When we went looking for roasting pans to test, we found that most of them have a nonstick coating. These are fine for some people, but not for anyone who knows the value of deglazing a pan to make a sauce. If it's nonstick, after all, you don't get that layer of browned bits and caramelized drippings on the bottom of the pan, so there's nothing to deglaze. Yet we've found that when roasting for hours in a nonstick pan, some bits of stuff get so burned onto the surface that it's difficult to clean; scrubbing may damage the surface. We tested five roasting pans without nonstick coating: one anodized aluminum, one untreated aluminum and three stainless steel. For the test, we roasted a 4-pound chicken at 400 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes. When it was done, we removed the chicken and the rack and deglazed the pan with one-half cup of white wine.
Because all the chickens cooked evenly, we considered the design of the pan, how the handles were attached and whether they were comfortable to handle, along with whether it came with a rack, and if so, how sturdy it was.
But mostly, we paid close attention to how well the pan performed when we deglazed it. Pans that don't conduct heat evenly can get hot spots and warp when placed directly over a flame or electric burner.
We found the materials to be important. Shiny stainless steel looks great but does not conduct or hold heat as well as anodized or even heavy-gauge aluminum.
Aluminum is a soft metal that breaks down over time, but it is an excellent conductor of heat. Some worry about unanodized aluminum reacting with the food, so we went to food science author Harold McGee to get the lowdown. "If you cook a wine- or tomato-based sauce for a prolonged period in an aluminum pan," he told us, "you will get metallic notes in your sauce. But it's fine for deglazing."
The clear winner was the Calphalon pan, which we loved for its solidity, conductivity and versatility — it worked well in the oven and on the stovetop, and it could stand up to a good scouring at day's end.
Of the three stainless pans we tested, the expensive All-Clad, with its solid core of aluminum, performed best. The smaller Bauen-Pagoda Lasagna Pan, at one-fourth the price, is designed primarily for baking said pasta, but it held its own with a roast and on the stovetop. The Anolon pan was our least favorite: When deglazing, its raised center forced liquid around the lower edges, leaving the center of the pan dry and prone to buckling and burning. Finally, the inexpensive aluminum pan is an excellent alternative for those considering a disposable one.
One heavy-gauge aluminum pan that had caught our attention: the Mauviel Roasting Pan made for Williams-Sonoma. But a paper insert glued to the bottom of the pan proved to be unremovable, so we didn't include it in the test.
The Calphalon Classic Hard Anodized 16" Roaster is a 16- by 13-inch pan made of heavy-gauge anodized aluminum. It comes with a nonstick roasting rack, silicone bulb baster and two stainless-steel turkey lifters.
What's the difference: This is the heaviest and most solidly constructed pan. It has by far the best rack — sturdy and practically designed in the shape of a cradle with handles.
What we thought: The pan holds heat beautifully, yielding a chicken that was done to perfection. Easy-to-grip handles made moving this loaded pan in and out of the oven simple. A great pan for deglazing: no hot spots, warping or discoloration. Easy to clean with a sponge and warm soap and water.
How much: $70 at Crate & Barrel
All-Clad Roti Open Rectangular Roasting Pan, 16 by 13 inches. This heavy, solidly constructed pan sandwiches a core of aluminum between an 18/10 stainless steel cooking surface and a stainless steel exterior.
What's the difference: This pans wins the beauty contest, not too shiny, not too dull. It comes with a flat rack (no handles) and poultry lifters. It is the easiest to clean.
What we thought: As substantial as it should be, given its price tag. The handle-less rack makes it awkward to unload the chicken. Also, the handles on the pan get quite hot. When we deglazed there were hot spots, some discoloration and slight warping, although the pan flattened back out again when it cooled, and the discoloration disappeared with cleaning.