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Preparing for Holiday Cooking - All About Roasting Pans and Meat Probes

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

In the past twenty years, there have been significant changes in the design and function of ovens, all these changes were, of course, meant to be a benefit for the user. However, when it comes to cooking large roasts, especially turkey, many people are still roasting in an old-fashioned way rather than using the cooking modes and other technology in their ovens.

The Evolution of the Modern Oven

When appliance manufacturers held focus groups in the 90’s one of the main complaints from consumers was oven size. Overwhelmingly people wanted larger ovens for one reason only, so they could easily orchestrate the preparation of a Thanksgiving or other holiday feast. By the late 90's, the 30 inch wall oven had become a standard size, while range ovens offered even larger options.

In order to increase the capacity of ovens the other major change was concealing the bottom heating element in electric ovens underneath the steel plate of the oven floor. Not only did this increase oven capacity, it prevented foods placed lower in the oven from boiling over.

The most significant change in ovens was the addition of a Convection mode, known as the third element. This change was significant because the circulating heat of Convection changed how we could cook in an oven and significantly improved cooking results.

Why the Right Roasting Pan Makes a Difference

Turkey was traditionally cooked in a deep roasting pan in the Bake or Roast Mode using heat from the bottom and top heating elements. When the turkey sits directly on the pan, as the pan gets hot it begins to leech moisture from the turkey filling the pan with delicious juice but often leaving the turkey a bit dry. Also, turkey cooked in this manner requires frequent basting and a longer cooking time.

Methods such as brining (infusing the meat with liquid) or roasting in a bag were developed to counteract the drying effect of this style of roasting in the traditional mode and both methods are very effective.

If however, you decide to take a leap of faith and defy family tradition and cook your turkey using Convection then you will need a different type of roasting pan, and a whole new game plan because the turkey will cook much faster. However, using Convection will enable you to cook multiple side dishes in the oven while the turkey is resting and you are making the gravy and carving the bird. In my experience, it makes the entire process much easier.

In order to benefit from the circulating Convection heat, large roasts are best cooked on a rack with shallow sides, ensuring the roast cooks evenly. When the turkey is roasted in this manner the juice stays in the bird, the cooking time is faster and there is no need for basting.

Your biggest challenge will be finding a roasting pan with shallow sides. Some manufacturers have designed pans with a flared shallow edge but roasting pans are mostly at least 4” deep. Here are some options for creating a good roasting pan.

  • A V-rack is a great option to support the weight of the turkey and elevate it from the pan. The V-rack can be placed in any shallow-sided pan or even on a rimmed baking sheet.

A chicken with onions and herbs on a v-rack pan in a roasting rack.
Roasting a Bird in a V-Rack Pan
  • A cookie cooling rack placed in a rimmed baking pan works really well. Because the juice stays in the bird there is no risk of it overflowing with liquid. My only issue with these racks is that they can be hard to clean.

A cookie rack in a shallow baking pan
A Cookie Rack in a Shallow Baking Pan
  • Cookware stores or hardware stores sell a variety of useful racks to fit a variety of shallow-sided pans.

A Heritage Turkey on a Cookie rack in a Shallow Pan
A Heritage Turkey on a Cookie Rack in a Shallow Pan

I know you will be wondering if the juice stays in the bird and you are roasting on a rack how will you be able to capture enough liquid to make gravy? It’s a different process, but it is all explained in this recipe and the accompanying video, How to Cook Turkey in Convection.

Using the Oven Meat Probe

Because large roasts like turkey cook so much faster in Convection, oven meat probes are a great tool to use to avoid overcooking. The probe will ensure the turkey cooks to the programmed internal temperature but in order to do so, it must be inserted correctly.

  • Insert the meat probe into the thickest part of the breast making sure it doesn’t touch bone or that the tip is in an air pocket.

  • The internal temperature of a large roast like a turkey will rise as much as 20 degrees during the recommended resting period of 30 minutes. So a lower target internal temperature will yield the best results.

Inserting the meat probe in the turkey.
Inserting the Meat Probe

If your oven doesn’t have a meat probe, refer to the timing chart in this recipe and check for doneness with an instant-read thermometer or consider using a wireless meat probe.

In some ovens, the receptacle for the meat probe has stainless steel cover that must either be lifted or moved aside before inserting the probe. The User Guide may state not to preheat the oven for roasting so you won’t risk burning yourself by moving the cover when the oven is hot.

You will always achieve better results placing a roast in a hot oven and the receptacle cover can easily be moved aside with the blunt side of a knife. Just be sure to cover your hand with a kitchen towel to avoid touching the hot oven wall.

Oven Thermometers, Do I Need One?

Over the years I have met many people who have purchased an expensive new oven, and the first thing they do is buy a $10 oven thermometer to check the accuracy of the oven temperature. The problem with placing a thermometer in the oven is that it is impossible to place it in the same place as the sensor that controls the oven temperature. The reality is that while most ovens cook well, they all cook differently so there is always a familiarization process when cooking in a new oven.

In my experience people who had perfected baking in their old oven often have issues when getting used to a new oven: the oven size, cooking mode, rack position, and type of pan being used can all influence the results. Learning about the oven you are cooking in can make all the difference, so dig out the User Guide or go online and find it; a quick review may make all the difference.

Please check back for my next Blog Post that will cover preparing a delicious meatless Convection meal.

Your Convection Enthusiast, Larissa

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