What’s the difference between roasting pans and baking pans?

The difference between roasting pans and baking pans may seem subtle. They essentially do the same thing in that they cook things in the oven but once you take a look a the real differences between the two, you realise that there is more to it than meets the eye.

Let’s start with the main differences. These include:

  • the strength and thickness of the pan
  • the depth and size of the pan
  • the capacity

We’ll take a look at this in a little more detail below, but let’s take a quick look at the definition of each of these pieces of cookware first.

What is a Roasting Pan?

A roasting pan is a piece of cookware that is made with high sides intended to roast larger pieces of meat and/or vegetables at high temperatures for extended periods of time.

An example of a roasting pan – you can purchase this one from Amazon here.

What is a Baking Pan?

A baking pan is a piece of cookware that lets you create a different range of dishes where you can slowly bake meals at lower temperatures. This means the perfect lasagna, casserole, and all kinds of hearty family meals.

An example of a baking pan with lid. You can purchase this from Amazon here.

So, what’s the difference between the two?

All families can benefit from adding a roasting pan to their arsenal in the kitchen. You might think that they are only suitable for special occasions and family gatherings. But, they also take the stress out of some comforting meals for weekend feasts. There are some big differences in the structure and materials of roasting pans compared to baking pans that make them ideal for these big family meals.

Roasting pans are usually made of metal, with strong, durable walls and bottoms that will handle the heat. This can vary between heavy-duty cast iron pans to stainless steel and more lightweight aluminum. Your choice can depend on how often you use the dish, your intended purpose, and your budget. With the right coating, they may also be easy to clean when you have those juices stuck to the bottom.

These pans also have higher walls than baking pans in order to lock in the heat and provide the best result. You want to roast at higher temperatures to get that crispy brown skin on your Thanksgiving turkey. Higher walls, around 2.5 to 3 inches (and more) trap that heat in for a more reliable process. They are used at higher temperatures.

The Mr Captain Roasting Pan shows the measurements in the image below. You can see the high sides.

Mr Captain roasting pan

Now, let’s take a look at capacity. Roasting pans, in general, will be much larger than baking pans. They have to be large enough to hold an entire bird if you require it as well as some roast vegetables.

Also, the size and the weight of the pan means you will often see handles at the sides for ease of use. Baking pans are not typically made with handles.

The Cuisinart roasting pan shown below is the one I personally own. You can get this pan from Amazon here. You can see the handles in this one and believe me, it needs them. This is a beautiful but heavy duty roasting pan.

cuisinart roasting pan

You will also find that many roasting pans will come with a rack as you can see in the Cuisinsart one above. This is not something you will usually see with a baking pan. These racks can make all the difference when creating delicious family meals so even if you don’t use them all the time, it is nice to have the option.

Roasting racks let the meat sit above the bottom of the pan. You can lay your chosen produce there, whether it is that whole bird or a good rack of ribs, and baste it. As the meat roasts, juices will drip down into the space below.

This design means that you can make the most of these juices in your meals. They don’t have to be useful by-products that you need to scrub out of the pan at the end of the day.

First of all, you can let these juices seep into the vegetables or potatoes below. This is great if you have a house full of meat-eaters and really want to enhance the flavors. Obviously, this all-in-one-pan approach is best avoided if you have vegetarians at the dinner table

Secondly, you can use any juices that collect here to make gravy. Instant gravy granules are fine in a rush, but they don’t offer the intensity and realism that you get from pan gravy.

What makes baking pans so different to roasting pans?

Baking pans are different to roasting pans because they:

  • are made from other materials
  • they are much more shallow
  • they often have lids
  • you can transfer them to the refrigerator with ease

Baking dishes are usually made from glass, ceramic, or alternative shatter-proof materials like Pyrex. Transparent glass dishes are great for keeping an eye on your food as it cooks. Ceramic ones can allow for even heat and are much prettier to look at when placed on the dinner table.

Here’s an example of a set of baking pans. You can get this set from Amazon here.

And here’s an example of a ceramic baking pan.

ceramic baking pan

The shapes and sizes also differ to roasting pans. They have lower walls at no more than 2 inches high, as this is far more beneficial for baking at those lower temperatures and longer periods.

They also come in different sizes so you can get them to suit your needs. Single people cooking for one aren’t always inclined to make meals that involved baking like this. They may feel that they need to make far too much for it to be worth their while. But smaller dishes can make a difference and open up a world of new culinary ideas.

Furthermore, there is the opportunity to transfer these dishes to the refrigerator. You can make a big family meal and put the dish in the fridge for leftovers. Ideally, they will have a matching lid to keep the meals fresher for longer, but you can always cover them over with food wrap.

Can you use roasting pans and baking pans interchangeably?

Yes, if you need to create a roast dinner but only have a baking pan, you could still create a great meal. Similarly, you could bake something in a roasting pan if you have no better option.

If you need to use a roasting pan instead of a baking pan, but don’t have a lid, you can improvise with foil. Just remember that the difference in heat retention will affect the way that the meals cook. So, you may have to adjust the temperature of the oven.

With that said, it is better to use the right tool for the job where you can. Invest in two great pieces and have both at home ready for the right meal. You will get a better result roasting a bird or piece of beef in a roasting tin than you will in a baking pan.

Also, you are more likely to get that nice slow, even cook for a lasagna or pasta bake in your baking pan. Take your time to find a roasting pan with the right depth and materials for perfect roast dinners – preferably with the roasting rack as part of the package. Also, find the ideal baking pan for your need that is suitable for both the oven and the refrigerator. Don’t choose between the two when both are so helpful.