What’s the Difference Between Roasting and Baking?

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Roasting and baking are both common cooking methods. Perhaps you’ve baked chicken breasts, roasted a whole chicken or a mix of root vegetables, or at the very least enjoyed a slice of baked cake. But do you know the difference between them?

These terms are used interchangeably quite often, but what really sets them apart? Are roasting and baking actually the same thing?

Dry Heat Cooking

Roasting and baking are both dry heat cooking methods. These cooking techniques use hot air to conduct heat, typically at 300°F or higher.

Both methods brown the exterior of the food, adding delicious flavor (think: crispy chicken skin and crusty bread). While roasting used to signify food cooked over an open flame, roasting today is done in an oven.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

What’s the Difference Between Roasting and Baking?

While these cooking methods are nearly identical in today’s kitchen, there are actually a few things that set them apart.

  • Structure of the food: This is the primary factor that sets these cooking methods apart. Roasting involves cooking foods that already have a solid structure before the cooking process begins (think: meat and vegetables). Baking involves that foods that lack structure early on, then become solid and lose their “empty space” during the cooking (think: cakes and muffins).
  • Temperature: Various sources note that the temperature setting on the oven also distinguishes these two cooking method. Roasting requires a higher temperature (400°F and above) to create a browned, flavorful “crust” on the outside of the food being cooked, while baking occurs at lower oven temperatures (up to 375°F).
  • Fat content: While many baked goods contain fat within, an outer coating of fat, such as vegetables or meat brushed with olive oil, is an indicator of roasting.
  • Covered pan: Roasting is typically done in an open, uncovered pan, while items that are baked may be covered.

Which Method Is Right for Your Recipe?

If you’re cooking food that has a solid structure — like any type of meat or vegetables — no matter the temperature of the oven, you’ll roast it.

If you’re cooking food that doesn’t already have a solid structure, but will after it’s cooked — like muffins, cake, bread, and casseroles — the proper method is baking.

Simple enough, right?