Roasted carrots are sweet and tender with a caramelized surface that enhances the flavor. Cooking part of the time covered with foil and then exposed to the oven’s heat prevents the carrots from drying out and becoming tough.
There’s always one vegetable that’s constantly stocked in my refrigerator, and that’s carrots! The crunch-factor is super satisfying and they can be cooked in a myriad of ways or simply eaten raw. I’m a big fan of their nutritious qualities and I enjoy eating them as a healthy snack.
When cooking, my method of choice for coaxing out the sweet taste is to oven roast carrots. No need to add in sugar when you can use simple techniques to develop caramel notes with heat. The process is simple, cover with aluminum foil in a pre-cook stage to tenderize the centers, then finish off with high heat exposure to lightly brown the surface.
Carrot Selection and Size
We’ve all grown up with the understanding that carrots are good for you. It’s not a surprise, according to the USDA Food Composition Database, just 1 cup of sliced carrots contains 50 calories, 1.13 gram of protein, 3.4 grams of fiber, 0.3 grams of fat, and 5.78 grams of sugar. Not to mention an impressive amount of Vitamin A which has been linked to eye health, plus potassium, and calcium.
There is a lot of options to choose from at the market, even different hues. You can buy a whole bunch with the tops still intact, trimmed, petitely sized, or cut into sticks, shreds or slices. The key for perfectly roasted carrots is to keep the size uniform for even cooking. Make sure that they are about 1/2 to 1-inch in width, you don’t want them too small or too large.
For this recipe I used multi-colored petite sized carrots, they give a more gourmet appearance. If using a larger variety, peel and cut them into similarly sized batons.
The Seasoning Ingredients
- Unsalted Butter – used to coat the carrots, enhance browning on the surface, and prevent the carrots from sticking to the pan. Ghee or olive oil can be substituted.
- Kosher Salt – helps to caramelize the carrots by drawing moisture to the surface for quicker evaporation so the sugar can cook. Salt balances the sweetness of the carrot.
- Black Pepper – adds a slightly spicy kick to the neutral tasting carrots.
How Long Does it Take to Roast Carrots?
Carrots can dry out if exposed to the ovens high heat the entire cooking time. To prevent this, I first cover and cook for 15 minutes. This allows the carrots to gradually come up to temperature, and stay moist and tender. The foil is then removed to allow the intense heat at 425ºF, drive off the surface moisture and initiate caramelization, this takes another 15 minutes.
Depending on the size of the carrots, a few additional minutes of roasting may be needed. The goal is to have fork tender, not mushy, interiors and a golden brown surface. The carrots will taste sweeter this way because some of it’s natural sugars are drawn to the surface then lightly caramelize.
Ways to Serve Roasted Carrots
You can’t go wrong with keeping it simple and roasting the carrots with butter, salt, and pepper to intensify the natural sweetness of the root vegetable. However, drizzling on some honey or maple syrup to make glazed carrots can change the sweetness profile, I would add this toward the end of cooking so the sugars don’t burn.
You could even add a little heat with harissa, cayenne pepper, or chili sauce. Toasted with fresh chopped herbs like rosemary, parsley, basil, or thyme adds a nice burst of flavor right before eating. Once you’ve got the basic roasting technique down, it’s easy to experiment with different flavor combinations to switch things up and keep mealtime interesting.
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How To Keep Carrots Tender
To activate the enzyme that starts the firming reaction, internal temperatures between 120 to 160 degrees need to be maintained as long as possible. Covering the carrots with foil for the first 15 minutes helps to keep the heat low for the conversion to occur. The result is sweet carrots that have a soft yet firm texture. (Source: Cook’s Illustrated)
- 2 pounds carrots, (908g) peeled
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, (45g, 1 1/2 ounces) melted
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, (3g)
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
- Place oven rack to the center position and preheat to 425ºF (218ºC).
- If using large carrots instead of petite-sized, cut them into uniform pieces between 1/2 to 1-inch wide and 3 to 4-inches long. This will depend on the size of the carrots.
- Toss and combine carrots with melted butter, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.
- Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil.
- Evenly spread out the carrots on the baking sheet and cover tightly with foil.
- Cook carrots for 15 minutes and then remove the top pieces of foil.
- Roast the carrots for an additional 15 minutes, and then stir.
- Continue to roast the carrots until browned and the widest parts are fork tender about 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the size.
- Season carrots with salt and pepper and serve warm.
- Carrot Size: I used petite carrots, they are about 4 to 5 inches long and 1/2 to 1-inch wide in size. If these are not available at the store, cut larger whole carrots into large batons to a similar width and desired length. Make sure to cut them to uniform sizes for even cooking.
- Make it Vegan, Dairy-Free, and Paleo: Use olive oil instead of butter.
- Make it Whole30: Use ghee or extra-virgin olive oil instead of butter. Use sea salt instead of kosher salt.
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