We Found the Best One-Pan Cookbook

One and done, please and thank you.

March 31, 2021
Photo by Julia Gartland

This review is part of our community-driven book tournament, The Big Community Book-Off. With your help, we’re finding the best books across categories (from bread to pasta, Instant Pots to cooking fundamentals, and cake to cookies, to name a few) and putting them through a series of rigorous reviews—considered, tested, and written by none other than you. And so, let’s hand it off to our community members Jo-Anne, Michelle, and Judith. Here are their reviews of your five favorite one-pan books—and their nail-biting verdict on which one reigned supreme.

After a year of cooking for ourselves more than ever before, even our favorite recipes had become a bit boring. We were all looking for some magic in these five cookbooks that promised flavorful meals that basically cooked themselves in the oven or on the stovetop—all in one pan.

With only ourselves to clean up the dirty dishes, we were motivated to try out 15 one-pan recipes to see if each cookbook’s promise held true. Since chicken seemed to be a common theme, we chose a chicken recipe from each cookbook that we would all make, as well as two additional recipes that each of us could choose on our own. To guide us in our judging, we settled on the following considerations, (refined a bit from our original plan):

Design: How is the book organized? Does it make sense? Is it visually appealing, and does it draw the reader in?

Voice: Do we get to know the personality of the author? Do they display knowledge of the topic or make assumptions about what we already know as cooks? Are there teachable moments? Are they telling a story, and if trying to reach a target audience, do they succeed?

Flexibility: We were all cooking for just ourselves (and, for one of us, a boyfriend, too), so we wanted to see if we could pare down these recipes, many of which made more than two portions, or if they would reheat well for leftovers. Was there any guidance on how to adapt these recipes based on personal preferences or ingredient substitutions?

Taste & Execution: Did the recipe taste good? Were they something we’d want to make again? Were the directions easy to follow or did we have any missteps?

With these guidelines in place, we bought a lot of chicken and put our sheet pans, Dutch ovens, and skillets to work to test out these cookbooks. The five one-pan cookbooks selected by you, the Food52 Community, are:

Your 5 Favorite One-Pan Books, Reviewed

1. Sheet Pan Chicken: 50 Simple and Satisfying Ways to Cook Dinner by Cathy Erway

Photo by amazon

Chicken is one of the most versatile ingredients a home cook can learn to work with, and this cookbook puts that to the test with 50 recipes that pair the protein with a variety of vegetables, grains, and spices. The book is more limited in focus than the other books on this list, emphasizing roasting and, of course, what you can accomplish with a single sheet pan. By the end of the recipe testing, the three of us—Judith, Jo-Anne, and Michelle—all seemed to agree that this book may not make the most of roasting chicken, limiting itself with only using a sheet pan. Here’s what we had to say:

The recipe that we all tested as a team was Miso-Marinated Chicken With Crispy Brussels Sprouts, Baby Turnips & Apples. The flavorful chicken was Judith’s favorite part of the dish, though she wishes that some of the flavor had spread to the rest of the vegetables, because the miso marinade was only used for the bird. Jo-Anne appreciated the conversational approach to the recipe, while Michelle enjoyed the last-minute addition of the apples that brought a wonderfully bright addition to the otherwise starchy, fatty dish.

Judith’s choices from the cookbook included Chicken Satay Lettuce Wraps and the Celery & Watermelon Radish Salad. For the former, she advises keeping a close eye on the chicken, as there are a lot of spices, which can burn if the sheet pan is too close to the oven’s heat source—“a lesson I learned on my first batch,” she says. The salad was simple to make and perfect for the season, though. “Nothing special about it,” she added, “but it was easy to whip together.”

Michelle had trouble with the Chicken Katsu With Plum Sauce, as the plums did not in fact result in a saucy texture. The chicken was also not as crispy as desired, but overall, it was a tasty dish.

Michelle’s second dish, the Mustard Chicken With Bacon, Mushrooms & Onions, also resulted in a pleasing but not perfect dish. Erway recommended only one grated garlic clove to divide among 2 pounds of chicken pieces, and 1 1/2 pounds of waxy potatoes. To make matters more disappointing, the dish didn’t offer the taste that the recipe title promised. ("Mustardy? I think not.")

When it came to Jo-Anne, she experienced both ups and downs for her two recipes: Bang Bang Crispy Chicken and Roasted Romaine Chicken Caesar. She enjoyed Erway’s method of weaving in a story while providing practical tips and suggestions along the way, and she said that she would definitely make both recipes again in the future. The Bang Bang Crispy Chicken had the right amount of spice and was fun to make. For the salad, though, she found the lettuce had a “slightly slimy” texture, but all of the other components (the chicken, croutons, and dressing) were delicious and made for great leftovers for an un-roasted Caesar salad the next day.

While Erway’s cookbook was not the favorite choice for all three home cooks, it for sure offered flavor and fun with every recipe.

2. From the Oven to the Table by Diana Henry

Photo by amazon

In her book, Henry is determined to get people to gather around the table by showing home cooks how simple it can be to make great-tasting food—for weeknight dinners or celebrations—with little to no effort. She considers the oven as one of the most versatile pieces of kitchen equipment, but also believes in following basic science to layer flavors and cook food properly.

It was clear from the introduction that Henry knows food and understands how to build flavor through simple techniques, a well-stocked pantry, and the right equipment. And, whether busy by choice or by circumstance, she is determined to gently guide the home cook through this process. Her manner is engaging, and her voice and expertise are clearly heard through her stories and well-written recipes. We were all a bit smitten with this cookbook.

Chicken With Lemon, Capers & Thyme Photo by Michelle Goldchain

The recipe that we decided to all cook was the Chicken With Lemon, Capers & Thyme. With this recipe, we learned that size does indeed matter when cooking in the oven. Although Henry emphasizes this fact, we all found that the 12-inch recommended casserole dish or roasting pan was too small for all the listed ingredients. For Michelle, the final dish was “lemony, briny, and herby,” but she was disappointed that the potatoes were just barely cooked and the chicken was not crispy. Jo-Anne had a similar experience. Judith, on the other hand, decided to go off script and cut the recipe in half—but used the same size pan, so she did not have any problems with overcrowding. Her results “were delicious and crispy.” Judith also felt that the “use of lemon zest, juice, and slices added a brightness that was much needed for a hearty dish.”

Other recipes tested yielded equally delicious results, and although there were a few missteps with some, we decided that the issues could be easily resolved with minor tweaks. Michelle tackled the Baked Lime, Passion Fruit & Coconut Pudding recipe and was blown away by the flavor, but disappointed that it didn’t fully cook. She wondered if it would have been better to be more specific about the amount of fruit juice required, as opposed to simply calling for several passion fruits. Similarly with her second recipe, Roasted Cauliflower With Pistachio, Preserved Lemon & Tahini, the result was “nutty and herby,” but not as crisp and roasted as shown in the book’s picture.

Judith was extremely pleased with the results of her two other dishes, calling them both “showstoppers.” With the Olive-Oil-Roasted Sweet & Sour Greens With Raisins & Pine Nuts recipe, Judith appreciated that Henry’s “careful instructions on how to pay close attention to the veggies helped achieve the perfect amount of roasted sweetness to each vegetable.” Her next dish, the Roasted Squash & Tofu With Soy, Honey, Chile & Ginger, turned out “exactly like the picture in the book, and also had explosive flavors.

Roasted Squash & Tofu With Soy, Honey, Chile & Ginger Photo by Judith Rontal

Excited to try an unfamiliar ingredient, Jo-Anne decided to make Chicken & Cauliflower With ’Nduja and the Roasted Peppers With Burrata & ’Nduja. Half the fun for her was learning more about ’nduja sausage, and she quickly figured out that it is easier to find when you know how to pronounce it (“n-duya”). The spicy Italian sausage made both dishes shine, adding a deep, fiery smokiness as well as great color. Both dishes were quite tasty, and Jo-Anne appreciated the extra tips included throughout the entire cooking process.

For the most part, we felt that Henry’s recipes had strong flavors and appreciated how much thought she put into each ingredient, achieving a perfect balance in each recipe. Although most recipes turned out, often with showstopping results, there were a few hiccups along the way.

3. One Pan, Whole Family: More than 70 Complete Weeknight Meals by Carla Snyder

Photo by amazon

While this cookbook was easily organized and had some interesting recipes, we all felt that Snyder was trying too hard to appeal to everyone. As a result, some of the final recipes tested were bland and, in general, not very exciting. However, we did appreciate her sidebar tips that offered suggestions to increase the flavor for adults (including some fun wine pairings) and ways to bulk up a dish for “extra-hungry kids.”

The common recipe that we all made was Orange Chicken Stew With Red Pepper & Sweet Potatoes. Our results with this dish were mixed, with both Judith and Michelle finding it to be quite bland, while Jo-Anne was “pleasantly surprised” by the combination of flavors. However, we all had moments of confusion with the recipe. Judith found the ratio between the carrots and sweet potatoes to be wrong, resulting in a “very sweet-potato-heavy dish,” and Michelle was misled by the title, expecting an “orange chicken” stew, not a stew with orange juice mixed in with the chicken broth. Michelle did opt to “up the oomph” by following Snyder’s suggestion to add capers for “adult taste buds,” and found that this was a “worthwhile addition.”

Judith made the Curry-Roasted Carrots & Lentils With Orange-Yogurt Sauce, and despite being pleased with the amount of curry powder used, found Snyder was not clear on what size to cut the shallots, which burned before the carrots fully cooked. For her second recipe, the Roasted Broccoli With Peanuts & Brown Rice, she appreciated the idea of using peanut sauce to entice kids to eat their vegetables, but would execute it differently if she were to make it again (by following her instincts and cutting broccoli into florets instead of lengthwise into slices, the directions for which she found slightly unclear).

Michelle made the Classic Pasta Carbonara and found the recipe easy to follow. When it came to the results, Michelle thought it was an easy-to-make dish that was “cheesy, eggy, porky, and herby.” She had equal success with the Spring Mushroom & Pea Risotto, and was pleased because this was her first time making risotto. She was initially worried that the process would be “labor-intensive,” but found Snyder’s instructions to be clear and simple to follow.

Jo-Anne had mixed results with her other two recipes. She was excited to make the Tortilla Soup With Chicken & Sausage, and was not disappointed. True to Snyder’s straightforward and simple approach to food, this was a quick and easy dish to prepare. In contrast, the Coconut-Crusted Tilapia With Broccoli & Sweet Chile Sauce was quite unappealing, as the fish was bland and the broccoli cooked in the orange juice was mushy and sweet. When making the dredge for the fish, Jo-Anne needed to add an extra egg as well as more flour and coconut, and also needed extra oil for frying up all of the fish. The only thing that made this dish somewhat appealing was the addition of the sweet chile sauce as a condiment.

Overall, we did enjoy Snyder’s no-nonsense approach, and her voice as a grandmother and mother comes through in her writing and with her recipes. However, we did find some of her instructions to be confusing, and this may have impacted the results of the recipes we tested.

4. The Complete One Pot by The Editors of America’s Test Kitchen

Photo by Roasted Squash and Tofu With Soy, Honey, Chili and Ginger

Boasting 400 thoroughly tested and researched recipes by the staff of America’s Test Kitchen, this book gave us high expectations. While overwhelming at first glance, the organization helped ease us in when searching for recipes to test out in our kitchens. Divided up by types of meals, like soups, poultry, vegetarian, and pasta, each chapter was then further organized by the cooking vessel.

This was the only book that truly encompassed all types of pots and pans, including recipes for a skillet, sheet pan, casserole dish, Dutch oven, slow-cooker, and Instant Pot. This was also the only book that included scaled-down versions of several recipes to serve two, which was greatly appreciated from our fridge full of cookbook-testing leftovers.

The downfall to all of these recipes was that the book was text-heavy, and felt more like a manual than an engaging, narrative-driven cookbook. To ATK’s benefit, that is its intended purpose, but we all agreed that it wouldn’t necessarily be the book we’d pick up on a night when we can’t decide what to make for dinner.

For our group-tested chicken recipe, we settled on the Thai Curry & Coconut Soup With Chicken. While Judith had some skepticism at the promise of a flavorful broth in 10 minutes, we were all blown away by the complexity of flavor in this soup. None of us were familiar with using lemongrass, but America’s Test Kitchen thought ahead and included a sidebar (with photos) on how to prepare it for the soup.

Jo-Anne found successes in her two additional recipes, including what she deems “perhaps one of my favorite recipes” with the Green Shakshuka. She found all of their tips helpful, like opting for a roomier Dutch oven instead of a skillet to easily wilt the large amount of greens, appreciating the explanation behind all of their choices, and how it gave her complete confidence in their process. She also had great results with the Mexican Beef Stew and Vegetable Soup. She questioned at first the decision to leave in the corn on the cob, cut into rounds, but as they predicted, it added noticeable flavor to the broth.

Vegetable Soup Photo by Jo-Anne Lauzer

Needing to give her sheet pans a rest, Judith decided to try out two of the skillet recipes. Using only one pan to cook the Pan-Seared Paprika Salmon With Spicy Green Beans, the recipe came together in minutes—and left a mess-free kitchen. It was clear that the recipe had been tested, with specific notes to use smashed garlic instead of minced so it wouldn’t burn, and to sauté the green beans first before adding water to steam them (charring the beans and preventing them from getting too mushy from over-steaming). She also enjoyed the Crispy Tofu With Warm Cabbage Salad, which to her delight was easy to adapt to one serving.

Michelle put her sweet tooth to the test, making both the Pear-Ginger Crisp and Pour-Over Peach Cake. She appreciated the extra step of toasting the cornmeal in the latter, finding the flavor helped balance the sweetness of the peaches. Her only complaint was that it didn’t call for whipped cream as a topping, something she found only made the recipe better!

Overall, each of the recipes we tried from this book was easy to follow and came out exactly as described. The knowledgeable voice of the writers gave us confidence in each recipe, but the dense, text-heavy cookbook knocked off some points for design, making it the runner-up for our review.

5. Dinner's in the Oven: Simple One-Pan Meals by Rukmini Iyer

Photo by amazon

Rukmini Iyer’s introduction describes her book as “not a conventional book.” By the end of our reading and testing her recipes, there was agreement among us that this notion was, however, perhaps the downfall of the book. At first glance, the book pops with colors and very Instagrammable photos, but when getting down to the nitty-gritty of the recipes, several issues arose.

We all tested the Spicy Chipotle Chicken Wings With Sweet Potato Wedges, Cilantro & Lime Yogurt. While Judith and Michelle found the sweet and spicy flavors to be pleasing, Jo-Anne’s wings ended up overcooked. For all three, the sweet potato wedges were also cooked to the point of mushiness.

Jo-Anne made the Oven-Cooked Beet Risotto recipe, which promised to have a prep time of 10 minutes. It ended up taking much longer—and being a lot messier than expected, leaving the kitchen looking, as she put it, “like a crime scene.” While the risotto was visually pretty, it also was a quite bland dish, and the addition of raw hazelnuts didn’t add much. Her attempt at Fennel, Sausage & Cannellini Beans With Tomatoes & Conchigliette also resulted in her longing for a more descriptive ingredient list, like clarifying what size fennel bulb and onion to use.

Judith tackled both the Roasted Pineapple With Chile Syrup, which resulted in much frustration: Leaving the pineapple’s leaves and skin on made it difficult to cut and eat, and it was as messy as it sounds. She also made the Paprika-Roasted Corn With Scallions, Feta & Lime—while she found the feta crumbled over the corn to be pretty, it fell off when she tried to eat it (not the most practical!) and thought perhaps the feta would have been better as a dip. The recipe also doesn’t indicate what kind of paprika to use, noting “This is hugely important, as the different types of paprika vary greatly in flavor profiles.”

Michelle tried her hand at the Sticky Date, Molasses & Coconut Tart, which she described as a “winner” in flavor. She was surprised to realize, though, that Iyer doesn’t mention removing the bay leaves from the dish before serving. Thankfully, Michelle knew better than to forget to do so, but who knows if any beginner home cooks may end up having bay leaf mishaps because of this missing step. While bay leaves can technically be eaten, they're naturally very rigid, with sharp edges, and unable to be totally softened by cooking. If you were to swallow a bay leaf, there is potential for it to scratch your digestive tract, leading to an unpleasant experience, to say the very least.

Michelle’s second dish was the Steamed Chocolate Cardamom Pudding. As with the other dishes tested, this one also resulted in confusion and frustration. The recipe calls for the seeds from 8 cardamom pods, without clarification on if the seeds should be ground. It also indicates that there should be enough batter for six 3/4-cup ramekins, but she only had enough batter for three 3/4-cup ramekins. When it came to the final product, though, Michelle enjoyed the dark flavor of the chocolate mixed with the cardamom, despite the occasional crunch on a seed.

Overall, Iyer’s book, while beautiful, just didn’t make the cut for us three home cooks.

Winner Winner, One-Pan Dinner

“I wanted to write the book so that home cooks, and people who aren’t confident in the kitchen, could get good food on that table with relative ease, so a good time could be had by everyone, including the cook.” —Diana Henry

When it came to choosing our favorite one-pan cookbook, we all agreed that Diana Henry’s From the Oven to the Table was the clear winner. Her straightforward approach, along with her gentle, yet authoritative voice, was consistent throughout the book. We all felt her present with us as we tackled each recipe, like a good friend sitting at the kitchen table guiding us through the preparation of each dish (with a glass of wine, of course).

When we received the books to review, we were all drawn to her cookbook first. From the striking cover to the beautiful photographs, along with a well-organized and visually pleasing layout filled with helpful tips and techniques throughout, this cookbook received top marks for presentation, teachable moments, voice, and appearance/engagement.

We also felt that her recipes had the strongest flavors, with purposefully chosen ingredients strategically layered throughout the cooking process. We especially appreciated her relaxed approach to cooking, creating recipes that, as she notes, “leave the cook ample time to visit with dinner guests.” We aren’t having over any dinner guests just yet, but we still appreciate the sentiment.

Henry did fall short on some of the methodology for a few of the recipes tested, but we all felt these could be easily corrected with a few tweaks. In terms of flexibility, recipes could be halved to create smaller yields if needed, but we would have liked more choices when cooking for fewer people and around storage for any leftovers. Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed being “at the table” with Diana Henry, and look forward to cooking more of her dishes in the near future.

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1 Comment

Gallant7th April 4, 2021
I had to laugh when I read that you felt the ATK book was too text-heavy, one of the main reasons it was the runner-up and not the winner.

For me, all the additional information they give - their test process, the reasons for certain steps or ingredients, the helpful tips - is why I love ATK. Not only have they already gone through the invariable trial and error process I end up doing with other recipes, the extra information means my husband will actually share the cooking load because he doesn’t have to ask me to explain things he doesn’t understand. He will always choose the ATK books I have over the rest of the books in my collection.

So, your reason for making the ATK book a runner-up for you tells me it is exactly the right one for me.