Roasting at its core it is a slow, dry-heat cooking method that yields a crisp, browned exterior and a fully cooked interior. It is remarkably versatile, being used both for larger cuts of meat and for medleys of vegetables. Roasting delivers many of the comfort foods often associated with chilly nights: Think of a steaming roast chicken surrounded by roasted potatoes and other vegetables, brought out of the oven into a warm, fragrant kitchen.
The Difference Between Roasting and Baking
While roasting may appear similar to baking at first, these two oven-cooking methods have some distinct differences. The goals of roasting are to intensify the flavor of a single ingredient while also browning its surface. Baking, on the other hand, aims to unify the flavors of a mix of ingredients, and a crisp exterior is not the primary aim. More often than not, roasting refers to savory foods such as vegetables and meat, while baking generally refers to sweet and savory cakes, cookies, bread. When the baking term is used to refer to savory dishes, such as casseroles, it often implies that the food is cooked in a dish with a lid.
How Fats Help Roasted Foods Stay Moist
How a dry heat technique creates such moist bites has to do with the use of fats. Meats get occasional baths while roasting, whether basted with their own juices or having some additional fats or oils poured over the surface. This not only helps keep the flesh within the roast moist, but adds more crisp to the exterior.
Vegetables get their treatment before roasting: They’re coated with small amounts of oil and seasonings before being placed on a baking sheet. Then they’re cooked until crispy and golden on the outside and soft and tender on the inside.
Whether for basting meat or coating vegetables, neutral oils such as avocado, sunflower, and safflower are all great choices, followed by olive oil (for temperatures up to 400 F) or ghee, a form of clarified butter (for temperatures up to 480 F).
Ready to roast? Here are 5 essential tips for successful roasting:
1. Prep and preheat your oven the right way.
First off, make sure you know how hot (or not so hot) your oven runs. This means you need to calibrate its temperature. Invest in an oven thermometer to see what your oven’s real temperature is and adjust to hit your recipe’s target roasting temp.
Second, get your racks in the right spot before preheating. While most meats are roasted on the middle rack, depending on the size, you may need to lower the rack to accommodate larger cuts. When roasting vegetables, lowering the oven rack so that the tray is in the lower 1/3 of the oven may improve the crispiness of the food.
Finally, don’t cut corners when it comes to preheating the oven. Reaching the high temps roasting requires may take some time, so plan ahead and don’t rush it. While it may not be critical for roasting a sheet of vegetables, it’s crucial that the oven is plenty hot for roasting meats.
2. Prep and place your vegetables properly.
The key to crisp-on-the-outside, pillowy-soft-on-the-inside roasted vegetables is prep and placement on the pan. During prep, cut vegetables into uniform shapes and sizes to ensure even cooking. Avoid overcrowding the pieces on your sheet pan and make sure you cook them in a single layer. This allows steam to escape away from the pieces and keep the heat dry—crucial to that crispy, pillowy texture. Finally, for a more even cook and consistent browning, plan to pull the sheet out of the oven halfway through cooking and give the pieces a flip and return the pan rotated 180 degrees.
3. Bring meats to room temp before roasting.
The goal here is to take the chill of the refrigerator out of your meat’s surface temperature so it can brown better and develop a thicker (aka more delicious) crust. Which means giving your meat up to 60 minutes (depending on the size of the cut) on the counter before going into the oven.
4. Get a meat thermometer—and use it.
This one small investment in a meat thermometer will take all the stress out of every roast you make. While smaller cuts are fairly easy to examine visually for doneness, larger cuts of meat require a meat thermometer to determine the precise temperature of the interior. This is important both for food safety and for ensuring your roast is done to your preference, from rare to well-done.
5. Rest your roast.
Since meat continues to cook for up to 20 minutes after being removed from the oven, you want to take the meat out of the oven before reaching the desired cooking temperature and then let it “rest” at room temperature, a period that allows natural juices to reabsorb into the flesh and create juicier bites for all. Unfortunately, there’s no hard rule for how many degrees below your target temp to pull your roast, so experiment by starting out pretty close to the target and see how much the temperature rises during resting. Tent larger cuts of meat by covering them with foil, and allow them to rest at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before serving.