When contemplating how to roast your first Thanksgiving turkey—or fifth, or 20th—it's easy to get mired in insecurity. Do you remember what you did wrong a year ago? Can you keep track of the bird while candying yams, mashing potatoes, and setting the table? How much will your reputation suffer if the white meat is dead dry?
And comparing turkey-roasting recipes often exacerbates the performance anxiety: to brine or not to brine, to truss or not to truss, to stuff or not to stuff? Experienced roasters are, however, united in their disapproval of the disposable aluminum pans that amateurs pick up at the supermarket the night before their guests show.
A flimsy disposable pan is a danger to you, your oven, and your main course. You need something sturdy enough to go from oven to stovetop, so you can make gravies and sauces, but there's no reason, beyond conspicuous consumption, to invest $450 on French copper. In the interest of offering you one sure piece of advice for your Thanksgiving meal, I tested six roasting pans, priced from $9.99 to $274.95.
All are designed with the Thanksgiving roaster in mind. Five feature a poultry rack, the theory being that, during a three- to four-hour cooking time, the rack allows juices to drip to the bottom and heat to circulate around the entire carcass rather than only over the top. Bear in mind that your roasting pan itself will not have much effect on the taste of your turkey (how you prepare the bird will determine that), but your roaster can significantly affect the cosmetic appearance of the finished product, and some are much easier to use and clean up than others.
I selected a turkey-roasting method that would best test racks as well as pans. Largely based on the recipe advanced by the OCD folks at America's Test Kitchen, I cooked an unbrined turkey, breast-side down, on the rack for the first hour, then flipped the bird breast-side up, lowering the heat for the remaining one to two hours. (Click
Those investing in a roasting pan should remember it's useful for more than turkeys. I also cooked a pork roast based on roasting doyenne Barbara Kafka's method to test how the pan fared in a 500-degree oven and how the meat cooked when in direct contact with the pan. (Read the blow-by-blow account
I evaluated each roaster in the following three categories:
The Pan. Is it sturdily constructed? Are the handles easy to grip in and out of the oven and while wearing mitts? How did the pork roast and vegetables brown? When I put the pan on the stove, how did it conduct heat?
The Rack.Is the rack well-designed? How snugly does a turkey fit? Did the rack scar the bird? How easy was it to flip the carcass?