Roaster Ovens: Not Just for Thanksgiving Anymore

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Did you pick up an electric roaster oven to make your Thanksgiving turkey? If not, now’s the time to grab one on sale!

I have collected a whole family of them–one manufacturer, Nesco, makes roaster ovens in sizes ranging from 4-qt all the way up to 18-qt! They are certainly workhorses in my kitchen, especially in the summertime.

A 12-qt. roaster oven filled with spaghetti and meatballs. This is about 10 dinners' worth for a family of 4.
A 12-qt. roaster oven filled with spaghetti and meatballs. This is about 10 dinners’ worth for a family of 4.

Why are they so great in the summer? Because on a hot day, I can make a casserole without heating up my kitchen! I can take a roaster oven out to the back porch and cook out there if I want to. I can make a batch of spaghetti sauce or chili and let it simmer all afternoon. I can roast a chicken, using the convection feature to get it nice and brown on the outside and juicy on the inside.

Since we have an enclosed back porch, I leave my largest roaster oven there, on a table, year-round. It’s protected from the elements, is out of the way, and gets plenty of use as my summer oven.

My 12-qt. roaster does double duty as a breadbox. I keep a flat basket inside it with any bread we have. When I want to use this roaster for cooking, I simply remove the bread basket, wipe out the interior, and I’m ready to cook.

When we have parties or large family dinners, I use the roasters to keep the food at a safe temperature without drying it out. They’re great in a buffet line. When I hosted the Blue & Gold Dinners for the Cub Scouts, I used several of the roaster ovens that our parish center keeps on hand for special events.

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Just a few of the things I’ve cooked in a roaster oven:

If you can make it in a slow cooker, Dutch oven or casserole dish, you can make it in a roaster!

One member of a Yahoo email group dedicated to sharing recipes and tips for use with roaster ovens taught me a great trick: I line the sides of the roaster oven with raw lasagna noodles as I fill it with the ingredients for baked pasta dishes or other casseroles. The noodles will dry out and scorch a bit, but the edges of the casserole will not!

You can see the lasagna noodles lining the edge of the pan. This keeps the pasta from drying out as it cooks!
You can see the lasagna noodles lining the edge of the pan. This keeps the pasta from drying out as it cooks!

This is the time of year when you can get a roaster oven for a great price! I’ve seen them advertised for under $30. Nesco roasters are pricier than other brands, but you can still find them on sale right now.


    • You can either set a casserole dish on the rack in the roaster oven OR cook the food directly in there — depends on how big the oven is and how much food you’re cooking.


  1. I’d love to know how you baked ziti in the Nesco. My niece is having here engagement party soon and I’d like to bring ziti.


    • SUPER simple. Leave out the rack. Put the food directly into the baking insert. And here’s the trick: take some raw lasagna noodles and slide them down the side between the food and the side of the pan, on all 4 sides. Roaster ovens heat from the side, not the bottom. The noodles will keep your ziti from burning. If you want you can lightly cover with foil before putting the lid on. Bake as usual, or if you want it to take longer, bake at 225 for a few hours. The longer you’re going to cook it, the more al dente the pasta needs to be to start off.
      Congrats to your niece on her engagement. I hope you enjoy the ziti — stop back and tell me how it came out!


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