Some foods are best baked and others roasted or broiled. Here’s why.
The oven is one of the most versatile appliances in your kitchen, especially if you know how to use its various settings to get the perfect outcome every time. The three main functions of an oven are baking, roasting, and broiling, and it’s important to understand the difference between each cooking method for optimal results.
The main difference between the three types of cooking boils down to temperature—baking uses the lowest oven temps while broiling uses the highest. But there are many other factors that go into the decision to bake, roast, or broil, like the type of food you’re cooking and what texture and brownness you’re hoping to accomplish in the finished meal. Read on to learn all you need to know about these three cooking methods.
Baking uses the heating elements of your oven– on the bottom and top, and in the back of some models– to surround food with moderately hot air, usually from 300F to 375F. While food cooks more slowly at this lower temperature, it is able to develop flavor and structure without overcooking.
In a conventional oven, you may need to rotate your bake from time to time as the food closest to the heating elements will cook fastest. Convection ovens, on the other hand, use a fan to push air all around the oven, which is great for multi-rack baking or simply ensuring an even bake.
When Should You Bake?
Think of baking as the simplest task your oven can achieve without any particular bells or whistles. If you’re working with a batter or dough that needs to achieve structure as it cooks, baking is the best method to use– it’s why we call these “baked goods.”
Since baking uses a lower temperature, it helps food retain its natural moisture. Use it for foods that are prone to drying out as they cook, like thick cuts of meat that you can finish with a reverse sear, layered casserole dishes that need a consistent temperature to cook thoroughly, and baked pastas.
Roasting is simply baking at a higher temperature and uses the same top, bottom, and occasionally backside heating elements of the oven. When foods are roasted, they’ll develop flavor while achieving some surface browning or crisping. Foods that are best roasted usually already have a solid structure– they may even soften as they roast (think vegetables like carrots that go from hard and crunchy to soft and caramelized).
Roasting temperatures are typically 400F or higher. Just like with baking, it’s important to rotate foods as they roast for even cooking near the oven’s heated elements. Convection roasting eliminates the need to rotate your dish by fanning hot air around the oven for an all-over, consistent roasting temperature.
When Should You Roast?
Roasting is great for foods that have a solid structure when raw and foods that benefit from a browned or caramelized outer layer. Just as the term “baked goods” hints at their cooking method, roasts– whole cuts of bone-in meat like whole chickens, pork shoulder, turkey, or beef tenderloin– are also named for the best way to cook them.
The higher temperature helps to evenly cook the inner meat while crisping the outer skin. Potatoes, squash, and beets are great for roasting, as they soften inside with heat and brown on the surface. Easy dinners that combine tough vegetables and meat are also best roasted, whether on a Sheet Pan or in a Roasting Pan.
Broiling differs from baking and roasting in the method of heating it uses. Rather than producing all-over dry heat, the broil settings on the oven activate only the top heating element at extremely high temperatures around 500F to 550F. This top-down heating quickly sears or chars foods to create a crisped edge, browned cheese, or quickly browned skin. When broiling, move the top rack as close to the upper portion of the oven as possible and keep a close eye on the cooking process, as it happens very fast.
When Should You Broil?
Broiling is often employed after baking or roasting a food item as a way to develop quick browning without affecting the inner structure of the food. Thin-cut meats, like delicate fish, are a great candidate for broiling. It’s also used frequently to create a slightly charred, bubbly layer of browned cheese atop casseroles, cheesy pasta dishes, and pizzas. If you need to quickly toast bread, broil it but keep a close eye on it as it cooks.