What's the Difference Between Roasting and Baking?
It’s easy to confuse these common cooking methods. Here’s how to tell them apart, plus delicious recipes to try.
Roasting and baking are dry-heat cooking methods that take place in a hot oven, but do you know the difference between them? You roast a whole chicken, but you bake the individual breasts or thighs. On the other hand, you bake a cake, but roasting it sounds a bit awkward (and pretty weird). Yes, these two terms can cause confusion—but once you understand what they mean, you’ll have no problem distinguishing between them. Let’s take a closer look.
While roasting and baking are not interchangeable terms, they do share several similarities. Both methods involve surrounding the food in an enclosed environment (your oven) of dry, hot air. And both serve to add texture and flavor to your food, whether it’s through crisping or browning.
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Roasting is typically associated with large cuts of meat such as beef tenderloin, whole birds such as chicken or turkey, whole fish, and vegetables. To crisp and brown foods, roasting works best in a hot, 400°F (or higher) oven. Before roasting, you’ll often toss or brush the food with a fat such as olive oil to add flavor and speed up the crisping process. Basting, where fat is brushed over large cuts of meat to lock in moisture, is a similar technique that’s used when roasting whole chicken, turkey, or pork shoulder.
Baking is best for breads, casseroles, cakes, cookies, fish fillets, and smaller cuts of chicken. Baking gives structure to foods that lack it initially—dough becomes bread, batter turns into cake, and eggs and cream transform into custard. It’s preferable to use a lower oven temperature, such as 350°F, for baking since you’re working with more delicate foods such as quiches, cakes, casseroles, or bread pudding (here’s how to avoid an over-baked bread pudding).
While there are certain foods that you’d never want to bake (such as a Thanksgiving turkey)—and likewise for roasting (i.e. roasted cake)—there are some foods that work with both cooking methods. Fruit, in particular, falls into this category, and how you cook it depends on how you intend to use it. Baked apples are a classic and comforting dessert, while roasted grapes are a delicious addition to a green salad.
Whether you’re roasting or baking, both methods guarantee flavor-packed, craveworthy food. Understanding the ins and outs of each method gives you greater control over the outcome of your food. Now, make some oven magic!