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How to Build an Entire Meal on a Humble Sheet Pan (& Celebrate Your Smarts)

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Move over Dutch ovens, skillets, and crock pots: There’s a new kid in town. Sheet pans, too, lend themselves perfectly to one pot (or in this case, one pan) meals—the heroes of weeknight dinners.

Quick, delicious, and easy (in planning, preparing, and clean-up) sheet pan dinners can be built a million ways and are completely customizable to your family’s favorites.

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Chicken Drumsticks with Jewel Vegetables & Herbed Yogurt
Chicken Drumsticks with Jewel Vegetables & Herbed Yogurt

Whether you are searching for a way to cook an unusual CSA vegetable, prepare fish for a crowd, or assemble a meal ahead of time, sheet pan dinners are your answer. And once you start crafting your own combinations of protein, vegetable, herbs, and sauce, you will be hooked on this foolproof technique.

Here, I'll share 12 tips for getting started, some basic time and temperature guidelines to abide by, a few time-saving ideas, and two simple roast chicken sheet pan recipes. (If a roast chicken dinner two-ways isn’t a good place to start, then I don’t know what is.)

Chicken Thighs with Chickpea Ratatouille
Chicken Thighs with Chickpea Ratatouille

Tips for building sheet pan dinners:

  1. Select a group of vegetables that cook at the same rate (like sweet potatoes and beets, or mushrooms and asparagus) to avoid overcooking one element or undercooking another.
  2. Think seasonally. Almost any vegetable, however strange from your CSA, can be worked into a sheet pan meal.
  3. If you do want to mix a quick-cooking vegetable with a more sturdy variety (think cherry tomatoes with fingerling potatoes), toss the more delicate one in for the last few minutes of baking.
  4. When in doubt, add a sauce to the finished dish. As most sheet pan meals are a basic mix of meat and vegetables, a simple sauce adds welcomed flavor and texture. Pestos, yogurt-based sauces, salsas, chutneys, and mustard spreads can all be prepared ahead of time or in a matter of minutes just before serving.
  5. Line the sheet pan with foil or parchment paper to make cleanup a breeze.
  6. To add a fresh, raw crunch, sprinkle tender greens like baby arugula, spinach, pea shoots, or sprouts over the top of baked sheet pan meals before serving. Toasted nuts like almonds, pine nuts, and cashews also work.
  7. To crisp up chicken skin, sausage casings, and fish skin, turn on the broiler for the final few minutes of cooking.
  8. Marinades and spice rubs are always a welcomed addition to chicken, fish, tofu, and pork. When you have a few extra minutes, marinate the chicken in the fridge or rub salmon fillets with a spice mixture and chill until dinnertime. Most protein is best marinated for at least an hour and as long as overnight. Look to the ingredients of your meal to steer the marinade or rub flavorings.
  9. Not every part of dinner has to be cooked on the sheet pan. Maybe you roast up a tray of fajita fillings to serve with tortillas or you bake chicken thighs and squash to be served over creamy polenta.
  10. Sheet pan dinners are not just for meat eaters. Sliced tofu or tempeh, a variety of beans, whole sweet potatoes (surround them with sliced vegetables or beans, then use those to stuff the potatoes later), and orchard fruit for ice cream sundaes can all be prepared using this basic method.
  11. Fear fish no more. Sheet pan meals take the intimidation out of preparing fish at home, especially for a crowd. Both individual fillets and large sharing sized portions cook up perfectly on a baking sheet.
  12. Don’t be shy: Toss in herbs or sliced citrus; drizzle over some vinegar; add a splash of dry white wine. Experiment with anything that appeals to you.
Sheet Pan Eggs
Sheet Pan Eggs

Basic guidelines for time and temperature:

This list outlines some complementary ingredients pairings based on cooking time and oven temperature. You’ll also want the vegetables you’re cooking together to be more-or-less the same size to promote even cooking.

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400° F for 20 to 30 minutes

  • Veg: cabbage, carrots, turnips, radicchio, apples
  • Protein: pork chops

400° F for 35 to 40 minutes

  • Veg: bell peppers, onions, sweet potatoes,
  • Protein: sausages (pork, chicken, lamb)

425° F for 15 minutes

  • Veg: bok choy, green beans, scallions, mushrooms, greens, tomatoes, zucchini, leeks, asparagus, lemon rounds
  • Protein: fish (salmon fillets, large white fish fillet)

425° F for 20 to 30 minutes

  • Veg: green beans, eggplant, bell peppers, scallions
  • Protein: tofu

425° F for 35 to 45 minutes

  • Veg: potatoes, fennel, squash, beets, brussels sprouts, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, orange rounds
  • Protein: chicken pieces (bone in)
Baked Tofu with Coconut Kale
Baked Tofu with Coconut Kale

How to save time and get ahead:

Sheet pan dinners can easily be partially or fully assembled before mealtime, eliminating the dinner rush.

  • Over the weekend, wash, peel, and chop the vegetables so they are waiting for you.
  • The night before, make a sauce to accompany the finished dish and store it in the fridge.
  • Marinade or spice rub your protein of choice in the morning, then put it in the fridge until dinnertime.
  • For especially busy nights, assemble the entire sheet pan meal, wrap, and chill in the fridge ready to slide into a hot oven.

The recipes:

To celebrate these final weeks of summer (and take some of that zucchini off your hands), try Chicken Thighs with Chickpea Ratatouille on a busy Tuesday night.

Then, when the weather gets a bit crisper and your sweaters are unearthed, send the Chicken Drumsticks with Jewel Vegetables and Herbed Yogurt into the oven after a late soccer practice. Both meals are crowd pleasing, balanced, family-friendly dinners with leftovers that pack up perfectly for lunch the next day.

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Chicken Thighs with Chickpea Ratatouille

60807bc6 8dc6 4c01 878c 151df4a67425  spring 32 shortbread Sarah Waldman
42 Save Recipe
Serves 4
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 2 yellow summer squash
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 eggplant
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (drained and rinsed if canned)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the chicken
  • 4 chicken thighs
  • Black pepper
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup your favorite basil pesto, for serving
E837b1ad b27c 4416 9e52 bfb44dc383f4  food52 waldman 13

Chicken Drumsticks with Jewel Vegetables & Herbed Yogurt

60807bc6 8dc6 4c01 878c 151df4a67425  spring 32 shortbread Sarah Waldman
31 Save Recipe
Serves 4

For the sheet pan chicken:

  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled
  • 1 pound mixed baby potatoes
  • 3 beets, peeled
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the chicken
  • 1 lemon, sliced into rounds
  • 4 to 6 sprigs thyme
  • 6 chicken drumsticks
  • Black pepper

For the yogurt sauce:

  • 1 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Big pinch kosher salt
  • Few grinds black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill

What's your favorite one-pan dinner? Tell us in the comments!

Photos by Elizabeth Cecil


Tags: chicken, family, sheet pan, pan