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Our full-size roasting pan is perfect for big holiday meals. Could we find a scaled-down version that offers performance for everyday use?
We love our favorite roasting pan, the Calphalon Contemporary Stainless Roasting Pan with Rack ($99.99), for roasting turkeys and larger cuts of meat. But sometimes we want a more petite version for chickens, vegetables, and smaller cuts of meat. Curious to know which small roasting pan and rack were best, we purchased five sets priced from $17.99 to $159.95, each with a pan about 14 inches long. While the exact capacities of the pans differed, the pans we chose were, on average, about half the size of our winning full-size pan; all were dishwasher-safe. We used the pans and racks to roast potatoes and whole chickens and to make gravy on the stovetop with the chicken drippings.
Almost all the sets cooked the food well, but a few design factors made certain sets perform and handle better than others. We preferred pans that were made of tri-ply stainless steel (two layers of stainless steel sandwiching a core of aluminum) to those made of single-ply stainless or aluminized steel. As we’ve learned in other testings, the two materials in tri-ply models provide an ideal combination of heat conduction and temperature control, enabling them to cook food more evenly than single-material pans. The tri-ply models in this testing were also heavier—in one case, a bit too heavy to maneuver comfortably—and two to four times thicker than the single-material pans, making them a little slower to heat up. But that weight and thickness also contributed to those pans’ superior performance, helping them brown the food better and cook it more reliably. By contrast, the two thinnest pans in our lineup struggled with high heat. One scorched potatoes when we roasted them at 425 degrees—well within the pan’s permissible temperature range. The other warped slightly when we used it over a direct flame. (Neither model was recommended for stovetop cooking, but because many people use their roasting pans to make gravy over a burner, we tried it anyway.)
Pan color also mattered. In contrast to the four light-colored stainless-steel models, the one dark pan was particularly troublesome. Because dark pans absorb and radiate more heat than lighter-colored ones, they tend to cook and brown food more quickly. Indeed, we had to watch the dark model closely to prevent food from burning.
We preferred pans that had flatter cooking surfaces to those that came with pronounced grease troughs around their perimeters. The grease troughs tended to draw oil away from the center of the pan, inhibiting browning there and forcing us to pry the potatoes off the pan when they were done. They also cut into the overall flat cooking surface area available, requiring us to either keep all the potatoes in the middle of the pan or have them straddle the grease troughs, where they browned much more quickly because of the pools of oil that had collected. Another downside? The troughs were a pain to clean, requiring extra detailing.
Pans with large handles were more comfortable to use than those with small, cramped handles—or worse, no handles at all. When you’re moving a screaming-hot pan in and out of the oven, a secure grip is critical, especially when you’re wearing oven mitts. Handles that were at least 4.5 inches long were easier to hold, and even longer handles—such as the roomy 5.25-inch ones on our favorite—were better.
Finally, the racks. We found that we much preferred U-shaped racks (like the one included with our full-size roasting pan) to flat racks. U-shaped racks helped cradle a whole roast chicken, preventing it from rolling around during cooking. They were also easier to insert into and remove from the pans. Our roast chicken recipe requires the cook to preheat the pan before placing the rack, loaded with the chicken, inside it; as we soon learned, it’s quite tricky to maneuver a flat rack into a hot pan without losing the chicken over the edge or burning your knuckles in the process.
Made by the same manufacturer as our winning full-size roasting pan with rack, the Calphalon Tri-Ply Stainless Steel 14-inch Roaster with Nonstick Rack and Stainless Steel Lifters ($75.69) is our favorite smaller set. Its U-shaped rack was easy to insert and remove and held the chicken securely. Better still, the pan’s thick tri-ply construction helped it produce perfectly cooked chicken and potatoes, and its flat, light-colored cooking surface ensured even browning. Plus, it had the biggest handles in our testing, making it particularly easy to grip, even with oven mitts.
We tested five metal roasting pan sets, each with a rack and a pan about 14 inches long, priced from $17.99 to $159.95. We used them to roast potatoes and whole chickens and to make gravy on the stovetop with the drippings from the roast chickens. We evaluated the pans on their performance and ease of use. All models were purchased online, and they appear in order of preference.
Performance: We evaluated the quality of the food produced by each pan and rack, giving more points to sets that made evenly cooked, well-browned food.
Ease of Use: We evaluated the pans and racks on how easy they were to lift, maneuver, and clean.
Made of thick tri-ply stainless steel and with a flat cooking surface, this medium-weight pan made perfectly cooked, evenly browned food. And with the largest handles in the lineup, it was particularly easy to maneuver in and out of the oven. We also liked its U-shaped rack, though the rack was a bit small for the pan and slipped around inside it.
This model’s thick aluminum-and-stainless-steel tri-ply helped ensure that it made beautifully cooked, evenly browned food. It had a great U-shaped rack that cradled the chicken and fit snugly in the pan. But weighing more than 8 pounds with the rack in place (about the same weight as our favorite full-size pan and rack), it was a bit unwieldy to maneuver, and its small handles made it harder to grip.
This “lasagna pan” comes with a rack, so it can do double duty as a roaster. Made of moderately thick single-ply stainless steel, it did a good job of roasting potatoes and chicken, and we liked its big, easy-to-grip handles. But its flat rack was a little tricky to maneuver in and out of the pan, and chicken didn’t always stay put on it. Additionally, its grease trough drew oil away from the center of the pan, so the potatoes didn’t brown or release as easily.
This single-ply stainless-steel pan did a decent job of roasting chicken and potatoes, though its sharply defined grease trough drew oil away from the center of the pan, inhibiting browning and making it harder for us to remove the potatoes when they were done. The thin pan is not recommended for stovetop cooking; indeed, it warped when we used it over a direct flame to make gravy. Its handles were also a bit small. Finally, we found its flat rack hard to maneuver in and out of the pan. Worse, the chicken rolled around on it.
We had to be extra-vigilant when using this dark-colored, very thin nonstick roaster, which resembled a rectangular cake pan with a rack. Chicken drippings scorched and burned at 400 degrees. Potatoes browned much more deeply and were done about 10 minutes earlier than with other pans—not a deal breaker but a significant difference with the 40-minute recipe we’d followed. And while we appreciated the handles on its otherwise problematic flat rack, we wished they’d also been added to the pan itself; a hot handleless pan is mighty hard to maneuver in and out of the oven.