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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 in size and shape they are more like a large roasting pan. They can include a removable cooking rack and a lid that can be fixed firmly to the roasting pan itself, with knobs that allow the cook to adjust cooking temperatures. An electric roaster is often used for large meals such as the American Thanksgiving dinner; this allows turkey to be cooked in the roaster and keeps an oven free for baking side dishes.
Also called an electric roasting pan, an electric roaster is a relatively small kitchen appliance that can be made by a number of different manufacturers and so can feature different options and design choices. These roasters will typically have heating elements either at the bottom of the appliance or around the sides. While both options work well enough for creating heat, they do not typically create the “all around” heat a traditional oven is able to produce with heating units at the top and bottom.
An electric roaster with bottom heating elements is often less expensive than some other models, but is more likely to steam foods than truly roast them. This is because an electric roaster is relatively small and when food like turkey, chicken, or pork is cooked in the roaster it releases juices during cooking. These juices evaporate due to heat and produce steam within the roaster, which is closed in with a lid, trapping the steam inside and cooking the food with the steam. Opening an electric roaster will typically release a great deal of heat, so the lid should remain on while food is being cooked.
While this can produce a juicy and tender piece of cooked meat, it can also prevent the meat from browning sufficiently. Electric roasters with heating elements around the sides can produce heat that is more similar to that created in an oven, but still has the potential to steam food rather than truly roast it. This can also be an advantage, however, since an electric roaster can be used to cook vegetables, rice, and bake bread through steaming rather than dry roasting. Many roasters will also include a removable piece of crockery, similar to a slow cooker, which can be removed to make cleaning easier.
I have lived in a lot of really run down apartments and an electric roaster is a great alternative to having a conventional oven. It is kind of like a microwave oven except it is bigger so you can fit bigger trays or bigger pieces of meat into them.
I used to have one that could fit a 20 pound turkey inside. I actually made an entire Thanksgiving feast using only an electric roaster and two hot plates. Pretty impressive huh?