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What can I use for a rack in a roasting pan?

Quick Answers

There are several options for improvising a rack in a roasting pan:

  • A cooling rack can fit nicely inside a roasting pan and act as a rack.
  • You can ball up aluminum foil into logs to create racks.
  • Chopsticks or skewers can be laid across the bottom of the pan in a grid pattern.
  • A vegetable steamer basket can sometimes fit in a roasting pan.
  • An overturned smaller pan can act as a rack in a larger roasting pan.

The key things to look for are raising the food off the bottom of the pan and allowing airflow underneath. This prevents steaming and allows the hot air to circulate under and around the food for even cooking and browning.

Why Use a Rack in a Roasting Pan?

There are a few key reasons why using some sort of rack in a roasting pan is recommended for roasting meats and vegetables:

Allows Airflow

Having a rack raises the food up off the bottom of the pan. This allows air to circulate under and all around the food for even cooking. The hot air will help brown and crisp the exterior of whatever you are roasting.

Prevents Steaming

Without a rack, the food is resting right on the pan bottom. Any juices or fats that are released during cooking will pool up underneath. This can cause steaming which makes the surface soggy instead of nicely browned.

Makes Basting Easier

With the food lifted up on a rack, it is easier to spoon pan juices up over top the meat or veggies for basting. The rack provides ample space to get a spoon or baster under the food.

Makes for Easier Transfer

Having the food raised up makes it easier to grasp and transfer out of the hot pan when the roasting is done. You can slide spatulas or tongs under the food without struggling to get leverage.

Prevents Sticking

The rack prevents the food from sticking to the pan bottom as it cooks. Especially with meats, the juices can cause it to stick and possibly burn if sitting directly on the metal.

Improvised Roasting Rack Options

If you don’t have an actual roasting rack, there are plenty of ways to improvise with items you likely have on hand:

Cooling Rack

A wire cooling rack makes a perfect impromptu roasting rack. Choose one that fits nicely inside your roasting pan with a little room to spare around the edges. The grid pattern allows full airflow.

Aluminum Foil Logs

Tear off sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil, fold them lengthwise several times, and roll into logs about 1-1.5 inches thick. Arrange the “logs” in a grid pattern in the bottom of the pan.

Chopsticks or Skewers

Lay chopsticks, bamboo skewers, or thin metal skewers across the pan bottom, spacing them about 1-2 inches apart to form a grid.

Steamer Basket

A vegetable or multi-purpose steamer basket can potentially fit inside a larger roasting pan. This won’t work for huge turkeys but can be a perfect rack for smaller meats or vegetables.

Overturned Smaller Pan

Flip a smaller baking pan over and place it in the center of your roasting pan. This can serve as an improvised rack, just be sure it is oven safe to the high roasting temps.

Tips for Using an Improvised Roasting Rack

When using a makeshift roasting rack, keep the following tips in mind:

– Make sure it is oven safe. Metal wire racks, grates, and pans should be fine but be wary of anything plastic or non-heat resistant.

– Raise up the food at least .5-1 inch off the pan bottom. You need ample space for air circulation.

– Make sure the rack is stable. If using skewers or chopsticks, a grid pattern helps keep them in place.

– Allow at least .5 inch of space around the edges inside the pan. Don’t let the improvised rack touch pan sides.

– Make the rack as close to the size of the food as possible. Lots of extra space defeats the purpose of heat circulation.

– Be careful when turning or removing food not to dislodge the makeshift rack pieces.

Best Materials for Improvising Roasting Racks

While you can certainly get creative with roasting rack materials, some work better than others:

Metal Cooling Racks

Metal wire cooling racks are naturally heat-resistant and provide the best air circulation. This is the most ideal improvised rack.

Aluminum Foil

Heavy duty foil that can be folded into thick logs is durable and won’t burn through. Easy to mold around any pan.

Metal or Bamboo Skewers

Thin skewers lifted the food just enough for airflow without taking up much pan space.

Heat-Resistant Silicone

Silicone steamer baskets or mats made to go in ovens can both work well.

Ceramic or Metal Pans

As long as they are oven safe to high heat, overturned smaller baking pans do the trick.

Foods Best Suited to Roasting on a Rack

While you can roast just about anything using an improvised rack, the following foods especially benefit:

Whole Chickens and Turkeys

Large poultry needs ample air circulation to fully cook through. The high oven heat also crisps the skin nicely.

Bone-in Chicken Pieces

The rack allows heat to get all around each piece for even cooking and broiling.

Beef/Pork Roasts

Keeping roasts up out of the drippings results in better browning of the exterior crust.

Sausages and Hot Dogs

Get an even charring/browning by raising sausages up on a rack.


For high-heat roasting, vegetables benefit from the drying rack effect.

Fish Fillets and Steaks

The hot air surrounds the delicate fish to cook it without steaming.

How to Roast on an Improvised Rack Step-by-Step

Want to use one of these improvised roasting racks? Follow these simple steps:

Step 1) Choose a roasting rack method from the list of options that will fit your pan. Gather the necessary materials.

Step 2) If needed, configure the materials such as rolling foil or arranging skewers.

Step 3) Place the improvised rack inside the roasting pan. Make sure it is centered with ample space around edges.

Step 4) Pat food dry and season it. Place the food to be roasted onto the center of the makeshift rack.

Step 5) Roast according to recipe directions, basting and turning food as needed per recipe instructions.

Step 6) Once cooked through, remove from oven and carefully lift food off the improvised rack.

Step 7) Tent food with foil and allow proper resting time before carving if necessary.

Step 8) Discard or reuse improvised rack materials as desired.

Choosing the Best Roasting Rack Option for Your Needs

Improvised Rack Best For Considerations
Cooling rack All-purpose roasting, large poultry May need to size appropriately for pan
Foil logs Any size pan or food Avoid if roasting at 500+ degrees F
Chopsticks/skewers Small to medium foods Not as stable for large roasts
Steamer basket Small to medium foods Match size basket to pan
Overturned metal pan Large roasts, whole poultry Ensure 2nd pan is oven safe

As you can see, the choice depends on your roasting pan size, what food you are cooking, and your temperature needs. Any of these simple, improvised racks will work in a pinch and prevent your food from cooking directly on the pan bottom.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use a baking sheet as a roasting rack?

An overturned baking sheet can potentially work, especially for larger roasts and poultry. Just ensure it is metal, oven safe to high temps, and fits nicely into your roasting pan.

What about balls of tinfoil instead of foil logs?

Balled up pieces of foil can work but may shift around more easily. Rolling logs keeps the shape intact better during roasting.

Does it matter what type of skewers I use?

Metal and bamboo skewers are best. Plastic or wood dowel skewers could potentially burn or melt under high roasting temperatures.

Can I roast without any rack in the pan?

You can, but the results will not be as good. The food is likely to stick, steam, and cook unevenly. The rack really improves air circulation and browning.

What if my rack doesn’t seem to fit the pan well?

You want the rack centered with at least 1/2 inch clearance on all sides. If needed, alter the rack size or shape to prevent the ends from touching pan sides.


Roasting on a rack is ideal for achieving tender, browned results whether cooking meat, poultry, fish, or veggies. While a wire rack is best, it’s easy to improvise one with cooling racks, skewers, foil, or steamer baskets. Allow air to properly circulate while preventing sticking and steaming. With minimal effort, these handy homemade racks let you roast deliciously even without specialty equipment. Next time your recipe calls for a roasting rack, use one of these simple tricks for improvising.