Roasting is a dry heat cooking method that uses hot air to surround food to cook it. Roasting results in a brown and caramelized exterior with a moist interior.
Roasting most commonly takes place in an oven but can also be done over a flame (spit roasting).
Vegetables and meats particularly lend themselves well to being roasted. Caramelization adds to their natural flavors and creates that delicious umami taste.
At a Glance
Two types of roasting
High temp roasting
High temp roasting is good for things like vegetables, chicken, or fruit.
Using a high temperature ensures browning occurs before the food gets overcooked.
High temp roasting uses temperatures 400°F and above.
Low temp roasting
Low temp roasting is good for things like large and/or tough cuts of meat with lots of connective tissue and/or bones. Things like pork roasts or beef roasts work well with a lower cooking temperature.
A lower temperature allows the food to properly and evenly cook internally without burning the outside.
Low temp roasting uses temperatures 350°F and below.
Using the right temperature
Are these hard-and-fast rules? No. Definitely not. Use these as a guide to help you understand how food cooks when roasted.
For example. If you are roasting vegetables and you notice that they are getting brown really fast but aren’t tender yet, turn the oven down. Or cover them with foil.
The opposite is also true. For example, if you are cooking a beef tenderloin and the temperature is almost perfect internally but you want to see a little more color on the outside turn the oven up.
A lot of chef’s swear by roasting large cuts of meat by starting with a really high temperature and turning it down as soon as the meat actually goes in the oven. The idea behind this is that the initial high temperature of the oven will start the browning process and give you a really nice crust, and as the oven cools off a little bit, the lower oven temp will continue the cooking process in a gentle way.
Experiment and know that a lower temp means it will take longer to cook and to brown and a higher temp means it will take less time to cook and to brown.
Also keep in mind that all ovens are different. Some run hot, some run cool. Ovens have hot spots too. I highly suggest getting an oven thermometer. Just so you know exactly where your oven is at.
Key Elements to Roasting
Use oil or fat
Fat helps protect your food from drying out, promotes browning, and helps contribute to the overall flavor.
Use a higher smoke point oil to make sure that your oil or fat does not burn. Olive oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, or avocado oil are all great choices. The 50/50 oil blend from this post here, is an excellent option for roasting.
You can use butter for foods with a little more moisture like meat. Or for veggies, you can make a mix of melted butter and a higher smoke point oil for the best of both worlds.
Too much Moisture will prevent browning
In order for browning to occur (also called the Maillard reaction) there needs to be some moisture, but if there is too much, browning will take longer to occur. The extra moisture will need to evaporate before the browning takes place. Which means you can overcook your food before you get any browning.
Pat meat dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels before coating in oil and seasoning.
Give your veggies plenty of space to prevent them from steaming.
Give your food space.
Remember that roasting utilizes hot air to cook food. So give your food space to maximize air flow. This means for vegetables give each piece space between each other. It doesn’t have to be a lot.
If you pile on a ton of veggies onto one sheet pan, the veggies on the bottom will steam which prevents any of them from browning. Remember that too much moisture gets in the way of browning.
When cooking meat, it is often helpful (but not necessary) to place them on a cooling rack placed on top of your sheet pan. The cooling rack elevates the meat so that air can flow evenly around the meat, helping it to brown more evenly and to cook more evenly. It also helps prevent your meat from steaming. Similarly you can also place your meat on top of aromatic vegetables to get a similar, but not as effective, result.
Another way to promote browning and caramelization is to utilize the surface area of your food. This works particularly well with vegetables.
While air flow is key to help food cook evenly, another type of heat transfer can also take place. The hot air from the oven heats up the sheet pan which cooks food through conduction (direct contact). So whatever is making contact with the sheet pan will cook through conduction and more importantly, brown.
When I roast vegetables specifically, I put the largest cut side down on the sheet pan. The larger surface area means more delicious browning.
Roasting is a great way to evenly cook food. Because food is cooked through hot air rather than a direct heat source, your food will cook more gently and evenly. And roasting also produces great flavor through the browning and caramelization that occurs.
Roasting is a great companion to other dry heat cooking methods
Roasting is a great companion to grilling, frying, and sautéing. These methods use a more direct heat to cook and brown foods. If you are cooking anything one of those ways and you notice their is a lot of color happening but the middle isn’t finished cooking, throw it in the oven on a cooling rack set over a sheet pan to help finish the rest of the cooking process.
That way your food doesn’t over cook or dry out to get too brown.
The oven will gently finish the cooking process without contributing too much more color.
An oven temp around 350°F is perfect for this. Not too hot but hot enough to quickly finish cooking your food.
Utilizing a cooling rack over a sheet pan also allows for maximum air flow around the food so you don’t lose any of the great caramelizing and crust that you just formed.
Roasting is a great hands off cooking method
All the magic happens in the oven, which means there is very little babysitting involved. You still need to keep on eye things but this method is great if you are cooking other things that require a little more attention.
In fact is it often better if you let the oven do its thing. The more you open the oven door the cooler the temperature of the oven becomes. Meaning that your food is going to take longer to cook.
Is roasting the same as baking?
Baking actually changes the structure of what’s being baked. Bread, cookies, brownies, etc… undergo a process that changes their final form. So while both methods utilize hot air from an oven, the main difference comes down to how the food is transformed.
Baking actually changes the structure of the food being baked (bread dough turns into actual bread) where roasting cooks and browns foods.
Is Roasting the same as Toasting?
Essentially they are but the biggest difference is the pretense of oil or fat. When toasting foods like nuts, flour, panic bread crumbs, coconut etc… you do not want to use oil.
There are several reasons for this. When it comes to toasting nuts in the oven, nuts already have plenty of natural oil in them. Adding more oil wouldn’t contribute to the flavor or browning it may actually brown them faster and could even burn them. Nuts will just absorb that extra oil too and become soggy. No one likes soggy nuts… 😂
For things like flour, panko bread crumbs or coconut, you are going to be adding these ingredients to other things. Adding oil to them would make them soggy, alter their taste, and texture. So by dry toasting them you get color and extra flavor without any negative side effects.
Do you roast a Sunday roast?
While a Sunday roast has roast in them name, the method traditionally used is a braise. It’s a combination cooking method that utilizes both a dry heat cooking method (typically sauté) to brown the meat first and then a wet heat cooking method to finish the job in a very gentle way. The result is a flavorful, tender product.
Unexpected things you can roast
I love to roast butternut squash, tomatoes, and broccoli before turning them into a soup. Roasted broccoli and cheddar soup is delicious!
Roasting fruit is a great way to caramelize the natural sugars found in fruit. Roasted strawberries on top of ice cream is delicious. If you want to get crazy, also add a really good aged balsamic on top.
Most vegetables are absolutely delicious roasted. Some unexpected vegetables that are delicious roasted are radishes, fennel, and parsnips.
Keep in mind that roasting is meant to brown and caramelize foods. It’s a great way to add extra flavor and enhance the natural flavors of foods while gentle cooking it. This gives you time to focus on other tasks in the kitchen without having to babysit
Roasting is also a great cooking method that requires very little babysitting. You can set your food in the oven and let it do it’s thing. In fact it’s often better if your food is left alone so it can properly brown.
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