Roasting 101

If you’re looking for an easy way to cook something that doesn’t need constant supervision, consider roasting. It’s a time-tested way to get mouth-watering results with very little effort and it all starts with the oven right in your kitchen.

roasting cooking method guide

Roasting food in the oven is one of the most delicious ways to cook meat, poultry, and even vegetables. Maybe because there’s one in every home, but your trusty oven is something that is easily overlooked, especially with all the countertop appliances like pressure cookers, air fryers, and crock pots.

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. Even better, roasting doesn’t need you to be at its side; the oven does the work for you, so you can tackle other things on your list.

What is Roasting?

Roasting is a dry heat method of cooking, where hot air from an oven, open flame, or another heat source completely surrounds the food, cooking it evenly on all sides. Roasting is a great way to take advantage of the extra flavor that a process called the Maillard reaction is responsible for, giving roasted food its toasty brown color and sweet, caramelized flavors. It’s a simple and straightforward way to cook, letting the heat do most of the work for you with little need to interfere.

What Culinary Problem is this Method Solving?

Roasting is a way to uniformly heat and cook food, especially larger cuts, without having to monitor an open flame. It also makes food taste incredible. A perfect example of this is Brussels sprouts. Not many people would want to eat a boiled sprout, but roasted? They can’t get enough.

roasted pumpkin seeds on a sheet pan

Roasting vs Baking

While both the terms roasting and baking can often be used interchangeably, for this article we’ll be talking about cooking primarily savory food, like meat, nuts, and vegetables, that possess a dense structure and don’t undergo a structural change like dough or batter, for example.

Beef Roasts

  • Tenderloin roast: The most tender beef roast that is known and loved for being lean and succulent. Easy to carve with its velvety texture.
  • Ribeye roast: Savory and fine-textured with lots of marbling. A classic holiday roast.
  • Tri-tip roast: A little-known cut that packs a flavorful punch. Great on the grill.
  • Sirloin tip roast: This boneless, lean cut is a great value. Best when roasted and carved into thin slices.
  • Top Round roast: A lean roast that loves being slow-cooked until tender and then sliced thinly across the grain.

two ribeye steaks in a cast iron pan

Lamb Roasts

  • Shoulder: A cut that is full of flavor due to its high muscle ratio. Slow roasting works best.
  • Rack/Chop: Tender cut from the rib of the lamb; when cut apart, they’re called chops, but when kept together it’s a rack of lamb.
  • Loin chop: These lamb chops look like mini t-bones; they are full of flavor and cook quickly.
  • Leg: Boneless or on the bone, the leg is wonderfully roasted whole and served medium-rare.

Pork Roasts

  • Shoulder: A strong, muscular cut that is delicious slow-roasted until tender.
  • Pork loin: A classic holiday style roast, pork loin can either be bone-in or boneless, cut into chops or served as a standing roast.
  • Leg: The rear leg is often called a ham and is usually available fresh or cured.
  • Side or belly: The fattiest cut of the pig, this is where spareribs and bacon come from.
  • Pork Butt roast: A large and delicious cut that is ideal for slow roasting.

Vegetable Roasts

Roasting vegetables is wildly popular for the delicious, almost concentrated, sweet flavor dry heat roasting imparts. Denser vegetables like broccoli, potatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and root vegetables of all kinds are fabulous candidates for roasting. Most vegetables can stand up to moderate to high heat roasting very well, as long as they’re brushed with olive oil or butter and turned occasionally to keep the cooking even on all sides.

roasted cauliflower steaks on a sheet pan

Because the roasting times of many vegetables vary so much, though, try to keep what you’re roasting uniform in size and density, and use your eye to check for doneness. Potatoes and squash should pierce easily with the tip of a sharp blade, while green vegetables should look toasty and brown in parts. There are vegetables that roast well at lower heat. Slow roasted tomatoes, when cooked at a low temperature, are a wonderful thing to make with summer’s extra bounty, in case you’re lucky to have the extra tomatoes.

Small Roasts

Because roasting involves dry heat, smaller cuts of meat, fish, and chicken may not be the best when roasted. The smaller they are, the more likely they are to dry out in the oven. Some of these cuts may be better off seared in a pan at first, then merely ‘finished off’ by s short-term roast in the oven. A perfect example of this would be a duck breast, a pork chop, or a small piece of beef tenderloin.

Large Roasts

Roasting is a cooking method that is especially ideal for larger cuts of meat like beef tenderloins, rib roasts, leg of lamb, and loins of pork.

Poultry

Poultry is also wonderful to roast; how else would we cook a Thanksgiving turkey? Chicken breasts, however, can get dry if not carefully attended to. When whole birds are cooked, sometimes the breast meat can get dry while the dark meat is still cooking. Many innovative cooks invert their turkey and chicken breast side down when roasting.

Still, others like to place a piece of aluminum foil over the breasts about halfway through cooking. In this case, basting comes in very handy to reintroduce the cooking juices onto the skin of the bird, which helps keep things juicy.

butterflied chicken on wire rack and sheet pan

Fish

Since whole fish can be roasted, leaving the head on fish helps retain moisture, which helps protect the fish while cooking. Packing a whole fish in salt, which is broken off before serving, can also help with moisture and flavor. If the fish is already butchered, filets can be brushed with melted butter or covered with herbs and lemon slices to keep that delicate flesh tender.

Nuts

Shelled, raw nuts can be roasted dry in the oven, on a sheet tray or in an oven-safe or cast iron pan. A pine nut is smaller than a hazelnut, though, and because they vary in size and toast up at different rates, try to roast each nut variety individually before blending in your recipe. Also, watch the oven carefully, turning the nuts every so often so they toast evenly. Nuts are already high in oil, so more than likely, there’s no need to oil the pan.

roasted peanuts on a sheet pan

How to Retain Moisture

  • Larding – Fat not only means flavor, it means moisture! Larding is a somewhat advanced technique for preparing large cuts of meat where long strips of fat are woven through the meat using a needle called a larding needle.
  • Barding – A traditional technique used in the 1800s, barding involves wrapping meats in a layer of fat before cooking it. Think basket-woven bacon draped over a turkey…Barding helps seal in the moisture of the meat while it cooks and helps keep it from overcooking.
  • Brining – Once a traditional way to preserve food, soaking food in a saltwater mixture that may include herbs and spices, brining is making a comeback in today’s kitchens for its ability to impart flavor and tenderness to the food before it’s cooked.
  • Marinating – Easy, versatile, and super effective, marination is the process of soaking foods in a seasoned, often acidic, liquid before cooking. A marinade usually contains oils, herbs, and spices to further flavor the food. It can be used to tenderize tougher cuts of meat, but almost anything can be marinated successfully.
  • Basting – When you’re cooking red meat, basting isn’t always recommended because your goal for meat roasts is a crispy crust. However, basting is an effective way to help chicken, pork, and turkey stay moist and juicy.

One important tip: if you baste, you must remove the meat from the oven and close the oven door in order to do it. Don’t baste in the oven with an open door otherwise, you’re likely to lose all your oven heat. When you lose oven temperature, it adds to your cooking time and increases the likelihood of uneven cooking. Remove the meat with hot mitts and place it on the top of the stove or a countertop, close the oven door. Then baste and then put the roast back in the oven.

Roasting Preparation

The night before you plan to roast, season or marinate the meat ahead of time so that the flavorings have enough time to penetrate the meat. Take it out of the refrigerator about half an hour before you plan to roast it.

  • Preheating oven – For accuracy and getting the best results with your recipe, always allow your oven to preheat to the recommended temperature before adding the food.
  • Where to set the oven rack – When it comes to roasting, generally the middle rack is the optimum place to cook food. The top rack is a better location for broiling, and heat is at its hottest near the bottom, so the middle rack, in most cases, gives you the best of both worlds. Of course, for larger roasts like turkey and standing rib roast, you’d need to adjust the rack towards the bottom to accommodate the size of the roast, but that’s perfectly fine.

roasted potatoes on a sheet pan

Roasting Temperatures

Vegetables: A moderate temperature near 375°F (191ºC). The water inside evaporates quickly to concentrate the flavor without the food browning too deeply or becoming too soft.

Large Meat Roasts: Use a low to moderate heat, 250 to 375°F (121 to 375ºC), to cook evenly and slowly. High temperatures would burn the outside of the roast before it’s done on the inside, although a high heat at the very onset, for a short period of time, can be beneficial to get browning.

  • Some cooks like to start a larger roast off at a higher temperature, 400 to 500°F (204 to 260ºC) to get the outside browned. Then turn the oven down and cook the rest of the way at a more moderate setting, around 350°F (177ºC).

Small Meat Roasts: High heat roasting, at temperatures 400°F (204ºC) and above. Works well for small, tender cuts such as tenderloins because it quickly produces a browned crust, and the meat cooks adequately in a short time.

Serving Temperatures

  • Beef and Lamb:
    • Medium-rare at 135ºF (57ºC)
    • Medium at 140 to 145ºF (60 to 63ºC)
  • Poultry:
    • White meat (breast) at 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC)
    • Dark meat (thighs and legs) at 170ºF (77ºC)
  • Pork:
    • Should be cooked to 145ºF (63ºC)
  • Veal:
    • Medium at 145 to 150ºF (63 to 66ºC)
    • Medium-well at 155ºF (168ºC)
  • Fish:
    • Rare at 110°F (43ºC) for tuna only
    • Medium-rare at 125°F (52ºC) for tuna or salmon
    • Medium-rare at 140ºF (60ºC) for white fish

Carryover Cooking

When you roast meats and poultry and you take them out of the oven, they continue to cook; the internal temperature rises just a little over time before it begins to cool down. This is called carryover cooking, so you need to account for this extra bit of cooking especially when you’re roasting red meat. Letting a roast rest for 10-20 minutes is allowing carryover cooking to do it’s thing, while keeping the juices inside the roast.

Tools for Roasting

infographic on tools used for roasting

  1. Roasting Pan
  2. Butchers’ Twine
  3. Dutch Oven
  4. Oven Mitts
  5. Sheet Pan
  6. Baster
  7. Meat Thermometer

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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6 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Mr. Ron says

    Thanks for the great explanation for roasting. I learned something new, something I have never found in a cookbook and if it was in a cookbook, the explanation was not very precise as yours is.

  2. Natalie says

    Very excited to try some of your cooking methods. Excited to make the Roasted Pumpkin seeds, it reminds me of my childhood. I’m fan!

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