What The Heck Is A Lisk Roaster?
A Lisk roaster is a vintage oven roaster that was manufactured by the Lisk company beginning near the turn of last century. It has achieved its iconic status because of its patented self-basting design that doesn’t require you to babysit your meal. With a Lisk roaster, you can reliably turn out moist, flavorful food with less shrinkage.
How Does A Lisk Roaster Work?
A Lisk roaster has a high, slightly concave dome lid with channels. As steam rises from your cooking food it condenses and follows the channels back down to the center of the roaster lid. The liquid then drips down on whatever you are cooking.
This self basting is significantly different from a regular vintage oven roaster where you have to periodically open the oven door, tilt the heavy pan and then either spoon the juices over a roast or use a turkey baster. Not to mention making your oven work harder everytime you open the door.
A Lisk roaster was HUGE for me when I first started baking turkeys. I never seemed to be able to baste them enough when I was running around making side dishes. Like magic, the basting was suddenly done.
A Lisk Roaster History
The Lisk Manufacturing Company was established in New York state in 1889 as a manufacturer of sheet metal items. The company grew briskly and in 1893 a patent for the predecessor of the Lisk roaster was filed.
In 1901 Lisk merged with McLaughline-Martin-Parkhurst, a company that produced enamelware. Lisk subsequently introduced its gray enamelware sanitary roaster, complete with a 10 year warranty, in 1905.
The company’s enamelware capabilities were further bolstered by the Reed Manufacturing Company – Lisk’s management owned Reed stock.
In 1911 Lisk filed the patent for its iconic vintage oven roaster. An aluminum version of the roaster was introduced in 1914.
Over the years Lisk’s fortunes waxed and waned including brushes with bankruptcy. In 1944 Lisk had its fortunes thrown in with Savory, a competitor that was known for its double walled roasters. Lisk eventually ceased making roasters.
Today G. W. Lisk is a global manufacturer of electronmagnetic products that operates an over 300,000 sqaure foot facility on the site of the original Lisk Manufacturing sheet metal factory.
I should note that these dates were confirmed in an excellent book by Lynda Hotra entitled “Better Quality – an Illustrated History of the Lisk Manufacturing Company”. My copy was published in 1987 via the Ontario County Historical Society. Here is the link for what seems like a cool organization. They even sell the items that are leaving their collection on Ebay.
A Vintage Oven Roaster By Other Names
The Lisk roaster wasn’t the only vintage oven roaster produced by Lisk. Lisk roasters were also branded with other names.
Lisk’s connection with Reed is why those two differently branded roasters look so similar.
Drip Top was another Lisk brand. Lisk roasters were not sold in national retail chains so Drip Top was distributed by the now defunct Montgomery Ward. I don’t know if Drip Top roasters were exclusive to Montgomery Ward or how long Montgomery Ward carried them, but they were in the company’s catalog in the 1920s.
Additionally there are roasters out there with the distinctive Lisk roaster lid stamping, but no branding. I cannot definitively say they are Lisk-made roasters, but they sure have a lot in common with the Drip Top Lisks.
Identifying a Lisk Roaster or Lisk-Type Vintage Oven Roaster
In the picture above are three roasters – Lisk, Drip Top, and the no-name Lisk-type roasters – side by side. I didn’t have a Reed when I shot the photos.
There are differences between the roasters and I have tried below to make some generalizations based on roasters I have seen. Disclaimer – with decades of Lisk roaster production there is no way I have seen all their models.
While all have high concave lids with the stamped channels, the Lisk and Reed roasters have vents. One vintage oven roaster will have two vents, another will have one.
I have never seen a Drip Top or unbranded Lisk-type oven roaster with vents.
The Lisk and Reed roasters I have seen have a base that is stamped with small circles within an oval ring. The Drip Top and unbranded Lisk-type roaster have a base that is defined by one shallow crease within that oval.
The Lisk and Reed roasters most often have horizontal banding on the sides of both the upper and lower parts of the roaster. The Drip Top and unbranded Lisk-type roasters do not.
The Lisk, Reed, and Drip Top roasters generally use two side handles rather than one top handle to lift the lid. The unbranded Lisk-type models I have seen have a centered, top handle and no side handles on the lid. The two handles on the base look like regular Lisk handles.
Lisk did make some of their large roasters with drop handles so that they could fit into tinier ovens. These roasters had one central handle on the lid like the unbranded models, but the handles on the base appeared to be able to lie flush to the side of the roaster.
Another difference is that Lisk and Reed roasters do not nest which requires more storage space. Both the Drip Top and unbranded Lisk-type roasters nest. With both of these vintage oven roaster types you can also further nest a smaller roaster inside a larger one, although not so it is completely level.
Lisk Roaster Colors
You most commonly see a Lisk roaster in a dark, graniteware-style, speckled cladding, This is true for Reed, Drip Top, and the Lisk-style unbranded roasters.
The Reed and Lisk roaster also came in other colors including gray, turquoise, and ivory.
Some of the Drip Top colors included ivory, a white lid with a black base, and a red lid with a black base.
I have only seen the non-branded, Lisk-type roaster in black speckled graniteware but that doesn’t mean more colors don’t exist.
Lisk roaster sizes
A Lisk roaster increasingly came in more sizes throughout the years and dimensions varied a bit based on handles and colors. In the late 1930s standard imperial blue Lisk and Drip Top roasters came in five sizes. The sizes were:
The 0 was 14 1/2″ long, 9 7/8″ wide and 6 3/4″ high. This roaster held five pounds of poultry or seven pounds of meat.
The 1 was 18″ long, 11 1/4″ wide, and 7 1/4″ high. It held 10 pounds of poultry or 12 pounds of meat.
The 2 was 18 3/4″ long, 12″ wide, and 7 7/8″ high. It held 12 pounds of poultry or 15 pounds of meat.
The 3 was 19 1/2″ long, 12 1/2″ wide and 8 1/4″ high. It held 16 pounds of poultry or 18 pounds of meat.
The 4 was 20 1/4″ long, 13 1/2P wide and 8 3/4″ high. It held 18 pounds of poultry or 20 pounds of meat.
The 5 was 21 1/8″ long, 14 3/8″ wide and 10 1/4″ high. It held 24 pounds of poultry or 30 pounds of meat.
Lisk Roaster Accessories
The Lisk roaster and its brethren came with multiple accessories, the most common of which was a removeable tray that allowed a cook to lift poultry or a roast out of the roaster. It also collected all the juices for easy gravy making.
One of the unusual Lisk roaster accessories was a bacon rack that clipped into the lid. The juices would evaporate, condense, run down the channels in the lid and then drop onto the item roasting below through the slices of bacon on the rack. Mmm, cholesterol.
The company also made a flat rack on feet that fit into the roaster and enabled two-tier cooking.
The Lisk Roaster And Chambers Stove Connection
Although a Lisk roaster is a self-basting machine for any cook who wants to turn out a great roast or turkey, it has a special place in the heart of a Chambers stove owner.
A Chambers stove is a vintage, super-insulated stove with the ability to cook with the gas turned off. Let’s say you are roasting a chicken. With a Chambers stove you put the bird in, turn on the gas for 20 to 30 minutes, then turn the gas off and let the chicken cook for two and half hours or more in the oven’s retained heat.
A Lisk roaster – or Reed, Drip Top, or unbranded Lisk style roaster – is a match made in heaven for the Chambers. When you are cooking on retained heat you don’t want to open the oven door so a Lisk-type self-basting capability is a huge boon. Supposedly the roasters were available through Chambers stove dealers.
There are a couple of vintage Chambers stove websites out there in case you are interested. Both have great, but different, types of information.
How To Clean A Lisk Roaster
I use an old-fashioned, eco-friendly method of cleaning an enamelware Lisk roaster. First I give it a good wash with Dawn dish detergent using a soft mesh sponge.
Then I take my super-sized kettle and fill it with a mix of 3 parts water to 1 part white vinegar. I heat the kettle on the stove to the point where the water is lightly steaming, but not boiling. Then I dunk one end of the Lisk roaster in the water, let it heat up which softens any gunky residue, then gently scrub at the gunk with my mesh sponge.
As soon as the Lisk roaster begins to cool down I have found that it is difficult to get anymore sludge off, so back it goes into the kettle. This is not a quick job. I dunk, heat and clean more times than I can count and anyone that has ever cleaned a Lisk roaster knows they are constantly finding spots they have missed. It’s kind of maddening.
Interestingly, one my friends did an experiment with Krud Kutter on a roaster that was beyond redemption. Krud Kutter is a supposedly non-toxic degreaser and he just loves the stuff. He thought that Krud Kutter cleaned a little faster when it came down to getting rid of softer gunk that he could scratch with his fingernail. However, only the warm vinegar and water method could move the really baked on stuff.
Lisk Roaster Online Buying Tips
While a Lisk, Reed, Drip Top or unbranded Lisk-type roaster may turn up at your local thrift store, they are more reliably available on Ebay.
Here at Penn Polly Vintage we periodically get them in stock so let us know what sizes of Lisk and Lisk-type roasters interest you.
Wherever you choose to find your Lisk roaster, here are some tips.
Make sure you are seeing the wear on the Lisk roaster
Be aware that a very dirty roaster can look good in a photograph because it has a homogeneously dull surface that evenly reflects the light. Basically it’s too dirty to show imperfections.
On a clean roaster you will see super shiny enamelware and, more than likely, some wear spots or bits of gunk that are islands in the middle of clean. Ironically, a shiny imperfection can be better if you want to see what you are getting.
Also ensure you can see all sides of a roaster. One picture is not enough!
Know where to look for vintage oven roaster wear
If you are buying a vintage Lisk roaster expect some signs of use. Enamel wear or chipping is usually located around what were points of stress during the roaster’s past decades of use.
Handles can be dinged and chipped. A lid may have been dented when it was pulled out of an oven. A vintage roaster oven base can be worn or scratched from when it was dragged out over oven racks.
There can be chips inside the bottom of a Lisk roaster from when an owner vigorously poked at their roast with a meat fork and missed. Another area of wear is often around the rims of the upper and lower lids when they were clanged together. You get the picture.
If you have any questions don’t feel shy. Maybe you are concerned about how a seller cleans their roasters. Maybe you want more pictures. Did they say whether the roaster sits flat? If they want to sell a roaster they will reply.
Hope this helps you get started on you Lisk roaster adventure!