Why a Lisk Roaster Is A Great Vintage Oven Roaster

November 13th, 2010

lisk roaster
A Lisk roaster can make your roasting tasks easier. Read on to learn about Lisk roaster history, identification, cleaning and online buying tips.

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.

lisk roaster drip top

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 base

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 nested

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.

Ask questions

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!

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    14 Responses

  1. RichardSaefke says:

    We just bought a drip top roaster from you. We have a white B model Chambers already, so roasts and ribs can’t do anything but “Get Juicier”. Thanks Your buy it now price was really reasonable. Richard & Gail

  2. Penn Polly Vintage says:

    Thanks Richard and Gail. I really appreciate your support! Your roasts are going to be the envy of your neighborhood.

  3. Larry says:

    Upon Moving a former tennant gave us a Granite Blue Lisk Roaster Approximatively 12″ x !8″
    with double vents, patented May 2,1911 What is it Worth?

  4. Ed Rollins says:

    The night before Easter, found this pan down stairs think it was my Mothers.Anyway booked marked this site fun reading about older items when you have them.doing a picnic ham over night in it.Not going to bast my meat if i did not read this was going to get up @ 4 and bast no i’m going to sleep.Happy Easter.

  5. Penn Polly Vintage says:

    Hi Ed. I’m glad you found your roaster. I hope your ham turns out well and Happy Easter!

  6. Penn Polly Vintage says:

    Hi Larry. Lisk roasters are similar to other collectibles in that their value really depends on the condition of the individual piece. The things I look at are the condition of the enamel and the location of any enamel wear spots. Other factors in a Lisk roaster’s value include its structural integrity, color and size.

    I have seen an immaculate Lisk fetch $100 but a banged up, dirty roaster with significant enamel loss will have very little value. So somewhere within that range.

  7. Jack says:

    I just acquired a set of three Lisk cookware,
    The Oven Roaster
    # 0
    # 5
    All three are in excellent if not new condition, are these of any value ??

  8. Penn Polly Vintage says:

    Hi Jack. This is one of those “how long is a piece of string” things. Without having the roasters in my hand it is hard to say. It depends on condition, whether they have their internal trays, how old, etc. They certainly have value but Lisk made so many variants over the years that the answer really is … it depends.

  9. Terry says:

    Hi! My husband rescued a Lisk roaster and a Reed roaster today and brought them home to me. I was very happy to get them! I really appreciate your hot water and vinegar tip! I think that the gunk on these have been there since the first time they were cooked in 100 years ago! LOL

    For the most part they are both in great shape, especially the Lisk, with the minor chipping you’d expect from a century’s work of cooking. I am wondering though, is it safe to cook in the Reed? The bottom of the roasting tray is missing a rather large chunk of the enamel cladding. I don’t know what material is under the cladding, and am a bit concerned.

    Thanks for your very informative site!

  10. Penn Polly Vintage says:

    Hi Terry and welcome! Unfortunately I am unable to definitively say what Reed used as the base metal in your specific roaster. I don’t know what roaster you own, plus companies can change their production formulas during a product’s lifetime.

    You do have options though if your concern is about direct, physical contact between the food and the uncovered metal. You could purchase a Lisk inner tray if you could find one that fit your particular Reed roaster. You could also use the old double layer aluminum foil trick with your roast sitting up on a rack.

    And if you don’t want to use the Reed, then I say proudly display it and use the Lisk. Hope that helps!

  11. Kristi Doubrava says:

    I bought a LISK roaster in an antique mall. It has two vents. I have read your collumn, but could not find out what the vents are for? Do you close both during roasting, or leave them open? Thank you,
    Kristi Doubrava, Ellsworth, KS

  12. Penn Polly Vintage says:

    Hi Kristi! Basically, Lisk roaster vents are for controlling moisture. How Lisk advised home chefs to use the vents reflected how the country used to cook. They said if you were cooking a roast you would keep the vents shut, then open them for the last 15 minutes to get a crust on the meat. Today, we tend to sear a roast first to hold in the juices during roasting. Just think of them as little steam vents and have some fun experimenting.

  13. SHackett says:

    I purchased a roaster at an estate sale over the weekend. While cleaning I figured the concave lid was from years of use but I also noticed the LISK imprint….so I googled to learn my $5 purchase was rough gem…what a surprise. I did the original cleaning with Dove and will use your process to restore the original luster. Thanks providing the history…slh

  14. Penn Polly Vintage says:

    Congratulations! That is an unusually excellent price on your find! The cleaning takes some time, but a lot of it is the roaster simmering in the vinegar bath to soften up the gunk. I do other things at the same time – wash dishes, dance around the kitchen, etc. :-)

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