These expert tips will help you avoid the 8 most common sheet pan cooking mistakes

From selecting the right sheet pan to making sure your vegetables are cut correctly, we have you covered

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published February 4, 2023 4:30PM (EST)

Roasted Root Vegetables (Getty Images/rudisill)
Roasted Root Vegetables (Getty Images/rudisill)

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. 

They choose the wrong oven temperature
Anyone else remember that video of Karrueche Tran and Kylie Jenner making "shrimp tacos" in which they pile up a heaping mound of raw shrimp in a hilariously small saucepan with the heat barely on? Mysteriously, in one of the next shots of the shrimp, they're inexplicably, beautifully cooked — but that would've never happened without some production (and culinary) "magic."
I find that lots of home cooks seem to be suspicious or spooked by the concept of high heat cooking. If you want the oven to do its best work, I almost always opt for 375 degrees Fahrenheit or higher (truthfully, I'm usually in the 400 or higher range, but 350 to 375 is always the go-to for cookies). In order for your veggies to be perfectly browned and caramelized or for your chicken cutlets to crisp up as best as possible, don't shy away from a high oven temperature. 
They select the wrong sheet tray
Please do not just automatically toss your sheet trays as soon as they look "used." When I'm making my ultimate comfort food (as I did last night), I always reach for my go-to, well-used sheet pan. I find that when I'm making chicken parmesan, using that sheet pan helps to brown the cheese perfectly, resulting in "shards" of crisped melted cheese intermingled with brightly flavored sauce. I know how my chicken parm will cook in that sheet tray and it's precisely the way I'd like it cooked. 
However, if your sheet trays are warped in some capacity or the coating is starting to wear off, then you should get rid of them. Warping can cause oils to pool, resulting in unevenly cooked ingredients — as well as more dangerous situations.  
This also goes for rimmed baking sheets. If you're making chocolate chip cookies or something like pizza, feel free to use un-rimmed, but otherwise, please do not. Any sort of moisture will slide right off your sheet tray, burning or igniting on the floor of your oven. 
They don't group foods with similar cook times
This one is super important: group foods of similar cook-times on a single sheet tray.

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.

They forget to cook with fat
Roasting is a very dry-heat method, which necessities a certain amount of fat for cooking. While olive oil is the easy go-to for many, I generally prefer neutral oil for roasting. This is the time to have a slightly heavier hand than usual to ensure that all of your vegetables, proteins, nuts, herbs, fruits or anything else on the sheet tray are well-coated, which will help them cook evenly, not over-brown and add a bit of flavor. 
You don't often see people chucking a stick of butter on a sheet tray, but as long as the food won't cook for more than 45 minutes, butter can be a great fat option that will add both moisture and flavor. One helpful trick is adding it during the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking so that it won't burn.  


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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They don't cook the food for enough time
The oven is a strong, dry heat source, so in most instances, you're not looking for a tender, light cook like you might with something like poaching. 
There's a bit of a back-and-forth game with roasting or baking, though, in terms of balancing the cook time and the temperature. You want the food to be slightly browned and somewhat crisped, but not to the point of burning. However, a longer bake time in the oven can result in more nuanced dishes. 

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.)

They over-crowd their sheet pan
No matter if making protein, vegetables, or even just toasting nuts, you almost always want to opt for a single layer. When it comes to vegetables, be sure to jiggle or even hit the sheet pan on the counter to ensure there's an even distance between the pieces of food and that it's not overcrowding on the pan. If the food is too tightly packed, then you're risking that the items on top will burn before the bottom items are even cooked through, leaving them to get mushy.
If you have a ton of food, just divide between two sheet trays and ensure that everything has some room and space to breathe. 
They neglect to properly season their sheet pan ingredients

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. 

They ignore the importance of mise en place and knife cuts
One super frustrating roasting moment is when half of your veggies are cut in larger pieces than others, resulting in perfectly tender morsels alongside under-cooked chunks. To avoid this, ensure that you're cutting everything in similar sizes. No matter if working with broccoli rabe, pork, salmon, squash or celeriac, it's important to do this to result in even cooking.

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.

By Michael La Corte

Michael is a food writer, recipe editor and educator based in his beloved New Jersey. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, he worked in restaurants, catering and supper clubs before pivoting to food journalism and recipe development. He also holds a BA in psychology and literature from Pace University.

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