Roasting, Toasting, Broiling, and Baking: Here’s What You Really Need To Know

The oven is an easy and versatile tool for cooking food.

We all know there’s a lot of science involved in cooking, but for many of us, science is far from our favorite subject. That is, until cookbook author Keith Schroeder gave us Mad Delicious; The Science of Making Healthy Food Taste Amazing. This 126-recipe cookbook is chock-full of useful science tidbits, diagrams, and good old-fashioned humor. If you want to “understand the recipe you’re cooking, not just survive the process,” this cookbook is a must-read. Take Keith’s All-Purpose Pecan recipe, for example; it’s insanely delicious, totally do-able, and comes with a quick lesson on egg whites.

The book is broken down into eight chapters that will help you get your kitchen (and your mind) ready for cooking, master basic kitchen skills, and understand how to use a variety of cooking methods. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk to Keith about his new cookbook and, more specifically, about the science of cooking in the oven.

Guess what? It’s not as complicated as you think.

One of the chapters in your book focuses on the science of cooking in the oven. Baking, roasting, toasting, broiling; what’s the difference between these techniques?
The name! The honest truth of it all is that after many years of cooking I can honestly say that these are just names we offer up in advance of what is that is being cooked to make the recipes sound maximally delicious. Roasted chicken sounds better than baked chicken, for example.  That’s part of the reason that I named this chapter of the book simply: In The Oven.

Cooking in the oven is a process, using radiant heat from below (or from some surrounding material like clay or steel) that removes water from whatever is being cooked. The only real difference for me is that broiling uses radiant heat from above; broiling is good for delicate things that can cook fast without burning, things that simply need a beautiful brown topping.

Can you talk a little bit about oven temperature? How important is it to follow the recipe’s recommendation and when should you adjust the oven temperature?
A lot of detail is added in food writing where it’s not needed; I’ve successfully roasted a chicken on a cookie sheet as well as in an All-Clad roasting pan. The important thing about temperature is to pay attention. The odds of your oven being accurate are zero anyhow (I don’t think that most home cooks have their ovens calibrated annually!) so you should always watch closely. In fact, when I was in culinary school, I had a pastry instructor whose advice was bake it until it’s done.

If you want to cook two things (that require different cook temperatures) simultaneously, for example, split the difference and pay attention. If one recipe calls for an oven temperature of 450 degrees and the other for an oven temperature of 400 degrees, bake both at 425 degrees and watch the oven a little more closely.

What about moisture? How do you prevent meat and vegetables from drying out when they have a long cook time?
Go lower and slower and then use the boiler to finish. If you’re afraid you’re going to dry something out, cook it at a temperature that is 50 degrees or so lower than the recipe calls for and then use high oven heat (or the heat from your broiler) to finish it. That’s actually how most restaurants cook.  

I’ve noticed that a lot of recipes specify side height when it comes to bakeware. Does this really matter?
A lot of detail is added in food writing where it’s not needed; I’ve successfully roasted a chicken on a cookie sheet as well as in an All-Clad roasting pan. Others may feel differently, but I think the side height of your bakeware is inconsequential.

Anything else we need to know about the science of cooking in the oven?
Yes, I do think the use of convection versus conventional heat warrants a discussion. Once you circulate the heat (like you do in a convection oven) a fair rule of thumb is to reduce the oven temperate 25 to 50 degrees. It depends, to some extent, on the speed of your fan and the quality of your oven.

The other thing I’d say is to think about how often you’re opening and closing the oven. If you’re constantly checking on (and turning) something, that’s going to alter the oven’s temperature. I tend to check a lot so I am constantly tinkering with the temperature; I might open the oven then put the heat up to 450 for 5 minutes to compensate. If you’re a patient cook you can usually set an oven temperature and a timer but if you’re not, you’re going to have to adjust the oven temperature occasionally.

For more information about Keith or his cookbook, Mad Delicious: The Science of Making Healthy Food Taste Amazing, visit his website. Want to buy a copy of the book? Click here.

Get Keith’s All-Purpose Pecans recipe.


Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal’s Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.