The Best Roasting Pan
After 15 hours of research and roasting over 150 pounds of poultry and veggies, we decided the Cuisinart MCP117-16BR MultiClad 16-inch Rectangular Roasting Pan with stainless steel rack was our favorite roasting pan. It not only roasted a 15-pound turkey to golden, juicy perfection; it also performed well making gravy and searing chicken to golden crispness on the stovetop. With sturdy, riveted handles and tri-ply construction throughout, this pan performed like a champ for a middle-of-the-road price of $80.
A solid roasting pan is good for a whole lot more than simply roasting a turkey once a year. But if you only need one once a year, the $20 Granite Ware is a solid step-down alternative. But it’s pretty much impossible to use on the stove, which makes gravy-making a pain and searing chicken nearly impossible. It’s ¼ the price of the Cuisinart for ¼ the capabilities—only a good buy if you’re just roasting turkey and don’t plan on using it for other things.
Why a roasting pan?
You probably think about a roasting pan as the thing you use for your turkey and maybe the odd rack of lamb a couple times a year, but a good roasting pan can do a lot of other things, too. It can make an extra-large batch of lasagna or casserole to feed a crowd. It’s roomy enough to accommodate a one-pot meal, which is a real timesaver on weeknights when you don’t want to sully every dish in your kitchen just to put dinner on the table. A roasting pan is also an ideal receptacle for vegetables. Potatoes develop a browned crust and a fluffy, soft middle. Winter squash, carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes turn sweet and tender. A bumper crop of tomatoes? I used my roasting pan at the end of this season to turn 10 pounds of Brooklyn home-grown tomatoes into tomato confit that I will be using throughout the winter in soups and pasta sauces.
Making a dark stock? Throw a bunch of bones in that pan and roast them to a deep brown, then transfer to the stovetop (bones out and fat drained, please) to release all of the delicious fond, because that is valuable flavor. If you’re a fan of big-batch cooking, this is the pan for you. Large amounts of lasagna, baked ziti or tamale pie (whatever floats your boat) can be prepared in this pan so you can either feed a crowd or have some now and freeze the rest for later. If you like to bake, a roasting pan can come in really handy when you’re making a recipe that requires a water bath, like creme brulee or cheesecake. Usually, water-bath baking can be quite precarious, especially when removing the pan from the oven. With the large, sturdy handles on a well-built roasting pan, dealing with that wide, shallow receptacle of steaming water is a bit more manageable.
It’s a material world
We decided to choose a stainless steel roasting pan.
That leaves nonstick, aluminum, anodized aluminum, stainless steel, enameled carbon steel, enameled cast iron, and stainless steel-lined copper materials as viable. Since development of fond (those sticky bits that form in the bottom of the pan and concentrate as the roast cooks) is a crucial component to making gravy, we immediately eliminated nonstick and anodized aluminum pans. There wouldn’t be any fond development in a nonstick pan, and the darkness of the anodized aluminum makes it impossible to gauge the progress of the juices (whether or not they are turning too dark, too fast). Regular, non-anodized aluminum pans are reactive to acid and salt—corrosion is a dealbreaker. These pans also tend to be thin and therefore not ideal for stovetop searing.
Enameled cast iron is a great alternative. Pans of this type are durable, attractive, ideal on the stovetop, able to cook evenly, and non-reactive. The major problem with enameled cast iron: pans of the material weigh 15 pounds empty. That means when you get a 15 pound turkey plus aromatics, you’re looking at over 30 pounds to hoist in and out of a hot oven. I also feel that if the pan is really heavy, there is less of a tendency to lug it out of the cabinet for other uses, and we’re on a mission to find something versatile for the whole year, not just holiday meals.
The two types of pan that really stood out in my research were tri-ply and 5-ply stainless steel (aluminum core for superior heat distribution, sandwiched with non-reactive stainless steel), and stainless steel lined with a copper bottom by Mauviel. But the fact that copper is difficult to care for and not dishwasher safe took it out of contention for being that year-round workhorse we’re looking for.
Which brings us back to stainless steel.
It is attractive, non-reactive, easy to clean and bright so you can see exactly how your fond and pan juices are progressing. The aluminum core ensures that heat is evenly dispersed so that there is no buckling or warping. Here, in the vast selection of tri-ply and 5-ply pans, is where we concentrated most of our research to find the pans we should bring in to test.
What else is important in a roasting pan?
Size was first priority. As Levon Wallace, Executive Chef at Louisville, Kentucky’s Proof on Main said about his 16-inch rectangular roasting pan: “Size does matter…If I need to do something big, I can do something big.” Necessity of size is up to the individual cook, but since we are testing turkeys, we thought 16 inches long would be a good size for us to test. That’s big enough to accommodate up to a 17-pound turkey, and that can roast a good amount of vegetables without overcrowding the pan. Also, it’s nice to have a pan that can straddle across 2 burners for searing and deglazing purposes. If you’re looking for a practical guide to find out how much pan you really need, Nicolas Anderer, the Executive Chef at Maialino in New York City, notes that since a standing rib roast is a popular holiday main, the length of an average full 8-rib rack is a good point of reference when judging what size you need.
Something we didn’t consider when researching pans but quickly found out was very important once I started testing was the texture of the bottom of the pan. If a pan has a raised middle or a trough around the perimeter, it is quite difficult to make a smooth gravy or get even oil coverage when searing due to the liquid running into the crevices. Ultimately, this exacerbated a serious scorching issue with one of the pans that I tested, causing black spots to develop within 4 minutes of being over the flame. A flat bottom makes all the difference. It was easier to make roux, whisk a smooth gravy, and the searing was even without a single black spot in the pan.
The shape of a pan is also important when talking about versatility. Both of the chefs that I spoke with said that while oval pans are attractive, the rectangular shape is more practical. You can do multiple smaller roasts or 2 chickens in a rectangular pan, but it’s also a better shape for purposes other than roasting. This pan is the ideal receptacle for a bain marie (a hot water bath for baking delicate custards such as creme brulee and cheesecake), as well as layered casseroles such as lasagna.
Radiant heat reaching the bottom of of the pan is important. This ensures that whatever you’re cooking caramelizes not only at the points of contact with the pan, but all over. The walls of the pan need to be tall enough to keep accumulated juices in the pan when it’s transferred in and out of the oven, but not so tall that that radiant heat can’t reach the bottom. This sweet spot seems to be at the 3-inch mark. Levon Wallace said it best: “you want a little more space for air-flow, and when you get those high-wall roasting pans you end up with not so much browning on the sides which isn’t ideal when talking about roasting.”
Roasting racks seem to be a hot-button selling point for roasting pans. Of the pans in our testing line-up that come with racks, most have a V-shaped rack, while a couple come with flat racks. The experts all agree that there is a time and a place for using a roasting rack. A rack allows radiant heat to flow underneath the roast or bird, reducing the risk of pale skin or grey meat.
Jane Lear, Food Advice Columnist at Take Part, admits that while she has used both a V-rack and flat rack in the past, she usually just places the roast on a bed of vegetables and aromatics. Judy Haubert, Associate Food Editor at Saveur Magazine, agrees, as she prefers to place her turkey atop carrots, celery and onions so that they caramelize and add complexity to the gravy. Both chefs I talked to said that while they wouldn’t ever use a V-rack, a flat rack does come in handy. With these opinions and my personal experience, whether or not a pan comes with a rack doesn’t hold much importance since racks are available for a small price. For people who like to use one, it’s nice to have a pan that includes it.
So what’s it cost to get a pan that checks all these requirements? Somewhere between about $50 and $350.
How we picked
To get a sense of what was worth testing, we started by reading the existing reviews from well-respected publications like Cook’s Illustrated, Fine Cooking, and Kitchen Daily. We also looked at highly rated options on Amazon. In total, we considered over 20 pans.
From there, we judged each candidate against the criteria listed above. When all was said and done, we ended up with 6 testing candidates ranging from $60 to $200. They were stainless steel, rectangular with large riveted handles, came with roasting racks, had side walls that didn’t exceed 3½ inches, and were 16 inches long.
In addition to those pans, we also brought in the Granite Ware 19-inch Covered Roaster which is well-liked by Amazonians and costs only $20. It was dark in color, oval, ceramic-coated thin steel and had high walls. We were interested to see how it stacked up against the others.
How we tested
I put each roasting pan through the same tests, using the same techniques as much as possible. I tested each pan in a standard-sized oven, using same oven temperature, and same burner settings on a gas stove.
The turkeys were roasted with as minimal preparation as possible. I thawed frozen 15-pound turkeys, rinsed and patted them dry, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and then placed them in the pan (on a rack if included). They were roasted at 350 degrees until the internal temperature of the thigh was 160 degrees. I did not rotate the pan, baste the bird, or really mess with it at all. I let it roast uninterrupted until the 2¼ hour mark when I started taking the temperature. I looked for even browning, radiant heat circulation, and progression of fond development on the bottom of the pan.
To test the versatility of a roasting pan, I made a one-pot meal in each. This showed me how well they performed on the stovetop for searing proteins and how they did roasting vegetables. This is my favorite test, since there’s only one pan to clean up and you feed a whole family out of it. Also, this is where we really see which pans have even heat distribution, as it is the most obvious in the color of the chicken.
I seared 6 chicken leg quarters in 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. I didn’t move the chicken around because I wanted to see how the pan distributed heat. I removed the leg quarters and tossed in 1 pound each of carrots, acorn squash wedges and red potatoes, then nestled the chicken back in skin-side-up. I transferred the pan to a 400 degree oven for 1 hour. Here, I wanted to see if the vegetables got any color other than the parts that had direct contact with the pan and if any scorching occurred on the bottom. As you can tell in the images above, some pans fared better than others.
The Cuisinart MCP117-16BR MultiClad Pro Stainless 16-Inch Rectangular Roaster with Rack ($80) is great value. With tri-ply construction throughout (not just in the bottom), large upright handles that are secured with heavy-duty rivets, a stainless steel V-rack and heavy-duty construction that aced both oven and stovetop tests, this pan is an exceptional value for under $100.
First off, it passed the turkey-roasting test with flying colors: golden skin was evenly distributed throughout the bird’s body. However, the same was true for the other pans. Each of the seven turkeys came out almost identical, with impressive, deep golden fond development, regardless of the presence of a roasting rack. It was in the stovetop testing that revealed what these pans were made of; here the tri-ply Cuisinart made its mark.
When I put the Cuisinart on the stovetop, bubbles were evenly distributed across the bottom of the pan when cooking down pan drippings, a clear sign of good heat distribution. The flat bottom made scraping fond and whisking gravy easy to ensure a smooth consistency. It straddled across 2 burners on the stove with good coverage. By comparison, the Granite Ware, being thinner and oval-shaped, was not as agile on the stove. When making gravy, the bubbles were centralized over the burners, and the pattern in the bottom of the pan make it a bit more challenging to scrape fond and whisk a smooth gravy.
When it came time to sear chicken thighs, the MultiClad Pro proved itself again by evenly searing every leg, even the ones that were in the middle of the pan, the part that’s not directly over a burner. Cook’s Illustrated agreed, as they made this pan their number 2 pick, saying it “… [seared] pork loin nicely without buckling or burning and [put] an even, golden-brown crust on potatoes.” Additionally, after the vegetables were added and the whole thing was transferred to the oven to roast, the chicken continued to turn golden and crisp, and vegetables roasted to tender perfection. This was a challenge with most of the pans tested, as the vegetables only browned at the points that made contact with the pan and nowhere else.
The only other pan in the lineup that performed slightly better was the All-Clad Flared Roaster. But at $200, it does not justify its cost. It has a bent lip for easier (and less messy) pouring of gravy and pan drippings. And the flared edge allows for more radiant heat circulation for deeper color and caramelization of food (which means more flavor).
With a 4.7-star user rating on Amazon, a limited lifetime warranty and the fact that it’s easy to clean and dishwasher safe, this is a pan that will offer years of service. It is a durable, well-built pan; there isn’t anything that makes me think that won’t hold up, and I’ve put a lot of pans through the wringer in my time.
What you should get if our pick is out of stock
If you’re having problems finding the Cuisinart Multiclad Pro roasting pan, as they seem to be flying off the shelves, we think the Calphalon Contemporary roasting pan is a suitable back-up option. While it has a raised middle which makes stovetop work a little less seamlessly than our flat-bottomed top pick, its curved sides and slightly flared lip are great features. Throw in sturdy construction and big, roomy handles and you have a roasting pan that will turn out beautiful turkeys and large roasts every time.
Best for the occasional roaster (or small oven owner)
As far as roasting performance goes, there’s little to complain about. It’s worth noting that the Granite Ware does not have a rack, but the turkey roasted really well regardless. It came out golden brown all over, except the bottom, which stuck to the pan and shredded when I lifted it out (which isn’t really a huge deal). If this is all you want it for, then this is a good choice. Just don’t expect to do much else with it.
Making gravy on the stovetop was serviceable but far from ideal. There is a type of vine pattern in the bottom of the pan that makes it difficult to scrape fond and whisk a smooth gravy, and the heat is centralized over the burners due to the lack of a heat-conducting aluminum core.
The lack of a core also lead to a complete failure in the chicken leg test. The pan is so thin that I would not advise searing anything in it—indeed, it started to warp within 2 minutes of heating it up. When I eventually got it to work, the chicken legs developed unappetizing scorch spots and, in addition to producing little caramelization and coloring, the vegetables stuck to the bottom of the pan. I had to use so much force to scrape them up that they smashed.
This pan was also difficult to clean. Because of the dark color, you can’t really see where there were all baked-on stains. I thought I had cleaned it well, but a once-over with Bar Keepers Friend revealed that a lot of baked-on grime was in the crevices that I couldn’t see.
All in all, if you want a roasting pan that can produce a golden turkey with crispy skin and adequate gravy-making abilities that you don’t plan on using very much, this is a solid buy. But most cooks would benefit from a bit more versatility.
The step up
Like the Cuisinart, the All-Clad has tri-ply steel construction that disperses heat evenly throughout the pan. What gives the All-Clad its slight edge is its, well, slight edge flare that promotes ever so slightly more heat circulation.
The pan excelled at searing chicken, making each piece consistently golden. While the chicken roasted with the vegetables, the skin continued to crisp and brown, and the vegetables roasted evenly and caramelized all over, not just spots that touched the pan. The flared edges allowed more radiant heat to circulate in the pan. The Cuisinart MultiClad was a very close second with the chicken test, producing chicken skin that was only slightly less rendered and crisp and vegetables with less caramelization. This was the best batch of chicken and vegetables of the seven pans that were tested.
It was easy to clean; no extra work was needed to remove water spots, and no discoloration occurred. It barely needed any Bar Keepers Friend to remove stubborn spots—there were only a couple and they weren’t that bad. The All-Clad Stainless Steel Flared Roaster is dishwasher safe and comes with All-Clad’s limited lifetime warranty.
The Williams-Sonoma Stainless Steel Ultimate Roaster ($100) is a roomy pan with large upright handles that are close enough to the pan that it can fit in a small oven. It met all of my initial requirements when researching pans. Since it is a new offering from Williams-Sonoma, the were limited reviews to look at, but we decided to test it anyway because of Williams-Sonoma’s good reputation. I also really liked that it came with a flat rack, scoring points for versatility.
It ended up being a decent performer, but heat distribution was not so great. The bubbles were centralized over the burners and existed nowhere else. Furthermore, the middle of the pan is raised, which made a trough that goes around the perimeter. This makes it very difficult to scrape fond and whisk gravy. It took a lot of extra work to whisk out lumps, and even then I had to strain it.
Searing performance was seriously lacking. Leg quarters cooked for 13 minutes without any significant browning, leaving the chicken skin pale and soft. The trough around the perimeter of the pan collects all of the oil, which also contributes to searing difficulty. The pan didn’t allow for much radiant heat circulation, as the vegetables came out cooked but pale all over, and they caramelized only where they made contact with the pan.
Clean-up was difficult, as I had to use Bar Keepers Friend to remove water spots that accumulated on the exterior of the pan. They wouldn’t come off with soapy warm water and a cotton cloth.
The Cuisinart 7117-16UR Chef’s Classic Stainless 16-Inch Rectangular Roaster with Rack ($60) came highly recommended from multiple sources. At the time, when researching this guide, Cook’s Illustrated said in an article from 2006 that it was “[v]ery good on the stovetop, but testers found uneven browning in the pork loin test.” The site has since updated their roasting pan picks (Cook’s Country, December 2013) and they have gone from recommending this pan to not recommending it at all. Kitchen Daily praised it for extra accessories that are no longer available. While the handles were sturdy (and the pan itself was very roomy) it was also very thin with a raised middle. Pan drippings and oil were, again, concentrated to the perimeter making gravy-making and searing quite challenging.
While the turkey results were on par with the other pans, the stovetop performance was lacking. Three scorch spots developed within 4 minutes of the pan being over the flames, and the smoke and buckling were so bad that I had to proceed without getting a proper sear on the chicken. I didn’t want to run the risk of setting off the smoke alarm, as the apartment was filling with smoke pretty fast.
America’s Test Kitchen rated Calphalon’s Contemporary Stainless Steel Roaster with Rack ($130) as their favorite, praising its flared shape for whisking and excellent searing on the stovetop. Real Simple noted that the large handles made the pan easy to maneuver. It gets 4.8 stars with Amazon users and is an attractive pan with sturdy construction and heavy weight. I agree that it’s a fine pan, roomy and comfortable to carry. The non-stick coated rack seemed small for the pan, as it slid around significantly. This could be a safety hazard when dealing with hot pan drippings and a heavy turkey.
As shown here, the rack is small for the pan and moves around quite a bit.
Although the sides are flared with a curved edge, the raised middle was a bit of an obstacle when whisking. Searing chicken was below average. Some of my chicken pieces stuck severely to the pan, ripping off the skin and making an undesirable finished product. The vegetables roasted adequately, with caramelization isolated to parts that had contact with the pan. It comes with a lifetime warranty and is dishwasher safe.
I was excited to see how Calphalon’s AcCuCore 16-inch roasting pan with rack ($200) would stand up to the All-Clad Flared Roaster, and and I have say it was underwhelming. When cooking down the pan drippings on the stovetop, it was visible that the heat was centralized over the burners. Chicken seared unevenly, leaving heavily darkened spots in places while other parts remained pale. The roasting rack, like the Calphalon Contemporary, was small for the pan and had a tendency to slide around, but even more so since it didn’t have the raised middle to somewhat control it.
The flat bottom made gravy and searing easy and it had the same turkey results as the others. There was no buckling and spitting of hot grease. The fond development was on par with the favorites. At the end of the day, this pan was an average performer, and it just didn’t justify the $200 pricetag that comes with it.
What else did we look at?
Le Creuset Stainless Steel Roasting Pan with Rack, Large, $350: At the time we were researching this story, this pan cost $350, it has since gone on sale for $200. This pan didn’t have anything that really stood out to me that justified the high price tag. It checked all the boxes in what I look for in a roasting pan, but had the second highest price tag of the pans I gave serious consideration. Even the handles didn’t seem as sturdy as other less expensive models.
KitchenAid Gourmet Distinctions Roasting Pan with Rack, $50: A recommended pick by America’s Test Kitchen, it came at a decent price but is no longer in production.
Martha Stewart Collection Roaster, 15-inch with rack, $80: I ultimately decided not to test this one because there weren’t a lot of reviews online for it.
Sur La Table Stainless Steel Roasting Pan, $160: (Currently on sale for $96) I sat on this one a while, but came to the conclusion that people really like their roasting racks, and this doesn’t have one, despite its high price.
Mauviel M’Heritage Copper Roaster with rack, bronze handles, $270: This pan got a glowing review from Saveur.com, as well as another mention in the November 2013 Saveur Magazine. Copper is a high-maintenance material and is difficult to care for. I don’t think this is the workhorse pan we’re looking for.
Williams-Sonoma Thermo-Clad Stainless Steel Flared Roaster with Rack, $200: Of the 2 flared roaster offerings, I decided to go with the All-Clad because the handles seemed flimsier on this model.
All-Clad Roti with Rack, $160: Single-ply stainless steel, no aluminum core, and made in China too (which wouldn’t be an issue for most companies, but All-Clad customers expect their products to be made in the USA).
Viking Stainless Steel Roasting Pan, $150: I was really excited about this pan, but it is no longer in production.
Le Creuset 7-qt Roaster, $250: Made of coated cast iron, I can see it performing superbly on the stove and in the oven. And it’s attractive. And it also weighs 15 pounds empty (only a bit less than 2 gallons of milk!), which was sufficient to knock it out of consideration. I believe if a pan is heavy, people will be less likely to use it regularly.
Wrapping it up
With its sturdy design, stainless steel tri-ply construction and midrange price tag, the Cuisinart MCP117-16BR MultiClad 16-inch Rectangular Roasting Pan is an excellent buy at $80. It not only roasts a turkey to perfection, but moves to the stove to execute flavorful gravies and make a perfect sear without the fear of buckling and scorching. It’s big enough to help you tackle whole pork shoulders, brisket and many other large cuts of meat as well as healthy batches of roasted vegetables.
Executive Chef at Maialino, New York City, Interview,
Associate Food Editor, Saveur Magazine, Interview,
Food Writer and Editor, Interview,
Roasting Pans, Cook's Illustrated, December 2013
Picking a Roasting Pan to Use All Year, Fine Cooking, Issue 29,
Test Drive: Roasting Pans, Fine Cooking, Issue 113,
Choosing the Best Roasting Pan, Kitchen Daily,