The oven has become, in some circles, a criminally under-utilized cooking vehicle. While some people tend to love and prioritize their countertop appliances such as microwaves, slow cookers, rice cookers, Instant Pots and air fryers, certain ovens sit unused, collecting dust — or in Carrie Bradshaw's case, as often referenced, relegated to nothing more than a makeshift closet, stuffed full of sweaters or seasonally-inappropriate clothing.
This is a shame, though.
Ovens are amazing, especially when paired with sheet pans. The arid cooking environment can produce super-crispy foods, hot and bubbly dishes, terrific cookies or baked goods. It can toast nuts and take them to a perfectly aromatic place, crisping fries or the skin of roasted poultry, making jammy, rich roasted fruit, perfectly browning a loaf of homemade bread and much, much more. You can even use it to caramelize onions!
This is all to say: oven hive, rise up! It's our time to shine.
In order to help convince you to preheat and use that oven of yours, here are the eight biggest mistakes home cooks make when making sheet pan meals in their ovens.
Most proteins, excluding braised items, should take no longer than 40 to 45 minutes, from chicken to pork or even tofu. That said, you should avoid pairing them on a sheet tray packed with certain vegetables with much lower cook times. You wouldn't want to put kale and sweet potatoes on the same sheet tray, either; the kale would be done within ten minutes, while the sweet potatoes would need up to 40.
In addition to oils, you can choose options like bacon grease, duck fat, brown butter, coconut oil or lard for your sheet pan cooking.
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For example, I love it either way, but try a tomato sauce that's been cooked on the stove vs. a tomato sauce that was cooked on a sheet pan. There's a rich, complex differentiation in the further-cooked oven sauce, which has a sharper flavor and often a darker color. There's a caramelization at hand here that deepens the flavor. (Note though that for certain sauces or additions, that deepening can result in bitterness or may sometimes outright burn.)
As I always say, make sure you're salting well. Lots of vegetables need more sodium than you'd expect in order to bring out some of their latent flavors or inherent sweetness. Black pepper and I aren't best pals, but I do tend to add a few cranks when I'm roasting. Conversely, I don't like sprinkling onion or garlic powder on raw vegetables before tossing them in an oven: they usually burn pretty quickly. Other spices, like red pepper flakes, coriander, paprika, or cumin are great choices.
When using fresh herbs, whole sprigs are usually advisable; a puny thyme leaf will probably burn, whereas the whole sprig may not. Be mindful of what is a "garnish" herb and what is a "cooking" herb, too! Browned fresh herbs aren't super appealing in taste or aesthetic.
I'm all about a squeeze of citrus towards the end of cooking or even after removing the food from the oven. Go wild when garnishing with freshly chopped herbs, vinegars, cheeses, toasted nuts, brightly flavored condiments and pickled items.You can even opt for drizzles or additions of cream or brown butter after the food is removed from the oven. One of my go-tos is a roasted cauliflower or broccoli that then gets a last-minute addition of currants, pecans, feta and a drizzle of acid or some pickled aromatics after the vegetables have been removed from the oven. This results in an interesting, appealing juxtaposition of tastes, consistencies and temperatures.
Keep in mind: If everything is cooked in the same pan with the same flavorings, oils and seasonings, then it's not nearly as dynamic.
If using garlic, try to go with smashed, whole cloves and not a fine mince, which will burn quite quickly. This is also true for shallots, onions, or other alliums; aim for larger, fuller cuts or slices, which will result in crisped edges and tender interiors, instead of errant blackened pieces that are destined for the garbage can.