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November/December 2017

Small Roasting Pans with Racks

Our full-size roasting pan is perfect for big holiday meals. Could we find a scaled-down version that offers performance for everyday use?

How We Tested

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.

What Materials Make the Best Roasting Pans?

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.

Differences in Design

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.

Methodology

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.

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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.