Weeknight Cooking

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

September 22, 2016

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.

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.

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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.)

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.

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.

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)

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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I make all sorts of sheet pan dinners (we call them tray bakes in Australia) in my combination steam oven - they're definitely my go-to quick prep dinner & I can have something on the table in 10 minutes if need be. One of my favourites came from a Nigel Slater article years ago, it uses chicken thighs, pumpkin, bacon, garlic & big torn up pieces of stale bread. Love it. :)”
— Emily R.

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.

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

Photos by Elizabeth Cecil

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The Dynamite Chicken cookbook is here! Get ready for 60 brand-new ways to love your favorite bird. Inside this clever collection by Food52 and chef Tyler Kord, you'll find everything from lightning-quick weeknight dinners to the coziest of comfort foods.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Lesley Barnett
    Lesley Barnett
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  • Deedledum
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    laurell hartle
Sarah Waldman is a food writer and recipe developer living on Martha’s Vineyard. She is the author of, Feeding a Family: A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work.


Lesley B. October 6, 2016
This has been my go-to tray back for about 2 years now (but I use boneless-skinless chicken (breasts or thighs)). http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/roast-chicken-breasts-with-garbanzo-beans-tomatoes-and-paprika-242113 I always add some yellow and red peppers, too.

I'm excited to try the Chicken with jewel vegetables and herbed yogurt - it's on deck for Saturday evening!
Sarah W. October 6, 2016
Oh Lesley that sounds delicious! I'm excited to hear what you think of your Saturday night dinner - enjoy!
Emily R. September 26, 2016
This is a great article, thank you! I make all sorts of sheet pan dinners (we call them tray bakes in Australia) in my combination steam oven - they're definitely my go-to quick prep dinner & I can have something on the table in 10 minutes if need be. One of my favourites came from a Nigel Slater article years ago, it uses chicken thighs, pumpkin, bacon, garlic & big torn up pieces of stale bread. Love it. :)
Sarah W. September 26, 2016
Wow Emily I love the sounds of the chicken, pumpkin, bacon, garlic, and bread dish! I'll have to find it. Thank you!
Emily R. September 27, 2016
Sarah, this is my adaptation of it (with chorizo instead of the bacon) for the combi steam oven. There are regular oven instructions at the very end of the post if you want to give it a go. :)
Deedledum September 25, 2016
I tried the one with tofu/kale the other night. It was really good! I'll be using that marinade again to be sure. The next time I'll add some citrus, and maybe maple syrup/honey.
amysarah September 23, 2016
Nigella Lawson has several recipe that she calls "tray bakes." Essentially this. I've done this one many times (or variations: different types of sausage, chunks of red pepper, etc.) - very easy and good: https://www.nigella.com/recipes/spanish-chicken-with-chorizo-and-potatoes
Sarah W. September 23, 2016
Oh I love the term "tray bakes" - looking forward to seeing Nigella's combinations!
laurell H. September 22, 2016
What about boneless chicken thighs? My local area doesn't have a bone in thigh option for organic chicken..
Sarah W. September 23, 2016
Hi Laurell - good question! Boneless chicken thighs will not take the full 35 - 45 minutes but the vegetables (especially if you are using potatoes or root vegetables like carrots or beets) may. Maybe start the vegetables then add the chicken on top after the first 15 minutes? I would guess the boneless chicken thighs would be done in 30 minutes but using a meat thermometer would confirm. Let me know!
laurell H. September 24, 2016
I did try it with the boneless skinless chicken. It was good! But definitely done in about 25 minutes and some of the bigger vegetables were not. I'll start the veg about ten minutes sooner next time. Thanks!