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Roasting FAQ

November and December are big months for roasting. For the various holiday meals, both meats and vegetables are roasted for the feast. But what is roasting? And how does it differ from other ways of cooking in an oven? Read on to discover the answers to common questions about roasting.

Roasting FAQ

What is roasting?

Roasting is a low-maintenance cooking technique using dry heat. Hot air from the oven covers the food from all sides, cooking the food evenly. This is why roasting pans have a rack that lifts the food off the bottom of the pan so that the hot air can cook the bottom of the food. Depending on the food you’re preparing, you can slow roast at low, or more quickly with moderate or high temperatures.

According to Jessica Gavin, a certified culinary scientist and author of Easy Culinary Science, “Roasting food improves the texture of and deepens the flavor profile of what you’re cooking. It takes advantage of the natural sugars inside of food and gives them a sweeter, more concentrated taste.”

What is the difference between roasting and baking?

The terms roasting and baking are often used interchangeably, but they are subtly different. Roasting used to be done over an open flame, but more often than not, these days we roast in an oven. Here are the key differences between roasting and baking.

  • Food structure: You roast foods that are solid before you cook them. You bake foods that develop a solid structure during cooking. For example, you roast a chicken, but you bake a cake.
  • Temperature: Roasting usually uses a higher temperature (400°F and above) than baking (up to 375°F). This is because the higher temperature creates a browned, flavorful “crust” on the outside of the food.
  • Fat content: Roasted foods tend to have fat on the outer surface, whereas baked goods tend to have fat content throughout. For example, turkey has a fatty skin while muffins have fat throughout the batter.

One other difference, if you are baking meat or vegetable, it is usually covered, or at least doesn’t require turning over the food to cook the bottom. And, roasting is usually used on denser meats, such as beef, pork, and lamb, whereas softer or smaller cuts of meat, such as fish or chicken breasts are baked.

Of course, these are only guidelines. The two terms overlap quite a bit. “Some chefs distinguish between the two based on temperature,” says Danilo Alfaro of TheSpruceEats.com, “with roasting implying greater heat and thus faster and more pronounced browning than baking.” However, “Others may prefer to use the word ‘roasting’ specifically for meats, poultry, and vegetables, but use the term ‘baking’ for fish and other seafood.”

Is roasting the same as broiling?

No. When you are roasting, the heat comes from the bottom and the cooking process takes some time. Broiling is done quickly, with the heat coming from the top. The heat is also much higher with broiling.

Do you cover a roast in the oven?

In general, no. However, with smaller cuts of meat, you may need to cover it lightly with aluminum foil to prevent the meat from drying out. Basting is helpful at this point, as well, because it reintroduces the juices to the meat.

How do you roast meat?

Larger cuts of meat are ideal for roasting, whereas smaller cuts may dry out during the length of time it takes to roast. For example, the following taste great roasted:

  • Tenderloin (beef, lamb, or pork)
  • Ribeye (beef)
  • Tri-tip (beef)
  • Sirloin tip (beef)
  • Top Round (beef)
  • Shoulder (lamb or pork)

  • Lamb Rack/Chop
  • Leg (lamb or pork)
  • Pork Side or belly
  • Pork Butt roast
  • Whole bird (chicken, turkey, duck)

How do you roast vegetables?

Vegetables that are suitable for roasting are denser vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, as well as root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots. Some softer vegetables, such as tomatoes, can be roasted at lower temperatures, as well.

The basic way to roast vegetables is to toss them in some olive oil or brush them will butter and place them on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 degrees F. Times will vary depending on the vegetable. About halfway through the time, the vegetables need to be turned over to ensure even roasting. Nuts and seeds can also be roasted in much the same way.

Rules of Thumb:

  • When roasting multiple vegetables, make sure they are approximately the same size and density so you avoid some being overcooked and other being undercooked.
  • When denser vegetables, such as potatoes and squash, are done, their skin should pierce easily with the tip of a sharp blade.
  • When green vegetables, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, are done they should look toasty and brown in parts.

How do you retain moisture when roasting?

One reason why you want to use large cuts or whole birds is to retain moisture during the roasting process. But there are other ways to assure that your dish is juicy and moist.

  • Basting: This technique is used with birds. Using a spoon or baster, you take the drippings and pour them over the top of the meat. Keep in mind, you must remove your dish from the oven and close the oven door. Do not baste the meat in the oven with the door open. This will cause the oven temperature to drop, adding to the cooking time, and increasing the risk of uneven cooking.
  • Marinating: Let the meat sit in a blend of oil, vinegar, and herbs for a few hours. This infuses the cut with both flavor and extra moisture.
  • Barding: You wrap the cut in something high in fat, such as bacon. It seals in the moisture and adds additional flavor.
  • Brining: In the past, this was a technique used to preserve food. Now, soaking food in a saltwater mixture is making a comeback because it imparts flavor and tenderness before cooking.

Do you have another question about roasting?

If your question about roasting was not answered in this post, please post it in a comment below. I’ll either answer it in a future post or update this one with the answer.

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About the author

Carma Spence has been experimenting in the kitchen since she was four years old and loves trying out new recipe ideas. She is the author of Bonkers for Bundt Cakes and Your Perfect Pie, as well as author and contributor to several more non-food-related books. With Carma's Cookery, she is taking her passion for empowering people and blending it with her passion for cooking, gift-giving and entertaining.

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