Tumbleweed Deep Dish Chicken Cooker review:
Does This Vertical Chicken Roaster Step It Up?
Handsome, easy to use, and a real breeze to clean.
The design means you can’t easily retrieve the roasting juices from the pan, so gravy is pretty much out of the question.
This is a nice-looking pan that produces both really moist chicken and a sense of security for less experienced cooks. But a standard roasting pan gives similar results and makes it far easier to whip up pan sauces from the roasting juices.
Is beer can chicken good? That’s debatable, but the craze for it did open the door for all kinds of vertical roasters, from basic wire to French ceramic. North Carolina stoneware company Tumbleweed Pottery has its own spin, the Deep Dish Chicken Cooker. The idea here is that the central well (the one that looks kind of like the tube in an angel food pan) is a repository for flavor-giving liquid—in Tumbleweed’s reckoning (according to its website), that means beer or wine: “Also known as drunken chicken, beer can chicken in the [oven], beer-butt chicken, beer can chicken, and tipsy chicken; our Deep Dish Chicken Cookers use your favorite beers and wines to marinate a chicken from the inside out. You will be amazed at the robust flavor!” We decided to see if we’d find ourselves amazed.
The Deep Dish Chicken Cooker measures 11 1/2 inches in diameter and 3 1/2 inches high. It’s made of lead-free glazed stoneware and has a central, chimneylike tube that’s both a support for a whole chicken (it’s designed to slide into the cavity) and a well for holding aromatic liquid. The sides are high enough to hold a pretty large bird plus a couple of handfuls of aromatic vegetables (carrots, celery, onions) and potatoes. There’s a lip for pouring off liquid, and two handles to aid lugging (empty, the cooker weighs 4 pounds 4 ounces, so it can get heavy). Naturally, it’s oven safe. It can also handle the microwave, and it’s just fine in the dishwasher.
We cooked two chickens in the Tumbleweed. For the first test, we filled the central tube with white wine, a few sprigs each of thyme and rosemary, and a pinch of salt. We seasoned the chicken and rubbed it with olive oil, propped it up on the central tube, and scattered seasoned carrot chunks in the outer well. We followed the Chicken Cooker’s directions, plugging up the bird’s neck with foil, placing the cooker into a cold oven set at 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and cooking until the internal temperature of the chicken was 165 degrees Fahrenheit, about 1 1/2 hours.
Results: Very moist meat, though it had a steamed or poached texture. We had doubts about starting in a cold oven (a safeguard against the stoneware cracking), but it worked fine. As for the chicken’s skin, it was brown but not at all crispy. And the flesh didn’t have much flavor from the wine or herbs.
For the second test, we filled the tube with beer, salt, and a garlic clove. We seasoned the chicken and rubbed it with olive oil, propped it up on the tube, but left the outer well empty. We left the chicken’s neck open this time, placed the cooker in a cold oven set at 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and cooked until the internal temperature was 165 degrees Fahrenheit, about 1 1/2 hours.
Results: The meat turned out drier than in test 1—was it because we didn’t plug the neck cavity with foil? The skin, however, was browner, crispier, presumably because we left the outer well empty and had less steam during cooking. Again, the liquid and aromatics in the central tube didn’t communicate much flavor.
General stuff: Overall, the Deep Dish Chicken Cooker is easy to use and cooks pretty fast. It’s also a pretty good introduction to cooking whole chickens, since you don’t have to mess with the bird once it’s in the oven (the position of the chicken allows the skin to brown evenly, so you don't have to worry about flipping). Because the meat turns out very moist, this would be the perfect method for cooking chicken for salad. That said, we were frustrated that we couldn’t use the roasting juices that collected in the outer well—when we tried to pour them out, the liquid in the inner tube spilled out, too. You’d have to spoon the roasting juices out first, an enormous pain. Plus the carrots that roasted with the chicken in our first test ended up sad and shriveled, despite being just barely cooked through and ultimately flavorless. In the end, we’ll stick to our old-fashioned roasting pan.
Photos by Chris Rochelle