Roasting is a dry-heat method that cooks food in hot air. Although it sometimes takes hours, roasting is convenient because it's relatively hands-off as compared to methods like sauteing, pan-searing and grilling. An important tool for successful roasting -- especially for the whole poultry and large meat cuts best suited to this method -- is a sturdy, shallow roasting pan. Roast recipes you encounter typically specify use of a shallow roasting pan.
A roasting pan with a 1-inch depth is shallow, but sides of up to 2 inches tall are usually acceptable. Depth is the most important dimension for a roasting pan. A pan should generally provide a margin of at least 2 inches around every side of the food you're cooking. Don't ever use a roasting pan that extends all the way or almost all the way to the sides of your oven, though.
Why Shallow Matters
A shallow roasting pan of 2 inches or less is needed for two main reasons. First, a deeper pan prevents hot air from circulating properly around roasting food, which means it won't cook evenly. For a large item like a turkey, for example, this can mean much of the bird overcooks before the thighs are safely cooked through. Second, a deeper pan causes the bottom of roasting food to get steamed in the juices that drip into the pan. Steamed areas of meat and poultry foods don't develop a crisp exterior and often have an unpleasant texture and color.
Why Witdh and Length Matter
If a roasting pan extends at least a few inches longer and wider than the cooking food, it's certain to catch all dripping juices. Otherwise they can drip onto the bottom of the oven. Not only does this create hard-to-clean messes, these juices can cause considerable smoking and horrible smells, and they may even ignite. If a roasting pan extends too close to the sides of the oven, it prevents hot-air circulation; food is likely to cook unevenly, and it may take far longer than expected.
A heavy roasting pan with a sturdy rack is best. While disposable aluminum roasting pans and cheaper lightweight reusable pans are sometimes adequate, they aren't made to handle particularly large roasts or whole turkeys; using too flimsy a roasting pan can lead to spills of dangerously hot liquids and even dumped meals. Anodized aluminum roasting pans make sense because they're secure, they conduct heat evenly and efficiently, they deglaze well and they're generally easy to clean. Choose a roasting pan with easily gripped handles for manageable removal from the oven.
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