If you eat or serve meat at Thanksgiving, you know the turkey is the grand centerpiece of it all, even if sides are what everyone actually loves eating the most. If the turkey goes wrong ― if it’s too dry, or unseasoned, or falls on the floor, or whatever other nightmare you can think of ― then the entire meal feels off.
Half the battle is knowing what size turkey you need and how long to cook your turkey per pound, and the other half is having the right tools ― like a roasting pan, that classic piece of holiday cookware that also comes in handy for all sorts of things, from roast beef or pork to ham to mac and cheese and lasagna. The glory of a roasting pan is that its rack allows you to set the meat up high and roast vegetables in its drippings below. And the pan can also go straight to the stovetop for searing or making gravy (provided it has a mostly flat bottom, something to keep an eye out for when shopping). Plus, unlike cheap disposable pans, good roasters won’t rip under the weight of your bird.
Although you can find roasting pans in a wide variety of shapes, materials and configurations, experts and testers say a few features are crucial: Tri-ply stainless steel, which typically has a middle layer of aluminum, browns foods much better than either plain or enameled stainless; the handles matter a lot, since you’re maneuvering and carrying a large, heavy and extremely hot dish; and the roasting rack should fit snugly enough that your turkey (or whatever you’re roasting) doesn’t slide around dangerously when you’re moving it in and out of the oven. Most experts recommend rectangular pans over oval types, since these typically line up better with the burners on your stove for gravy.
(A note about size: The size given for a roasting pan typically reflects the pan’s interior, not necessarily its total length. For example, a 16-inch roasting pan may actually be 20 inches wide from handle to handle, so check the full dimensions and measure your oven before buying the pan you want so you can be certain it will fit. Keep in mind that if your pan is too large for your turkey, the drippings may burn, though covering the bottom of the pan with chopped vegetables can help with that.)
Here are the best roasting pans that testers have given their seal of approval:
HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Every item is independently selected. Prices and availability are subject to change.
Cuisinart MultiClad Pro tri-ply stainless 16-inch roaster
This roasting pan is winner for both America's Test Kitchen
. ATK noted that it seared meat without buckling or burning and gave veggies an even, golden-brown crust, while its flat bottom aided with deglazing. Wirecutter said it cooked more evenly than others in its price range, noting it could handle a 20-pound turkey. "We can’t find another roasting pan that can sear as well on the stove and roast as evenly in the oven for under $100," its testers reported.
Viking 16-inch culinary roaster with two-piece carving set
ATK lists Viking's 16-inch tri-ply roaster among its recommendations, noting that although their pan is heavier than some others, it's also "handsome" and "durable." This version at Sam's Club, which Viking says can handle a turkey up to 25 pounds, comes with a matching 8-inch carving knife and 7-inch serving fork.
Cooks Standard 14-inch stainless steel roaster
This pan is America's Test Kitchen's "best buy" pick for small roasters with racks, which they defined as around 14 inches. This size can handle turkeys up to 12 pounds, which can feed 8 people
, so it may be all smaller households need (and prove to be a more versatile size year-round). Although it isn't made of tri-ply, the testers noted that it was thick enough to still retain and control heat well.
Le Creuset stainless steel 14-inch roasting pan
This was ATK's winning recommendation for small roasting pans, based on the way it turned out "beautiful" browned food. The body is tri-ply, the V-shaped rack is nonstick, and unlike some others, this roaster works on induction cooktops.
All-Clad stainless steel flared roasting pan
The top performer in Wirecutter's tests
, both in the oven and on the stovetop, is this premium roaster that's exclusive to Williams Sonoma. Testers praised it for producing the most golden, crispy skin and for the low, flared sides helping to disperse heat evenly. Some cooks prefer the flat rack, too, since it can be a bit more versatile for other cuts of meat. The only catch is that it's more expensive than others, leading Wirecutter to name it their "upgrade" pick.
A nonstick roasting rack to use with a rimmed baking sheet
If you don't have the budget or space for a roaster, don't panic: We've even roasted a turkey on rolled-up aluminum foil
in a pinch. A better option, as Serious Eats points out
, is to buy a rack like this one to use with a rimmed baking sheet you already have in your kitchen. Just be very, very careful when you're moving your bird to and from the oven ... especially if you've got hot juices sloshing near the rim of your pan.