Roasting, baking and broiling all use the dry heat in the oven to cook foods, but the results are different depending on which method you choose. Understanding how your oven works and the finished results of each cooking method helps you select the best way to prepare a meal.
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. Broiling only uses the top element, so it cooks and browns food quickly, giving a result similar to grilling. Baked foods depend on even heat to brown and cook them evenly throughout, while roasting typically begins with high heat that results in quick browning, followed by lower heat that finishes cooking the food.
Cakes, pies and breads are always baked. The constant heat in the oven ensures that the outside browns and turns golden, while the inside cooks evenly enough to result in a tender crumb. It takes longer to bake foods than to roast them because they are never exposed to high heat. Meats are sometimes baked, depending on the desired results. Skinless poultry, fish and meatloaf are typically baked instead of roasted because the high heat of roasting will dry out or burn the meat.
Roasting exposes food to high heat similar to broiling, except that the heat is supplied by both the top and bottom heating elements. After the food turns brown or develops a crisp outer skin, the oven temperature is reduced and the food is cooked until it is done in the center. Whole or skin-on poultry, such as chicken, prime rib and dense vegetables, like potatoes or carrots, are typically roasted so they develop the crispy exterior and soft interior favored in these foods. Roasting cooks food more quickly than baking because the high initial heat exposure jump starts the process.
Broil when you want results similar to grilling but are cooking indoors. Tender cuts of meat, such as steaks or pork chops, yield good results under the broiler. You can also use the broiler to add a finishing touch to food prepared by baking or on the stovetop, such as melting cheese over chicken, creating an open-face sandwich or giving a fire-roasted result to chili peppers. Preheat the broiler and prepare the food in advance. 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, so monitor the food closely the entire time that it is in the oven. Remove the pan from the oven as soon as the food browns to the desired color.