Useful Tips for Sheet Pan Meals
A sheet pan is a one-pot meal that is baked on a sheet pan. It saves time, makes clean-up easier, and doesn’t require expensive equipment or fancy ingredients. Just start with your protein of choice, then add vegetables, fat, flavorings, and roast on high heat until everything is golden brown.
Choosing a Sheet Pan
A sheet pan is a shallow, wide baking pan made from aluminum or stainless steel whose sides encourage airflow and browning. You can also use a stoneware sheet pan.
If you don’t already have one in your cupboard here are some considerations before you buy. Most sheet pans are 18 x 13 inches with a 1-inch rim often called a half-sheet pan. The quarter sheet pan, measuring about 9×13 inches, is terrific for smaller ovens or kitchens as well as cooking several ingredients in the oven at once without letting the flavors bleed into one another.
Choosing a Protein
Every satisfying sheet-pan meal, like most well-rounded dinners (but not all), is built around protein. Whether you decide on poultry, beef, pork, fish, or tofu, you’ll want to start with ¼ to ¾ pound per serving, to be supplemented with vegetables.
When cooking poultry, bear in mind that dark meat takes longer to cook than white meat, and bone-in chicken longer than boneless. Timing can vary, from 5 minutes for chicken or turkey breast tenders under the broiler, to 1 ½ hour for bone-in turkey legs. Here are some suggested cooking times.
Cut of chicken, skin-on, approximate cooking times at 400 degrees
Whole chicken breast, bone-in, 30-40 minutes
Whole chicken breast, boneless, 20-30 minutes
Whole chicken thighs, bone-in, 30-45 minutes
Whole chicken thighs, boneless, 25-40 minutes
Protein in hand, it’s time to pick the vegetables that’ll round out your meal. How many and how much are up to you. But remember that vegetables cook down significantly under high temperatures so always err on the side of more.
- When working with vegetables make sure they’re cut consistently. You will want to coat them with an oil or fat and any herbs or spices of your choosing. Give them plenty of space on the pan to encourage browning.
- Dense vegetables (potatoes, radishes, winter squashes) take the longest to cook. Depending on the oven temperature and cut size, 30 minutes to 2 hours.
- Vegetables with high moisture content can take less time, 10-45 minutes. You may need longer to caramelize vegetables with higher moisture content (zucchini, tomatoes). Roasting at a high temperature, 425 to 450 degrees, can speed things up.
- Leafy vegetables (kale, broccoli, Bok choy, chard) will cook fastest, 3 to 10 minutes. If the leaves are thoroughly dry they will turn crisp and brown. Kale and chard can turn brittle and chip-like if you use enough oil.
Here’s a list of popular vegetables and their suggested cooking times (cut in ½ inch chunks; approximate cooking time at 400 °):
Asparagus, whole 8-15 minutes depending upon the thickness
Beets 25-40 minutes
Broccoli 10-15 minutes
Brussel sprouts, halved 20-30 minutes
Butternut or winter squash 25-40 minutes
Cauliflower 35-45 minutes
Carrots 30-45 minutes
Cherry tomatoes, whole 25-50 minutes for caramelized
Chickpeas, canned 45-50 minutes
Eggplant 25-45 minutes
Leeks 20-35 minutes
Peppers (red, green, orange) 30-45 minutes
Potatoes 25-35 minutes
Sweet potatoes 30-40 minutes
Zucchini or summer squash 40-55 minutes
Once you’ve chosen your main ingredients you can now be creative and build flavor with seasonings. Fat, herbs, spices, and garnishes all add to the character of the finished dish.
- Fat helps evenly cook and brown the ingredients on your sheet pan. Olive oil is the classic choice, but other oils and fats like coconut oil, peanut oil, duck fat, and leftover bacon grease all add distinct flavors. For something more neutral, look to grapeseed, sunflower, or canola oil. Simply toss ingredients with enough fat so they are lightly coated.
- Herbs and Spices… Sprigs of sturdy, branchy fresh herbs can stand up to lengthy cooking without burning. Thyme, lemon thyme, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, bay leaves, tarragon, and sage are all good choices; just throw them on the pan with the other ingredients. Dried herbs and herb mixes are excellent added to the marinade, paste, or rub. Avoid soft herbs like basil, chives, parsley, cilantro, and mint, which can turn brown at high heat. They’re better as garnishes. Whole spices can also be tossed directly on the pan with the other ingredients, adding fragrance and depth. Some favorites include chili flakes, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, and cinnamon sticks. Use ground spices and spice blends in marinades, pastes, and rubs.
- Bold Additions… Whole smashed garlic cloves (peeled or unpeeled), slivered, blanched almonds, lemons, and whole or sliced fresh chilis can be added with the other ingredients and will turn wonderfully brown while roasting. Make sure they are well coated with oil or fat to encourage caramelization. Note that peeled garlic will add more intense flavor than unpeeled.
- Bright Finishes… Consider fresh soft herbs, squeezes of citrus or drizzles of vinegar, yogurt, vinaigrettes, grated or crumbled cheeses, salsas, sauces, chutneys, relishes, quick-pickled onions, or shallots, chili pastes, and hot sauces. All add vibrancy to a finished dish.
Cooking Your Meal
You have your protein, vegetables, and you’ve considered your flavors. What remains should be as simple as coating your ingredients in fat and adding seasonings and roasting, but there are a few more things to bear in mind.
- Your ingredients – and their cook times – matter. It should go without saying that different ingredients cook at different times. Start with the slowest-cooking ingredient, then add items in a progression, ending with whatever cooks the fastest.
- So does cut. The smaller an ingredient is chopped, the faster it will cook. This applies only to like ingredients: small chunks of carrots may still take longer to cook through than larger pieces of tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, or other less dense vegetables. Half an inch is a good starting point, cooking quickly while providing a satisfying bite.
- Pay attention to placement, both of your sheet pan and your ingredients. The closer the sheet pan is to the heat source the crisper and browner everything will get. Similarly, ingredients at the pan’s edges cook faster than those in the middle. The more spread out the ingredients are, the more air will flow between them, browning them further. For even cooking, place larger pieces at the edges and smaller pieces in the center, and make sure to rotate your sheet pan halfway through cooking.
- Mind your temperature. The suggested cooking times are based on a 400° oven temperature but choose a hotter temperature for deeper color and a juicy center, and a lower temperature for slower, more even cooking. You can also run quick-cooking ingredients under the broiler for a meal in minutes. Keep a more careful watch when using higher temperatures since the food browns faster. Setting the temperature a little lower gives you more wiggle room.
Assembling a Meal
If you find yourself seeking inspiration here are four meals that begin with the basics. Add your fat and seasonings and it will be a hit!
- Salmon/Sweet Potato Fries/Asparagus
- Chicken/Cauliflower Rice/Bell Peppers/Broccoli
- Italian Sausage/Roasted Carrots/Tater Tots
- Country Pork Ribs/Roasted New Red Potatoes/Green Beans
Modified article by Karsten Moran; New York Times
Author: Michelle Hanson
Michelle Hanson, MA, RD, LD is Fresh & Natural Food’s Registered Dietitian. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Clinical Dietetics with a minor in Community Health from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. She is a registered dietitian and current member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Michelle has been a nutrition consultant for numerous years as well as a nutrition research director at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.
Michelle is passionate about food and nutrition and believes in helping people find simple, realistic ways to make healthy eating a part of their everyday lifestyle.
If you are interested in meeting Michelle or have questions for her, you can email her at: email@example.com. She will look forward to meeting you!