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Think back on your childhood holiday memories, and you may recall a moment when the head of the household stood proudly at the table with a giant turkey warmly ensconced in a large roasting pan.
While the bird or roast or rack of lamb is the star of the show, the roasting pan plays the part of best supporting kitchen appliance. It holds the food in place, circulating air through the long cooking process.
The right roasting pan can remove stress from the shoulders of even the most seasoned chef, as it withstands high cooking temperatures and, later on, offers easy cleanup. A proper roasting pan will also allow you to make smooth, lump-free gravy as it easily catches the drippings from your roast.
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That dial on your oven says roast, but what exactly does that mean?
To roast is to expose your food to prolonged heat, whether in an oven or over an open flame.
Roasting is generally done for longer cooking times to produce caramelization and browning on the surface of the food.
Legendary fictional food icon Betty Crocker offers these cooking times for your Thanksgiving turkey (which needs to reach an internal temperature of 165°F for safe eating):
8 to 12 pounds: 2.75 to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds: 3 to 3.75 hours
14 to 18 pounds: 3.75 to 4.25 hours
18 to 20 pounds: 4.25 to 4.5 hours
To roast vegetables, coat them lightly with oil and seasonings and place them in a roasting pan. Bake at 450° for about 35 minutes, or until crispy.
Follow these steps to maximize your use of a roasting pan:
Place your rack in the middle of the roasting pan. Not all roasters include a rack, so you can either buy one separately or rest your meat, poultry, or veggies on the raised part of the pan.
Center your food in the middle of the pan, leaving space on all sides for the heat to circulate.
Place the roaster in the center of a preheated oven. Cook at the recommended temperature.
Cover your food with a lid or tented aluminum foil. Covered meat, poultry, and veggies will cook more quickly and evenly. You can uncover them at the end to enable browning.
An alternative to a roasting pan is an electric roaster. Acting as a second oven, these appliances can typically hold a 25-pound turkey, and they allow for easy temperature adjustment.
It’s tempting to grab a five-pack of aluminum foil roasting pans as you stroll the supermarket aisles. These silvery, pliable pieces of bakeware are cheap and, for all intents and purposes, get the roasting job done.
Despite the fact there is little evidence that aluminum foil cookware is dangerous to your health, however, such chintzy roasting pans are not the right cooking vehicle if you take meal prep seriously.
Perhaps the biggest issue for these budget pans is that aluminum foil easily loses its shape in high heat. The pans are best used only once, then tossed or recycled.
In a pinch, a skillet will work as a roasting pan. Use aluminum foil to make a sling to remove your food from the skillet, taking care not to lose pan drippings.
The heavier and sturdier the pan, the better. A heavy pan enables even cooking and helps produce the optimal amount of pan juices. However, to avoid warping, the best pan is not so heavy that you cannot lift it with a large roast inside.
The ideal choice is heavyweight stainless steel or copper. These sturdy metals strike a good balance between ease of use and heat conduction. Other choices include cast iron, which is too heavy; aluminum, which can be reactive and tends to warp; and anodized aluminum, the dark interior of which can make observing juice collection difficult.
Roasted garbanzo beans make a great snack. Place the beans in a bowl and toss them with olive oil and seasonings. Then put them in a roasting pan and cook them for 30 to 40 minutes, or until they’re brown and crunchy.
For most cooks, nonstick makes for easy cleanup. However, there are those who prefer to avoid nonstick surfaces due to their belief that chemically treated cooking surfaces could be toxic.
It’s tempting to think that bigger is better, but it would be wise to check the size of your oven before making a roasting pan purchase. You want a pan that will hold your food with some room for air circulation or, in the case of a pot roast, space to layer potatoes and/or vegetables.
Thick, riveted handles are the way to go. A heavy, super-hot pan loaded with a 15-pound bird or roast should have strong enough handles to prevent mishaps and associated trips to the ER.
Ramekins placed upside down can act as an inexpensive roasting rack.
For budget-minded folks, plenty of options exist. For under $10, there are aluminum foil roasting pans. You can buy them individually or in packs of three or five. Many are recyclable, but they also can be used for indoor gardening to grow microgreens or sprouts.
In the same price range, there are sturdy 8”x10” aluminum-coated, nonstick roasters. These are fine for small roasting jobs but can be difficult to clean because of their inferior nonstick coating.
Some of those familiar enamel-looking roasters made of carbon steel fall into this price range, too. (The smaller ones do, anyway.) The cooking surface is made of porcelain, which is easier to clean, but some consumers complain that carbon steel roasters made outside the U.S. are of poor quality.
A vertical roaster, or rotisserie, is an alternative to a roasting pan. These appliances roast meat or poultry on a spit, slowly turning it while it cooks. The end result is delicious food with a an extra-crispy exterior.
For something completely different, there are glass oven roasters made from borosilicate, which is safe from freezer to oven and can be cleaned in the dishwasher. But some consumers say these specialty roasters tend to crack over time.
In this price range, you also will find great roasting pans from name brands such as Cuisinart and All-Clad.
To roast nuts in your roasting pan, place them in a single layer on the bottom of the pan and drizzle them lightly with oil. Roast them for about 15 minutes at 350°F or until done.
If you have the family over every week for a large turkey dinner or succulent prime rib, you may want to splurge a little on your roasting pan. In the range between $100 and $150 are stainless steel models from Calphalon and Viking. Not only do these models conduct heat well, they are sturdy, sport strong handles, and come with a lifetime warranty.
For those that entertain frequently, a large roasting pan can double as family-sized lasagna or sheet cake pan.
Q. What is a roasting bag?
A. A roasting bag is used in a similar fashion to a roasting pan. You add flour to the bag to prevent it from exploding and small vent holes in the top so steam can escape. You then tie the bag and place it on a sheet or pan for cooking. The bag allows juices to continually baste the food as it cooks. Note: the temperature should never exceed 400°F.
Q. How do I check the internal temperature of my food?
A. The best way is to use an instant-read thermometer. For turkey, place the cooking thermometer in the thickest part of the bird: the thigh. For other meat, place the thermometer in the thickest part while avoiding touching the bone or the bottom of the pan.
Q. Can I roast in a microwave oven?
A. Yes, but it requires cooking in 20- to 30-minute increments at 50% of power, each time turning the roast.
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