and simply toss it into the oven. (Pro tip: for uniform goldenness, stir your vegetables halfway through their cooking time). Brussel sprouts, broccoli, roasted carrots, and more! It’s easy to get your greens (and make them delicious) when cooking with a roasting pan.
Hosting a get-together? Family game night? Wine night with the girls? A roasting pan makes tailgate appetizers so easy that you’ll want to try a new recipe each week.
A batch of braised meatballs, any style of kabobs, and buffalo chicken dip are just a few examples of tasty tailgate recipes that are made easy with a roasting pan. Oh, and a friendly reminder that it doesn’t need to be football season to make mouthwatering braised short ribs — we’re just saying.
One Sunday afternoon spent making lasagna or roasting a chicken sounds like a full week of lunch or dinners if you ask us. Thanks to the size of a roasting pan, “one-sheet meals” that are usually more like two or three sheets truly become one pan wonders. With a generously sized slab of your favorite protein, a couple of handfuls of vegetables, and a sprinkle of spices, meal prepping has never been so easy.
It’s Time to Get Familiar with Your Roasting Pan
Knowing the ins and outs of your pots and pans makes all the difference. While the details and slight differences may seem negligible, they actually play an important role in everything you make.
It’s always essential to have the right tools for the job, whatever the job may be. For example, pots and pans aren’t just pots and pans. You have your Fry Pan (perfect for eggs, flipping pancakes, and sautéing veggies), Sauce Pan (for risotto, mac and cheese, soups, and sauces), Sauté Pan (your go-to pan for dinner parties, stir-fries, and dishes with stock), and your Dutch Oven (your best friend for pasta, stews, and all one-pot wonders). And now that you’ve been reacquainted with the wonders of a roasting pan, we suspect it will find itself in rotation a little more often.
The only question now is what to make first? From our kitchen to yours, happy roasting!
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