If you have never had a sheet-pan dinner, you are in for a treat. Also called tray bakes, the method involves cooking an entire meal on one (or two) baking sheets at the same time. Sheet-pan dinners are a terrific weeknight timesaver; however, there is a bit of know-how involved in preparing them. Keep reading to learn my best tips for mastering this simple meal.
Use What You Have
We’ve all purchased vegetables that sit in the fridge drawer a little too long. Perhaps you have meat you bought on sale lurking in the bottom of your deep freezer? Or maybe you have a collection of never-used flavored oils and vinegars you received as gifts sitting in your pantry? Sheet-pan dinners are a wonderful way to clean out your refrigerator, freezer and cupboards! In a world where the concept of zero waste is at the forefront of our collective consciousness, they’re a no-brainer. Don’t toss it – roast it!
Seasoning Is Key
Anyone can chop vegetables, place them on a baking sheet and cook them in the oven. In my experience, the choice of seasoning is the key to mixing it up. Make a simple vinaigrette using olive oil, vinegar and chopped herbs to drizzle over diced peppers and onions. Marinate root vegetables in an easy mix of Dijon mustard, honey and lemon juice for a few hours before cooking. Add pizzazz to potatoes with gorgeous Middle Eastern spice blends such as Za’atar or Baharat. Harissa paste, sriracha, or Korean gochujang chili paste add heat to meat in the best possible way. And, of course, don’t forget a sprinkle of salt and pepper!
Eat the Rainbow
When serving vegetable-forward meals, I always keep in mind the adage “eat the rainbow”. Granted, we don’t really have blue, indigo or violet (maybe eggplant?) vegetables to choose from, but red, orange, yellow and green ones are in full supply year-round.
Hard Versus Soft Vegetables
A rule of thumb that has served me well when making sheet-pan dinners is to cook the hard vegetables first. Potatoes, squash, carrots, parsnips and other root vegetables take longer to cook than softer vegetables such as red peppers, onions, mushrooms and asparagus. Chop any vegetables you have on hand into uniform 1” (2 ½cm) pieces and season them however you like. First, spread the harder root vegetables in a layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cook for 15 minutes at 400ºF (205ºC). Remove the sheet from the oven, flip the roasted root vegetables over and top them with any softer vegetables (and meat, if using). Return the sheet-pan dinner to the oven. Continue to cook for an additional 15 – 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the meat is cooked through. (Be sure roasted meat registers at a food-safe internal temperature on a digital thermometer before eating, usually 165ºF (74ºC)).
The Broccoli Stands Alone
We love broccoli in our house and eat it several times each week for dinner. The problem? As a softer vegetable, broccoli can become overcooked and sometimes borderline mushy. The solution? Give broccoli its own baking sheet. When overcrowded on a pan, broccoli releases water, resulting in it getting steamed rather than roasted. I prefer to spread broccoli on a separate, smaller baking sheet, leaving plenty of space between florets. Space ensures the broccoli is bright, tender and slightly charred, which adds an additional layer of flavor to your meal.
What Meat Is Best?
Our sheet-pan dinner rotation includes sausages, sliced ham (picnic shoulder sliced about ½” thick), fresh salmon, shrimp, and boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Marinate the meat or fish (or don’t) and place it atop the softer vegetables as the third layer on the pan. The reason I prefer these options is because they cook quickly, about the same length of time as the vegetables. Again, always take a temperature reading for cooked meat and fish before serving.
Make It Vegetarian or Vegan
Not a meat eater? Try thick sliced halloumi or large chunks of feta in place of meat on your sheet-pan dinner, or use roasted chickpeas or tofu for a vegan option.
With colder weather here, I hope you’re feeling inspired to try this simple meal solution. Sheet-pan dinners are so easy and quick to make, and they take hardly any time to clean up. I love that they leave me with more time to gather at the dinner table. I hope you love that, too. Happy cooking!
Kelly Neil is a food photographer and blog publisher living and working in her hometown of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. See more of her work at kellyneil.com.