Roasting pan vs. baking pan: Which one do you need?

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Are you confused about the difference between a roasting pan vs. a baking pan? Or a roasting pan vs. a baking sheet? What if you don’t have a roasting pan? Read on to learn the pros and cons of roasting pans vs. baking pans to figure out which is best for you.

A roasting pan next to a baking tray with a rack in itPin

Roasting is one of the oldest known forms of cooking. Today, we’re no longer putting meat on a stick and holding it in front of a fire to cook (unless you’re camping or open-fire grilling in the backyard). 

Instead, we have a lot of new cooking gadgets to choose from, including different roasting pans for achieving the perfectly crispy bird and golden roasted potatoes. 

All of these options can be confusing.

What is the difference between a roasting pan and a baking pan?

Let’s dive in to learn how these baking tools work to help you decide which you should get.

What is a roasting pan?

A roasting pan is a large, thick, oven-safe metal pan with tall walls. They’re designed to roast large pieces of meat, poultry, and vegetables. 

Roasting pans usually come with a rack, which elevates the food above the base of the pan. This is helpful to increase air circulation, especially at the bottom of the food where it’s closest to the base of the pan. 

Using a rack ensures even cooking. It gives the skin a chance to get golden and crisp from dry heat, instead of sitting in the pan drippings.

Although they can come in different sizes and shapes, the most common roasting pan size is a rectangular shape and 16 inches / 40 cm long.

I have this Cuisinart roasting pan and enjoy using it for holiday roasting.

Pros of a roasting pan

  • Thicker and heavy-bottomed: Better for searing before roasting.
  • Heavy duty: A solid roasting pan can fit a lot more food than a thinner baking tray.
  • Heat it directly on the stove: After baking the bird, Alex likes to heat the pan drippings to make gravy. He can heat the roasting pan directly on the stove to deglaze the pan.
  • Looks more impressive: Let’s be honest. When we invite guests over dinner, we’re hoping to deliver a WOW factor. The roasting pan looks better than a baking tray + rack set up. 
  • Tall walls: Compared to a rimmed baking sheet, the taller walls in a roasting pan are less likely to spill liquids and pan drippings. Tall walls also make it possible to add vegetables under the rack so they can roast in the pan drippings. 
  • Huge: Usually much larger than a baking pan, you can use the big, spacious roasting pan for making large casseroles. Cooking big vegetables like winter squashes is no problem.
1 chicken in a baking pan and 2 chickens in a roasting panPin
The roasting pan can fit a lot more food.

Cons of a roasting pan

  • Tall walls trap moisture: Instead of dry heat, food can steam from the trapped moisture, leading to soggy skin and limp roasted vegetables.
  • Heavy: Because the roasting pan is heavier than a baking tray + rack, I have to ask Alex to maneuver it around the kitchen, especially if it’s filled with food.
  • Bulky: The roasting pan is too big and infrequently used to live in the kitchen. When it’s not Thanksgiving or Christmas, we pack it in its original box and store it in the basement.
  • Expensive: Roasting pans can be very expensive, especially copper pans and multi-clad high-end roasting pans. 

What’s a baking pan + rack?

Instead of buying a roasting pan, you can use a rimmed baking sheet (what you would use for baking chocolate chip cookies) or a cake pan (like a 13-inch / 33 cm rectangular cake pan) that you already own. 

An annotated image of a baking pan with a rackPin

Baking pans are usually shorter, smaller, and thinner than roasting pans (therefore, lighter and easier to move), come without handles, and can be made of different materials, including glass, ceramic, and metals. Baking sheets are often nonstick. 

Roasting pans are usually taller and thicker than a baking pan. It’s commonly made of stainless steel and can be heated directly on the stove. 

How do you transform a baking pan into a roasting rack? 

Combine a baking pan with an adjustable rack. You can assemble the rack into a V-shape that holds your meat, bird, and vegetables. 

This versatile set up only requires buying a rack because you’ve likely already got a rimmed baking sheet, casserole dish, or cake pan that’s large enough to use as a repurposed roasting pan. 

TIP: A cake pan with taller sides will be better to collect pan drippings and liquid. If you don’t expect a lot of moisture, you can get away with a rimmed baking sheet, which has shallower walls. 

A chicken sitting on a rack in a baking pan with kale underneathPin

Pros of a baking pan + rack

  • Lighter: It’s easier to put in and take out of the oven especially when filled with food.
  • More compact: We can collapse the rack and store the baking pan next to the oven.
  • Multi-purpose: You can use the baking pan for baking cakes and cookies. It’s not only dedicated to roasting meat and poultry. 
  • Cheaper: A baking pan + a rack is a much cheaper combination (about $40) than buying a no-frills roasting pan (starting at $60 and can go to several hundred dollars).
  • Better circulation: Elevated food cooks more evenly and crisps up thanks to better air circulation.
  • Get away with not trussing the legs and wings: When I ran out of kitchen twine, the angle of the rack held the chicken tightly such that I didn’t need to truss the bird. 
  • The rack is adjustable: Because I can adjust the angle of the rack using the notches, it’s offers flexibility. For smaller birds or a rack of lamb, I can set a steeper angle. When I have a bigger bird or a layer of vegetables, I can flatten the angle to better support the larger items. 
A rack opened at various anglesPin

Cons of a baking pan + rack

  • Size limitations: It’s less heavy duty than a roasting pan. It would struggle to hold a 25-pound turkey, unless you bought a huge baking pan and a very large rack. 
  • No riveted handles: It can be harder to move the pan because it doesn’t come with handles. Usually not a big deal. 

Do you need a roasting pan? 

When we first began roasting chickens, these factors were top of mind: 

  • Price: More affordable is better on Alex’s student budget 
  • Function: How easy is it to use? Multi-purpose is better 
  • Space: Smaller and more compact is better. 

When Alex and I lived in apartments and shared a home with 2 roommates/flatmates, money wasn’t free-flowing, and we had limited space. We didn’t entertain large crowds either. 

This made the cake pan + rack the best solution for us. 

If you’re just beginning to learn to roast, on a limited budget, moving frequently, live with a small kitchen, don’t roast frequently, or can’t handle a big, heavy-duty roasting pan, the baking pan + rack is the best solution. 

A chicken on a rack in a baking panPin

When we moved into our current home, we had more room than we’ve ever lived in since moving away from living with our parents. My generous mother-in-law gifted us this roasting pan as a housewarming gift to celebrate our first Thanksgiving in our new home.

Now we have a basement with plenty of room to store infrequently used kitchenware like a roasting pan. Plus, we are more likely to entertain guests and have family members join us for dinner and holidays, which means a bigger roasting pan helps.

If you’re not price sensitive, live with a bigger kitchen or have plenty of storage space, plan to do a lot of roasting, have a family (you’re not single or a couple), and can lift heavy things, then a roasting pan would be the best option for you.

NOTE: Even if you’re settling on a roasting pan, there’s no need to buy a super fancy pan unless you like it and have the money. Our Cuisinart roasting pan is on the lower-end in terms of price and it has all the features we care about. There are many review sites that rate it as their top pick.

What to look for in a roasting pan

Let’s assume you decided to get a roasting pan. Here are the minimum requirements in a roasting pan to look for: 

  • Designed for use on the stove: This is helpful to reheat the pan drippings to make gravy
  • Comes with a rack: For $70, it better come with a rack. Picking a model that contains a rack is one less thing to worry about.
  • Rack allows enough room for vegetables: The rack shouldn’t sit too low. You want sufficient room for roasting vegetables. 
  • Sturdy handles: You want riveted handles, not flimsy handles that will fall off when you have a heavy pan packed with a giant turkey and Brussel sprouts
  • Easy clean up: The roasting pan should be dishwasher safe.
  • Designed for high temperatures: Some roasting pans cannot be heated above 450 ºF/232 ºC. This restricts you from higher temperatures or broiling (which comes in handy if you want to quickly crisp up the skin before removing from the oven). 

I own this Cuisinart stainless steel roasting pan (affiliate link) and like it because it meets the above requirements without being too expensive. It’s also beautiful, not too heavy, and easy to clean.

An annotated image of a roasting pan pointing out featuresPin

TIP: If you’re just looking for a rack for a baking pan + rack set up, the only thing I would consider is whether the rack fits in your existing baking pans and casserole dishes. Pick one with adjustable notches so the rack can open to different angles and fold flat for storage.

What to do if you don’t have a roasting pan? 

Use a cake pan or rimmed baking sheet with a cooling rack like what you use for baking and cooling cake and cookies (affiliate links).

If you don’t have a cooling rack, you can use balled up aluminum/aluminium foil as a workaround. Make scrunch up the foil into 1-inch/2 cm balls and place on the baking tray. Set the chicken on top of the balls to keep the bird lifted from the base of the pan. 

NOTE: Some people recommend creating a layer of vegetables like potatoes and carrots to set the bird on for roasting if you don’t have a rack. I don’t love this method because the vegetables release steam, which leaves the bird’s skin that’s sitting on the veggies soggy. That’s why I prefer using balled up foil, which allows better air circulation. But if you’re not picky, then setting the bird on the mirepoix vegetables is convenient and less work. 

READ NEXT: The Beginner’s Guide to a Tender, Juicy Braise

Anna looking down chopping vegetables
About Anna Rider

Hi! I'm Anna, a food writer who documents kitchen experiments on with the help of my physicist and taste-testing husband, Alex. I have an insatiable appetite for noodles 🍜 and believe in "improv cooking".

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