The Versatile Electric Roaster…(more than just a turkey roaster)

by admin on October 10, 2013

An electric roaster is one kitchen appliance that is often underestimated as to the potential it holds for the average cook and homemaker.  In fact, many people I know only use it once a year to roast the annual Thanksgiving turkey.  Oh, the possibilities they are missing!   An electric roaster has so many other uses making it a valuable tool.

What exactly is an electric roaster?    An electric roaster is a cooking device intended to work in a way that is similar to an oven, while also providing portability. These roasters are somewhat similar to a slow cooker in design and appearance, though much larger and often rectangular in shape.  Unlike a crockpot that is designed to cook at low temperatures, an electric roaster has a wide range of temperature settings, from zero to 550 degrees, that makes it very versatile.    The most common size is 18-quart but I also own a Rival 22-quart roaster which has a deeper cookwell than the standard 18-quart roasters.

Cookwells come in Teflon coated, porcelain coated or stainless steel.   I would not recommend purchasing a Teflon coated cookwell roaster as they have been reported to peel over time.   I’ve owned porcelain coated roasters for years and they do just fine.   Scrubbing them clean often requires an steel wool pad which ultimately damages the porcelain coating but you’ll get lots of use from it before the coating becomes too bad.   And typically porcelain cookwell roasters sell in the $30 range, particularly near the Autumn holidays.   You’ll find stacks of them in Wal-Mart starting in mid-October.    I have recently upgraded to stainless steel cookwell which is manufactured by only one company – Nesco.   The cost is considerable higher at $109 (Amazon) but the stainless cookwell will last for decades and if the roaster mechanically fails, I can replace it with a cheaper porcelain coated Nesco for less yet still use the stainless steel cookwell in the replacement roaster.

Regardless of which roaster you buy, be sure to read the instructions before using.  Most manufacturers strongly advise breaking in the new roaster before using by heating at the highest temperature (sans the cookwell and lid) for an hour.

Roasting.    As the name implies, roasters do roasting very well.   We have roasted our Thanksgiving turkey in the electric roaster every year for the past 15 years.    The turkey cooks faster in the roaster and is much juicer than oven cooked turkey.    Follow the link to Food.com’s instructions for how to roast the perfect turkey in your roaster.    Hams also do well in a roaster.

Oven.   When hosting a large gathering for a holiday meal, the dilemma of most cooks is that there isn’t enough oven space to cook all the side dishes.  Electric roaster to the rescue!   With the cookwell installed (you should never use your roaster without it), I have baked large side dishes such as green bean casserole, loaded mashed potato casserole and stuffing in roasters with great success.    Several years ago we hosted the entire family for Thanksgiving dinner which totaled 21 people. The turkey went into one roaster, green bean casserole in another and the stuffing in a third with the temperature set as if baking in the oven.    I placed the food in disposable, large foil pans which were simply placed in the cookwell.    The actual oven was used for other sides like rolls, sweet potato casserole.     Because each roaster uses a lot of electricity, you will need to plug them into separate areas otherwise you risk popping the circuit breaker.

Crockpot.  Whatever you cook in a crockpot, can be tripled and quadrupled in a roaster.  Just be sure to buy one that allows you to set a low temperature.   Crockpots may vary but generally, the LOW setting is about 200 degrees F. and the HIGH setting is about 300 degrees F so set your roaster temps accordingly.    I have made Caramelized Onion Pot Roast, Chili Con Carne, spaghetti sauce in mine.

Canning. An 18-quart electric roaster is indispensable for canning applesauce.    My roaster can hold a half bushel of peeled and cored apple slices and has yielded 12 quarts of canned applesauce from one batch.   Most recently I bought 20 pounds of MacIntosh apples which Tim peeled and I cored.   Twenty pounds of apples only filled the roaster halfway and yielded 10 pints of applesauce.   I cook the apples with about 1/2 cup water in the bottom to prevent early scorching, at 225 for about 2 hours.   When the apples are mushy, I use my stick blender to convert it into applesauce, adding cinnamon to taste.   I prep my canning jars and ladle the sauce into the jars, seal them and water bath can them.    Canning applesauce in large of quantity means you need to decide to peel and core the apples ahead of time or use a food mill after cooking to separate out peel, core and seeds.  We prefer to peel and core ahead of cooking and we use a Lehman’s Reading 78 Apple Peeler.   Yes, it is quite expensive but it is cast iron, American made, works wonderfully well and will last for decades.   Tim loves the engineering of the peeler and once he gets in the groove, he has been known to peel an entire bushel of apples in 15 minutes.   Worth every penny, in my opinion.    I follow up coring and slicing the apples using a Slicer/Corer.

Chafer.   Roasters set on a lower temperature, such as 200 degrees F, make great chafers to keep buffet food hot.  I have used a roaster to keep gallons of Swedish Meatballs, BBQ meatballs, pork BBQ, beef BBQ, spaghetti sauce heated at a safe serving temperature.   Nesco even makes a three section serving accessory for their roasters.    I’ve taken frozen Swedish meatballs that I had prepped earlier, put them in the roaster with some water in the cookwell to prevent scorching and heated them to serving temp for many wedding receptions.    The possibilities are endless.

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