What are the differences between baking, roasting, and broiling?

Baked chicken, roast chicken, broiled chicken—okay, they're all made in the oven, so are there real differences among the three cooking methods? Here's how to figure out which cooking technique works best for your purposes.

The Main Differences

An oven typically has at least two heating elements—one on the top and one on the bottom. A convection oven also has fans that circulate the air. Roasting and baking use both heating elements, and also the fans in a convection oven. Baking involves consistent medium heat to brown and cook food evenly, while roasting typically begins with high heat for quick browning, followed by lower heat that finishes cooking the food through. Broiling only uses the top element, so it cooks and browns food quickly, similar to grilling.

Baking Basics

It takes longer to bake foods than to roast them because they're never exposed to high heat. The constant medium heat in the oven ensures that the outside of the food browns and turns golden, while the inside cooks evenly. Cakes, pies, and breads are always baked. Skinless poultry, fish, and meatloaf are typically baked instead of roasted because the high temperatures of roasting would dry out or burn the meat.

Roasting Right

Roasting starts at high, dry heat, then once the food browns or develops a crisp outer skin, the oven temperature is reduced and the food is cooked until it's done in the center. Roast whole chicken, prime rib, tenderloin, and veggies like potatoes, carrots, and zucchini. Cooking time will vary based on whether you’re using higher temperatures or lower temperatures. It’s best to use a roasting pan as the cookware for roasted foods as a sheet pan can sometimes not catch liquids coming out of the food on this bake setting.

Broiling Benefits

Broil when you want results similar to grilling but are cooking indoors. Tender cuts of meat, such as steaks or pork chops, are best under the broiler. This cooking process can also be used to add a finishing touch to food that's been baked or cooked on the stovetop—melt cheese over baked chicken, scorch an open-faced sandwich, or give a fire-roasted flavor to sautéed chili peppers.

For best broiling, set the food on the top oven rack no more than 3 or 4 inches from the heating element. Broiling usually only takes a few minutes since its so close to the heat source, so monitor the food closely and remove it from the oven as soon as it browns to the desired color of caramelization. The broil setting can also be used to make food crispy or to give a “sear” on top of foods after they’ve cooked in the over, like casseroles, chicken breasts, Brussels sprouts, or other types of foods. You can get special broiling pans if you want, but regular pans also work.