Everyone needs a chicken roasting pan! It can be your all-purpose pan for oven-baking chicken legs, breasts, wings; for whole chickens; for turkey parts, tenderloins, and pork chops; and more. It can double as a baking pan for vegetables, potatoes, lasagna, desserts, and more. This can be your single most useful pan.
I oven-bake a lot of chicken parts, and on this page I discuss how I made decisions about a roaster.
The biggest decision is choosing the material it is made from. There's also the design: size, shape, height, weight, whether it has handles, and whether it has a cover.
Major choices are: ceramic, glass, enamel over metal, stainless steel, and aluminum.
I'm biased toward ceramic for ordinary use, especially for roasting chicken parts. Of course, there's certainly uses for metal, especially for large chickens and turkeys, and for certain cooking techniques. Formerly, I was very attached to roasting and baking in glass, but I've given that up, for the reasons in the next section.
Here's what I'm not even going to consider: aluminum, and non-stick coatings. My reasons are described at the end of this article.
Glass pans are inexpensive, widely available, and naturally non-stick. They heat food evenly and have been used for a hundred years for roasting and baking. What's wrong with glass?
The Pyrex brand of borosilicate glass was specially made for use at high temperatures, and was first sold for ovenware in 1915. It was also used to make laboratory equipment. Ordinary glass cannot even be heated without breaking.
Until recently, Pyrex ovenware had a reputation as absolutely dependable and failsafe. It was, of course, possible to break it, and possible to mistreat it in cooking until it broke. But no one would have seriously considered that it might explode for no apparent reason, just as laboratory beakers don't explode.
However, glass ovenware under Pyrex, Corning Ware, and Anchor Hocking brands have now had many reports--in consumer complaints and in lawsuits--of shattering and exploding during normal use.
Reports include: exploding in the oven, exploding in one's hands, exploding in the microwave, exploding in the dishwasher, and exploding in the cupboard.
Although the manufacturers have denied responsibility, experts point to an apparent change in the manufacturing process, related to the change in ownership of the Pyrex brand in 1998. At some unspecified time, there was a change in composition, from borosilicate glass to soda-lime glass.
A good summary is at Consumer Affairs, Three Years Later: Pyrex Dishes Still Go Boom. Consumer Reports published its Glass Bakeware That Shatters report in January, 2011. It includes a lengthy list of safety warnings, Reduce the Risks of Using Glass Bakeware.
Consumer Reports tested American-made Pyrex, American-made Anchor Oven Basics (Anchor Hocking), European-made Pyrex Classic, European-made Arcuisine Elegance, and "vintage" Pyrex. The European-made products performed markedly better, but still did not resist "thermal shock" temperature changes in the way that the vintage Pyrex did.
Vintage Pyrex and vintage Corning Ware are available used. It's not surprising that there's a vigorous trade in those excellent products.
I couldn't in good conscience do anything other than warn against any recently made glass cookware or bakeware, not even European-made Pyrex / Arcuisine. Since inexpensive alternatives are available, I don't see any reason to use contemporary glass products for cooking, baking, or roasting.
Now let's move on to pans that are not known to explode.
Traditional ceramics are made of clay, sometimes with other materials added, and then fired in a kiln at a high temperature. One type of ceramic is stoneware.
Ceramic pans range from fairly inexpensive to mid-priced. They are naturally non-stick, do not react with food, clean amazingly well, and can be used in the oven and the microwave. Typical ceramic pans, however, can't be used on the stovetop or on other direct heat--they are not "flameproof." Some, not all, have limited broiler usage and tolerate freezer-to-oven.
Obviously, ceramic can break or chip. It should not explode, and I have not heard of a case where it has.
French-made ceramic has a reputation for excellent quality.
I have to say that I was so unnerved by the exploding Pyrex situation that I wanted only European ceramic. On further research, I'm not sure that is necessary; as mentioned, I don't believe that ceramic explodes under kitchen conditions.
On the other hand, I like being able to believe the French company concerning the temperature that I can heat the pan to. I no longer trust Chinese or American manufacturing.
For myself, I chose an Emile Henry pan and I have found it to be spectacular. I wrote a more detailed review here.
HIC ceramic is similar to Emile Henry, but less expensive. It gets very good reviews. It is made in China.
Le Creuset Stoneware is not made in France, unlike the enamel-covered cast iron Le Creuset cookware. It is similar in price to Emile Henry.
Contemporary Corning Ware is stoneware ceramic unless otherwise specified--this is not the same material as vintage Corning Ware. Unlike vintage Corning Ware, it cannot be used on the stovetop. The glass lids or covers of Corning Ware have the same reports of explosion as other glass dishes. Do not buy or use contemporary Corning Ware glass covers.
For very inexpensive ceramic, I don't see anything wrong with a Corning Ware roaster, as long as it doesn't have a glass cover.
Graniteware is the brand name of light-weight pans made of porcelain-covered steel. The light weight may be particularly important for large pans for large chickens and turkeys--so that you can lift the fully loaded pan.
It is naturally non-stick and non-reactive with food.
It's inexpensive; although a Graniteware pan could serve as an all-purpose roasting / baking pan, you could create your own inexpensive pan collection of many sizes.
There are rectangular, round, and oval roasters, with and without covers, and a variety of pans for pizza, cakes, pies, muffins, loaves, and cookies.
My mother used Graniteware for turkeys, large chickens, and broiling. The reviews on Amazon, however, seem to suggest that the quality of the products may have declined in recent years.
"Flameproof" means that the cookware is designed to be used over direct heat, such as on a stovetop or barbecue. You can think of flameproof ovenware as high-performance.
In addition, some cooking techniques demand that the roasting pan be used on the stovetop: for example, making pan gravy, which I understand as a brief stovetop operation after roasting. Another is searing meat on the stovetop at high temperature, which strikes me as better done in a frying pan, but evidently is sometimes done in a roasting pan.
The SweetHome The Best Roasting Pan article is exclusively about metal roasting pans. I'll just refer you there for recommendations and detailed tests of stainless steel pans.
Enamel-coated cast iron is naturally non-stick.
Le Creuset enamel-coasted cast iron cookware is popular and famous for its quality. It is, of course, made in France. It is very expensive and very heavy.
Staub is also made in France and an expensive, heavy, high-quality brand.
Made in France, Emile Henry Flame is a relatively limited line of specially made, high-heat ceramic cookware that can be used on direct heat.
There are several dutch ovens and other covered cookware, specialty uncovered saucepans, grills and stones for the barbecue and for pizza, and a vertical chicken roaster.
Pyroceram is glass fired at high temperature to create a very durable, flameproof ceramic. The original pyroceram cookware was the original, vintage Corning Ware that could be used on the stovetop.
Recently, a few new pyroceram pieces have been issued, branded as Corning Ware. They will be labeled pyroceram. Warning: the glass lids are made of US-made Pyrex: Do not use these lids for cooking, due to that pesky explosion problem (see above).
Here's a few things to consider about the size, shape, and design of a roasting pan.
Of course, pans are available in many sizes.
One standard size for a rectangular pan is 13" x 9". You can fit the contents of a standard package of chicken parts--say, six thighs, or twelve wings--in the required single layer in this size pan.
Another measurement of size is the pounds of poultry or roast that the pan can handle. For example, the Graniteware 16" open roaster is advertised as being able to hold up to a 22-25 lb. poultry / roast.
There's classic rectangle, classic oval, round, and square.
More food will fit into a rectangle than an oval. But, an oval may be best for a whole bird or roast, and may fit diagonally into an oven where a large rectangular pan may not.
A roasting pan is often more shallow than one intended also for baking.
Deeper sides of 2" to 3" may be on a roasting pan that is also called a lasagna or baking pan. I've found that deep sides when roasting meat helps shield grease splatters.
How heavy do you want the pan to be, remembering to include the weight of the meat? How much are you able to lift?
On the whole, the heavier the pan, the better durability and performance.
Handles are absolutely necessary for ovenware. When you remove the pan form the oven, you're picking up something heavy, hot, and slippery with hot grease.
Round and oval pans without handles are impractical in the oven; I believe the smaller ones, such as ramekins, are placed in the oven on a cookie sheet.
I myself never actually seem to roast anything that needs a cover. I rarely make boneless chicken breasts, but when I do, I cover them by tenting aluminum foil over the pan. This is particularly easy with the deep-sided Emile Henry pan.
Many people, however, use covers for whole poultry.
For pot roast, you will want a cover, but aluminum foil can be used as a lid, in a pinch.
Repeat: Do not use contemporary glass covers, due to the track record of unexpected, explosive shattering.
Aluminum reacts with acidic food. It's a toxic metal that leaches into food. Aluminum has been linked with Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases.
Aluminum cookware is typically flimsy. It is usually treated with a non-stick coating.
There are better choices than aluminum.
Non-stick coating is toxic; it both leaches into the food and disperses into the air during cooking.
It is completely unnecessary in a roasting pan.
For getting started with roasting chicken parts in your new pan, take a look at How to Cook Chicken Legs (includes other chicken parts).