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What Is Roasting?
Roasting is a dry-heat cooking technique that relies on air to transfer heat. Dry-heat cooking, unlike wet-heat cooking methods like braising, does not involve submerging the food in liquid, which gives successfully roasted food a brown, crispy exterior, and tender interior. Roasting is also different from grilling and stovetop cooking techniques, which put one side of the food in contact with a very hot grill or pan, in that all sides of the food are exposed to the heat source.
Though roasting traditionally took place over an open fire, it’s now typically done in the oven, or even a convection oven, which uses a fan to push hot air around the food. Oven-roasting is relatively hands-off, making it ideal for foods that benefit from prolonged cooking.
What Foods Can You Roast?
- Large meats and poultry. When you think roast, large cuts of meat—whole chickens or turkeys, ham, rib roast, beef tenderloin—probably come to mind. That’s not just because big cuts of meat are unwieldy on the stovetop (they are!) but because they would also take forever to cook. The ability to cook things in the oven at a moderate temperature for long amounts of time is ideal for tougher cuts like pork shoulder, which only become tender once their connective tissue has turned into gelatin. Don’t roast thinner, less fatty cuts of meat such as boneless skinless chicken breasts, since they’ll probably dry out.
- Veggies. Roasting is also great for caramelizing vegetables. Hearty vegetables—beets, carrots, potatoes, winter squash, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, zucchini, turnips, and parsnips to name a few—tossed in olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper make for a delicious and easy side dish or a vegan main.
Roasting vs. Baking: What’s the Difference?
Hundreds of years ago, roasting referred to food cooked over an open fire, while baking referred to food cooked in an oven, or in a baking dish under coals. Now that both roasting and baking happens in the oven, the words are often used interchangeably. Most cooks, however, distinguish between the two techniques in a few ways:
- Foods that get roasted, such as chicken or vegetables, typically have a solid structure before they go in the oven. Foods that are baked, such as cakes or soufflés, often start out as liquids and then become solid during baking.
- Roasting generally refers to foods that are cooked at 400°F or higher temperatures, but that’s not always the case: Foods can be slow-roasted at lower temperatures.
- Roasting can also refer to foods cooked over an open flame, such as a spit-roast, or roasted marshmallows.
- Baking refers to baked goods and sweets, whereas roasting usually refers to savory foods.
- If baking is used for savory foods, it often applies to foods that are covered, such as salt-baked fish, or casseroles.
There are definite exceptions to the rule, so don’t sweat it if you mix the two up—it’s really up to the cook.
How to Roast: 7 Tips to Ensuring Roasting Perfection
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- Bring food to room temperature before roasting: Tempering food is a simple but critical step that involves bringing an ingredient to room temperature prior to cooking so that it cooks more evenly. Tempering is important with most proteins, but especially when oven roasting large cuts of meat, because it will allow the meat to cook evenly and more efficiently. By tempering, you are ensuring that the meat will have an even temperature gradient from the middle to the edges. A properly tempered piece of meat should be room temperature throughout. In some cases, such as with large cuts of meat, you may need a thermometer to confirm that the inside has been properly tempered.
- Calibrate the oven: Put an oven thermometer in your oven, turn your oven on, and when it’s fully heated, check that the reading on the thermometer is the same as your oven thermometer. If your oven isn’t calibrated, call a professional to adjust it, or get an infrared thermometer to measure your actual oven temperature so that you can achieve the correct temperature (even if the oven dial is incorrect).
- Think about your tools: Your roasting pan or baking sheet will shield meat or vegetables from the heat source, so if you want foods to be evenly cooked, you’ll need rotate and flip during the roast, at least once. Other ways to slow down cooking include placing aluminum foil over the breast of a whole chicken, for example, or basting the skin with room-temperature liquid. Another handy tool? A meat thermometer or digital instant read thermometer to check a roast’s internal temperature, which is the most accurate way to test for doneness.
- Know your cuts: When roasting whole chickens, turkeys, or other birds, keep in mind that the different types of meat—white and dark—are best cooked to different temperatures. You can work around this by positioning different parts of the bird toward hotter or cooler parts of the oven, or by covering the breast with foil. Similarly, different cuts of red meat require different oven temperatures and cook times.
- Rest meat after roasting: Carryover cooking means that large cuts will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven. Ten to 20 minutes is usually enough.
- Combine methods and temperatures: Consider pan-searing meat, and then moving it to the oven to slowly roast. (Or try the other way around!) Sometimes it makes sense to start food at a high temperature and then take it down to a lower temperature during cooking, to get both caramelization and tenderness.
- Size matters: When roasting vegetables, cut veggies into pieces of the same size to ensure even cooking.
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