What Size Roasting Pan Do I Need? Here’s How to Choose.

What size roasting pan will deliver the most delicious turkey? What other factors should you consider? We've put together a simple buying guide to help you choose the perfect pan.

If you’re like most people, the only time you think about your roasting pan is the night before Thanksgiving when someone is tasked with searching the basement or hall closet for the pan that cooked last year’s bird. But guess what: Roasting pans are surprisingly versatile. They’re great for cooking all kinds of meats and vegetables, even baking up big batches of lasagna. A roasting pan’s high walls also make it the ideal vessel for custards or cheesecakes that require a water bath. Regardless of what you plan to cook in it, there are several factors you should consider when purchasing a roasting pan. Here are the top things to keep in mind.

If you’re new to roasting, check out our step-by-step guide on how to cook a turkey.

What Size Do You Need?

Though it might seem silly, make sure you know the internal measurements of your oven, particularly if it is a smaller model. When looking at roasting pan sizes, be sure to take into account the thickness of the walls and the height of the handles, especially if they are permanently extended. In general, you want to choose the smallest roasting pan that fits your needs—too big and the juices can burn; too small and constricted airflow won’t allow for even cooking.

In general, when cooking turkeys:

  • A small (14-inch) roasting pan works for birds up to 12 pounds.
  • A medium (16-inch) roasting pan is ideal for birds up to 16 pounds.
  • A large (18-inch) roasting pan can fit turkeys up to 20 pounds.

If you don’t want to keep a variety of roasting pans on hand, a medium-sized pan works best for most needs. And if there is excess room around the meat you are roasting, just cover the bottom of the pan with roughly chopped vegetables to prevent the juices from browning. Then serve those roasted veggies as a side dish.

Pick a Good Depth

Most cooks agree that three inches is the ideal height for a roasting pan. Too deep and you’ll end up steaming your ingredients rather than roasting them. Too shallow and braising becomes quite a messy endeavor, as does trying to pull the pan out of the oven without spilling anything.

Choose the Right Material

The two best materials for a roasting pan are stainless steel or copper. While enameled cast-iron roasting pans are beautiful to look at, they can also be incredibly heavy. Add a 20-pound turkey to the mix, and you’re going to need some extra muscle to maneuver it. Stay away from aluminum roasting pans: The metal can react with any acidic ingredients, such as lemon juice. Many roasting pans are made from anodized aluminum. However, its darker color can affect how quickly your food cooks.

Learn more about cookware materials with this handy guide.

Consider the Handles

Take a good look at the handles when purchasing a roasting pan. In general, the type of handle you choose depends on your own preferences. Some handles are permanently extended. This makes them easier to grab from the oven, but it also takes up more space and can reduce the overall cooking size of the roasting pan. However, pans that have handles that fold down when not in use can be difficult to grab onto when pulling the pan from the oven.

Add a Rack

A roasting pan should ideally come with a rack. This feature keeps the bottom of your roast out of its juices, keeping the skin crispy. A rack also promotes air circulation, allowing for more even roasting.

Now that you know which pan to buy, learn how to roast a chicken for Sunday supper.

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Susan Bronson
Susan Bronson is a writer and editor based in Northern Wisconsin.