Weeknight Cooking

What You Need to Know to Make Any Sheet Pan Dinner

January  3, 2017

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.

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

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? 

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

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. 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. 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:

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.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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18 Comments

Markus M. September 14, 2017
I love sheet pan suppers! To make sure food browns quickly avoid over crowding the pan, as this can produce steam which can't evaporate quickly enough, therefore not creating a hot dry environment (which is needed to brown food). In regards to the parchment paper. I have rarely ever needed to heat food on a sheet pan past 400F, I think the reason the warnings are on the parchment is that it does not spontaneously catch fire!
 
Fresh T. January 9, 2017
I love your advice. Always so good. I really want to try the chicken and cabbage dinner.
 
Toddie January 8, 2017
Being single, most sheet pan dinners are far too much for me, and I end up with more leftovers than I want. I use a small pizza pan in my counter top convection oven and have dinner in no time, with just enough left over for one more meal.
 
Judith R. January 8, 2017
OMG, so much misinformation! Yep, silicone and silicon are two different products. And parchment paper, if you buy plain, unbleached parchment paper, it is made from paper pulp. If you buy easy release parchment, aka bakery release parchment, that product is usually silicone based. There's a huge difference. Read at the box, it'll tell you.
 
paul January 4, 2017
How do you keep food from sticking / messy clean-up of sheet pans. I love roasting things on sheet pans, but they get so discolored and food sticks a lot -- but using parchment paper seems to cut down on the browning.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. January 4, 2017
It's a tradeoff for sure — no sticking/minimal cleaning or browning. When I don't use parchment, I rub about a teaspoon of neutral oil (grapeseed or canola) all over the surface before placing anything on top. This usually prevents sticking. Also, leaving things along — as in, not stirring every 15 minutes — allows a crust to form on foods, which then allows them to release more easily from the surface. I find with potatoes, for instance, if I push them with a spatula and they don't release easily, they need more time in the oven. Once they release with a gentle push, they're ready to be really tossed and turned, if that makes sense. My sheet pans look very weathered at this point, particularly in the corners, and I think unless you are really good about cleaning them very thoroughly after every use, this is kind of inevitable.
 
Doug R. January 4, 2017
Our family's go-to sheet pan dinner is pork chops with sweet potatoes, Granny Smith apples, and onions. We toss the apple, sweet potatoes, and onions with ~1/4c maple syrup or molasses and 2T melted butter. Roast at 425F for 30-45 min. Rub the pork chops with toasted fennel, black pepper, and salt, then finish off for another 30 min.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. January 4, 2017
Sounds so good! I don't make pork chops nearly enough. Do you use bone-in chops?
 
HungryJo January 3, 2017
I LOVE that baked tofu with coconut kale recipe - its in my regular rotation.
 
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Alexandra S. January 4, 2017
So happy to hear this!
 
sydney January 3, 2017
Re silicone products, there is a good discussion you'll find on Wellness Mama. In short, whether it's cheap or expensive it's all unregulated and can be leaching chemicals into the food and/or air. I started looking for information because I could smell mine. I thought kitchen silicone was too good to be true, and indeed seems so as far as I'm concerned.
 
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Alexandra S. January 4, 2017
Thanks for the tip on Wellness Mama — i'll check it out!
 
Smaug January 3, 2017
I don't understand why people think that pizza is going to stick to pans, it really doesn't- bread dough sticks to itself far more than to any pan. It's typically cooked at temperatures too high for parchment anyway. Some people like to oil sheetpans for pizza, but it's more to, basically, fry the bottom of the crust than any sticking problem.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. January 3, 2017
I've had one disaster that has scared me ever since because the only part of the pizza I could salvage was the topping. I've used parchment ever since. I don't use parchment on my cast iron skillet pizzas, and I should give the sheet pan pizza without parchment another go. <br /><br />Re high temperatures and parchment — do you know why parchment shouldn't be heated at high temps? I've used it at 550 with no issue. Does something change chemically that's dangerous?
 
Smaug January 3, 2017
It is physically possible, I suppose- I had a baguette stick once (out of about a million); I suppose it was an poorly cleaned pan. What I know is that every silicone product I ever checked, including parchment, has had a warning not to use above 415 to 450 degrees (don't know why the variability in this- probably a matter of how conservative the company was). I don't know why, but manufacturers don't generally put limits on their products without pretty good reason.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. January 3, 2017
Very interesting. I had no idea parchment was made of silicon. I just looked at my box, and it says to use the paper up to 428ºF. I'm going to research why there exists a high-temp warning. Will report back.
 
Smaug January 3, 2017
Great, I'm far too lazy. By la by, silicon and silicone are different things.
 
Author Comment
Alexandra S. January 4, 2017
I had no idea!