Weeknight CookingHow to CookRoastingTips & Techniques

What You Need to Know to Make Any Sheet Pan Dinner

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Sheet pans excel at holding lots of food and therefore cooking for a crowd. What’s more, their short rim encourages airflow and, in turn, browning, which in the end equates to good, caramelized flavor. They’re a win-win.

And while books have been written on the subject of sheet pan suppers, and Pinterest (and the web) is a source of endless inspiration, you can make a sheet pan supper however you like armed with just a little knowledge.

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Here are few tips to help you on your one-pan-wonder journey:  

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

The ingredients:

  • When considering vegetables, think about all of your favorite in-season vegetables you’d typically roast. Depending where you live, this could mean parsnips, carrots, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, winter squash, onions, shallots, fennel, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, endive, Romaine, or mushrooms. Is there a vegetable that doesn’t roast well? 

Cut vegetables roughly the same size to ensure they cook as evenly as possible.  

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Consider including fruit. Apples, pears, figs, strawberries, peaches, plums, nectarines, and grapes all take well to roasting, too. Simply toss with olive oil and salt (and pepper, if you wish) before adding them to the sheet pan. As they roast, they’ll release their juices and soften, offering a welcomed sweet counterpoint to the savory elements. A favorite combination of mine is Brussels sprouts and grapes, which my mother makes every Thanksgiving. Note: Most fruits will cook more quickly than vegetables, so you may need to add them to the sheet pan towards the end of the cooking process. See notes below about timing.

Avoid cuts of meat that require braising such as pork shoulders, beef short ribs, or lamb shanks. Instead, consider bone-in, skin-on chicken legs or breasts (though boneless, skinless work well, too), pork chops, loins or tenderloins, cuts of beef such as flank steak, tenderloin, and sirloin tips, whole fish or filets, and rack of lamb or lamb chops. For vegetarian sources, consider tofu, tempeh, eggs, chickpeas, and beans.

• At a minimum, toss everything with olive or other oil (grapeseed, coconut, canola), salt, and pepper, if you like. If you’re up for it, make a sauce, as in this tofu and coconut kale sheet pan supper, that includes an acid (citrus or vinegar), some umami (soy sauce, Worcestershire, or fish sauce), and/or something spicy (Sriracha, Tabasco, harissa).

Cabbage needs more time than chicken to get all caramelized.
Cabbage needs more time than chicken to get all caramelized. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

Timing/Strategy:

  • The success of a sheet pan supper lies in the timing—in staggering the entry and exit of the ingredients. As you know, various ingredients cook at various rates. To avoid overcooked meats and undercooked vegetables, you may have to cook components separately at various points of the process. In this Sheet Pan Roast Chicken and Cabbage, for instance, the chicken roasts for 10 minutes before the cabbage wedges enter the pan. When the chicken is done, the cabbage continues roasting while the chicken rests out of the oven.

  • Getting the timing right may take some trial and error. Take notes! Your first sheet pan supper creation may not be perfect but it will more than likely be edible. Next time around make adjustments based on your experience.

  • Consider finishing with the broiler. If, in the end, you find yourself with a sheet pan of fully cooked but not-so-visually appealing elements, pop the pan under the broiler—in just three minutes or so, everything will look beautifully golden and appetizing.

All this is missing is a little side starch.
All this is missing is a little side starch. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

 

A few final thoughts:

  • If you, like many, consider a complete meal to be one that includes a protein, vegetable, and starch, strive to hit two of the three categories with your sheet pan concoction. If you can include a protein and a starch, think about serving some sautéed greens, steamed vegetables, or a simple salad on the side. If you include a vegetable and a starch, think about topping it all with off with some poached or fried or hard-boiled eggs or toss it all with some cooked chickpeas or beans. The goal, of course, is to keep things simple, and if you manage to include all three categories on the sheet pan, you’ve found a real keeper.  
  • A sheet pan supper can be made under the broiler, too. Fish filets or thin cuts of steak such as skirt may cook as quickly as 5 to 7 minutes under the broiler. Consider broiling quick-cooking vegetables like asparagus, peppers, and cherry tomatoes (depending on the season) briefly before topping them with the meat and returning the pan to the broiler to finish the cooking.

  • For sheet pan pizza, I find it works best if you place the sheet pan on a preheated baking steel or pizza stone. The blast of heat from below helps create a crisper, sturdier crust. Also, to prevent a sticking catastrophe, line the sheet pan with parchment paper.  

  • Consider preheating your sheet pan. A hot sheet pan will give the cooking process a jumpstart and encourage desirable browning.  
  • Consider making a sauce. A fresh salsa, a sharp, herby vinaigrette, a gremolata, a balsamic reduction—each of these can be thrown together quickly while the contents on the sheet pan roast away, and each will enliven the finished dish.  
  • Observe your oven and make adjustments accordingly. Every oven is different. Some run hot, some run slow, some are plagued by hot spots. Adjust times and temperatures as needed.  
  • Nearly as handy as a half sheet pan (the size you likely have at home) is a quarter sheet pan. Measuring about 10x13x1 inches, these pans are great for heating nuts or toasting bread or cooking small amounts of anything.

Here are some sheet pan suppers to get you started:

Sheet Pan Chicken and Brussels Sprouts with Reduced Balsamic

Sheet Pan Chicken and Brussels Sprouts with Reduced Balsamic by Alexandra Stafford

Sheet Pan Roast Chicken and Cabbage

Sheet Pan Roast Chicken and Cabbage by Alexandra Stafford

Baked Tofu with Coconut Kale

Baked Tofu with Coconut Kale by Alexandra Stafford

Chicken Thighs with Chickpea Ratatouille

Chicken Thighs with Chickpea Ratatouille by Sarah Waldman

Sheet Pan Eggs

Sheet Pan Eggs by Ali Slagle

Sheet Pan Lamb Meatballs with Cauliflower and Tahini-Yogurt Sauce

Sheet Pan Lamb Meatballs with Cauliflower and Tahini-Yogu... by EmilyC

Do you have a favorite sheet pan dinner? Let us know in the comments!

Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.