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December/January 2014

Roasting Pans with Racks

We went looking for a model that we’d want to use all the time, not just twice a year.

How We Tested

A handsome, heavy-duty roasting pan bearing a big holiday roast—what could be more iconic? But twice-a-year employment for an item that can cost $300 (or more) never made any sense to us, which is why we were glad to find our previous winner. This sturdy, roomy workhorse impressed us with even browning and an ability to withstand high-heat searing on the stovetop. Luckily, the manufacturer of our previously winning roasting pan hasn’t changed a thing about the pan since we discovered it in 2006, not even the price.

So why are we fixing what ain’t broke? Cookware companies are constantly coming out with new roasting pans. Our search turned up six other contenders, costing $18 and up, including a $200 model that we tested to see if spending more meant better performance. Materials ranged from all aluminum to enamel-coated steel, plain stainless steel, a tri-ply construction of stainless steel sandwiching a core of aluminum. All models were at least 12 inches wide and 16 inches long and came with racks.

We started by roasting 2 pounds of potatoes coated in olive oil in each pan to see which materials browned evenly. Plain stainless steel was the worst, leaving spuds at the center pale while those at the edges overbrowned. Thin, enamel-coated steel pans weren’t much better. Pans of stainless steel plus aluminum distributed the heat more evenly across their surfaces; most browned well. As for the all-aluminum pan, its dark surface browned evenly but very quickly: Its contents were deeply golden brown (the potatoes were perfect) in half of the time that the other pans took.

These results were repeated when we seared pork loins in the pans over a medium-high flame on the stovetop: The thin stainless-steel model buckled and burned, blackening the pan surface. We tried again over lower heat, but that didn’t get a very nice sear on the meat. One enamel-coated steel pan fared even worse, blackening and making a popping noise as its enamel cracked and a few pieces of enamel fell off. (We got a second copy of this pan and lowered the flame, which helped.) And after their interiors blackened, these two pans were impossible to get completely clean; the rest cleaned up easily. Though tri-ply pans were heavier to maneuver, they heated steadily on the stovetop, never warping or buckling, leaving golden-brown crusts on the pork—ditto the all-aluminum pan.

Moving the pans was about more than weight. Large, easy to grip handles made a difference, as did pan shape. One sizable, boxy pan was awkward and heavy—not fun when we had to pour out hot drippings. The enamel-coated steel pans were lightweight, but their handles, also enameled, were slippery and small. Pans with big handles facing upward gave us a sure grip with potholders and helped us transfer the pan steadily, whether it held 2 pounds of potatoes or a 19-pound turkey.

But hoisting pans laden with big birds pointed to another factor: how well the racks fit. Some were much more secure and snug than others. Racks much smaller than their corresponding pans lurched and slid when we moved the heavy turkey. One traveled nearly 6 inches with a bird and hot drippings.

Deglazing drippings in the pans made us appreciate those with flat, or nearly flat, bottoms rather than deep grooves. And while the dark anodized surface of the aluminum pan yielded darker roasted bits, verging on scorched, the tri-ply pans’ lighter finish provided golden-brown fond that worked perfectly for gravy. (We could also monitor browning more easily in lighter pans.)

We’re sticking with our previously winning roasting pan and rack. Whether roasting a turkey, browning potatoes, or searing a pork loin, it gave us great results. For an even more budget-friendly alternative, get our Best Buy, made by the same manufacturer as our winning model.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.