Baking or Roasting – You Decide

October 23, 2009 39 Comments

Baking or Roasting

Baking Versus Roasting

Your recipe for roast loin of pork says to roast in a 350 degree F. oven. Your recipe for yellow butter cake says to bake in a 350 degree F. oven. For either recipe, you open the oven and put your food in. So, is there a difference between baking and roasting?

The short answer is “No.”

But it really isn’t as simple as all that. Baking and roasting are both dry heat cooking methods. This just means that heat is not transferred through a liquid medium during the cooking process. In modern times, we assume that baking and roasting both occur in ovens.

By Definition

Joy of Cooking defines roasting as a specialized type of baking. Roasting is almost always done in an open pan; that is, the food to be roasted is uncovered. Often, when roasting meat, you place it on a rack so it doesn’t sit in its own juices as it roasts. The rack serves as a suspension system whereby the meat is “suspended” in the oven over a pan (shades of spit roasting in days of yore).

There also seems to be a convention associated with the terms “bake” and “roast.” Although the two identify almost identical cooking techniques, in the modern kitchen anyway, “baking” is most generally associated with breads, cakes, pies and casseroles while “roasting” is what you do to meat or vegetables.

Roasting often starts at a higher temperature to create a “crust” on the outside of what is being roasted. Then, the temperature is reduced for the remainder of the cooking time. This is also the case when baking pate a choux (for cream puffs or éclairs) and some breads. In these similar cases, the identical cooking process (high temperature reducing to a lower temperature) is employed for different reasons.

In the roasting example, you’re trying to encourage exterior browning and caramelization of the target food before decreasing the heat and finishing gently. In the baking example, you need an initial burst of intense heat to encourage an expansion of air to make the pate a choux puff up or to encourage optimum oven-spring in the bread (the yeasts’ last hoorah). Then, the temperature is reduced to set and dry the structure of both the pate a choux and the bread.

What’s the Difference?

So, while roasting and baking are almost identical methods of dry heat cooking, the terms roasting and baking apply to two different kinds of foods. You generally roast food that has structure already, solid foods such as meats and vegetables. You generally bake foods that don’t have much structure until they are baked: cakes, breads, pies, casseroles, crème brulee, etc.

In other words, you bake leavened items – items that “puff up” or “rise” during the cooking process. In baking, aside from just “cooking” the food, the goal is to either create steam or expand air pockets within the target food.

Most foods that we roast contain less “empty space” than foods that we bake. These foods are, by and large, already solid. The primary goal of roasting then becomes transferring heat from the surface of the food to the interior at a regulated pace to ensure crusty goodness outside and juicy, tender doneness inside.

Last modified on Fri 4 April 2014 12:27 pm

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  1. MARISOL CARDENAS says:

    Your article has been really helpful for understanding a product process. Thanks a lot

    You are very welcome and thanks for visiting. – RG

  2. Matthew says:

    I am truly happy that i subscribe to this site, it is so informative I am a home cook, I sometimes cook for small gatherings, what I’ve learned makes me feel like an iron chef, the difference between roasting and baking as you have explained I have asked other accomplished cooks and they couldn’t answer, some never thought about it, now they look at me as having a wealth of knowledge and come to me with some of their culinary problems. Thanks

  3. MIRNA says:

    Bless you! Yet yet another nice contribution, which is the reason I returned to all your blogging site time and again..

  4. Vasco says:

    Excellent. Very comprehensive and well written. A must. Just found the site and will be exploring it extensively.

  5. liz says:

    I am really enjoying your site. Have learned so much (even tho I have been doing extensive baking and cooking for yrs.). Thanks again for the best and informative site on the web. Liz

    You are very welcome Liz – RG

  6. Marivic says:

    Thanks for the information. I was troubled on how to explain baking and roasting to my participants next week until I found your answer… Arigatou, Marivic

    Hi Marivic, who are you teaching? RG

  7. Stephen Kaiser says:

    So I wouldn’t bake a potato, I would roast it?

    Stephen, I still say baked potatoes if they are whole and roasted potatoes if they are cut up but what’s in a name? – RG

  8. Katie says:

    and how come we ‘bake” a ham?
    ooohh the joy of cooking!!

    Hi Katie, and what about chicken? We’ve all enjoyed both baked and roasted chicken. – RG

  9. Peter Hertzmann says:

    In modern ovens there is a significant difference. When an oven has both baking and roasting settings, they are not interchangeable. When in the baking setting, the heat only originates from a bottom element. When set to roasting, the heating elements are both on the top and the bottom.

    • The Reluctant Gourmet says:

      Hi Peter, interesting point. I think you find both those settings mostly on convection style ovens but I may be wrong. I just checked my brand new oven from LG and it only has baking and broil settings so I’m wondering if I’m missing an important feature. If I cook a chicken at 350 degrees F on the bake setting, I’m still going to call it roast chicken and the technique roasting and not baking. There is a very interesting article at http://www.ochef.com/1403.htm that describes the terminology and talks about various brands and how they define roasting/baking. I think what they say at the end of the article sums it up,

      “You can see that accuracy in the semantic use of the words “roast” and “bake” has little meaning and consistency and certainly no advocates anymore. Even sticklers such as us have caught ourselves saying one when we meant the other. Sadly, this battle has been lost.”

  10. Kay L Connors says:

    After seeing all kinds of foods described as “roasted”, like roasted garlic, roasted vegetables, just about everything but cake, and maybe ham, I have come to the conclusion that “roasted” is becoming a “drooler “word. I think it sounds more appealing than baked. But sometimes I hear it and I feel that I am being played like Pavlov’s dog. When I see the term roasted garlic, (baked garlic?) I imagine a bunch of cooks holding sticks with garlic on them over a campfire, roasting it, or roasted veggies on a spit over same fire. Oh well, that’s just me.

    Interesting take on the term Kay – RG

  11. katie says:

    after seeing all kinds of different thing this website was the best by far! THANK YOU

  12. alan levitan says:

    I’m 76 years old. I recently saw a recipe for roasting eggplant cubes and wondered how different that might be from baking them! (One can still be ignorant and naive at 76.) Your rich explanation is superb and wonderful to read. I’ll be eating roasted eggplant cubes tomorrow. Thank you!

    You are welcome Alan and keep cooking, it keeps you young. -RG

  13. Genevieve Bailey says:

    So, if roasting usually occurs in an open pan, why do some roasting pans come with lids? ( I never know when to cover something or not unless otherwise specifically noted) I didn’t know the difference between roast/bake, when I googled it this is the first article and thank goodness it was! Thank you!

    Great question Genevieve and one I need to write an entire post about but to keep it simple, most roasting pans have how low sides and no cover so the hot air can reach more of what you are cooking. The roasting pans that have higher sides and a cover cook the food with steam rather than dry heat roasting. It’s a great way to cook some food and I have friends who swear they are the best for cooking turkey. I imagine you could also use the high sided – covered roasting pan for braising big batches of meat and chicken too. But if you want to roast using the dry heat method, I would stick with a low sided roasting pan with no cover. – RG

  14. Rigoberto Rveron says:

    I love the way it was explained. According to what i understood, roasting and baking is the same thing but you have to decide when to use one term or the other. I love it.

  15. Val says:

    Thank you. Nice well explained article. I figured there was some difference, but obviously not enough that most regular ovens don’t come with a different sering other than bake and broil. I thought maybe a difference in the phan or method of dry/wet

  16. Penny Granger says:

    Great article. First time I’ve been here but it’s a joy to find knowledge and food together in one place so I’m sure to be back.

  17. sandra says:

    My oven has both “”roast” and “bake” settings. My husband asked me which one to choose, so I came to your site. Interesting explanation and comments! I learned a lot! However, I wonder if the “roast” setting might automatically start out with a higher temperature (as you mentioned for a “crust”) and then automatically lower it??? I know that the “convection” setting automatically changes the temperature 25 -50 degrees lower than we actually set. Just a thought, not worth much.

  18. arth says:

    nice site…
    it is for the people who didn’t know the difference of baking to roasting…

  19. arth says:

    nice site..

  20. Eric says:

    Clear and concise. No wonder your’s is the first google hit. Will be back.

  21. oh says:

    thanks for your work
    i wanna know the difference bewteen baking and roasting. You described so easily
    from korea
    nice site!

  22. Andrew Paterson says:

    The only really important difference between roasting and baking is knowing whether you are getting heat from both above and below or just below? The most annoying thing is that even the manufacturer doesn’t explain this and that’s all I really need to know. Keep it simple and leave the rest to the cook.

  23. Doug says:

    So, I guess that baking a with a covered pot would be called pot roast.

  24. Lucy M says:

    Best article I have found on the subject! We have a bake-off at work and only technical rule we have had is that items have to be baked in an oven. I would love to know your thoughts on other cooking methods. For example are crepes or pancakes considered baked or grilled? Thanks!

  25. Tom says:

    Thanks for the excellent article contrasting these two cooking terms. It makes perfect sense to me, and resolves a long standing question.

  26. ajit kashyap says:

    then what is difference between baked potato and roasting potato.

    Some would say none, it’s just what you want to call them but I think of baked potatoes as the large Idaho style potatoes that are served individually and roasted potatoes as either pieces of potato or smaller fingerling potatoes that are coated with oil and roasted but that’s just how I view them.

  27. Richard Moniz says:

    If roasting and baking are almost the same, why are there
    different settings on a oven such as Bake, Roast,

    Hi Richard, I have two ovens and I just looked and there are bake and broil buttons, no roast. Broil is different from roasting… the heat just comes from the top element but if you have a roasting button on your stove, please let me know the make and model and I’ll investigate. – RG

  28. Alana says:

    My definition of roasting would be when fat or oil is involved as a coating to achieve the characteristic caramelisation, eg Roasted chicken roasts in its own fat, roasted potatoes using oil.. Baking in when only a dry heat is used, eg baked potatoes, baked cakes etc, and braising is when meat or vegetables are cooked using a mixture of dry heat and liquid, ie a small amount of liquid in a covered dish in the oven (can also be called pot roast).

  29. Louis Cohen says:

    Casseroles, which are baked, not roasted, are not leavened. The word used commonly with each type of food is pretty much arbitrary.

  30. Nancy says:

    This was a wonderful explanation. Thanks it totally clears it up for me so Thanks so much!

  31. Susan Clark says:

    This was very helpful. Now I understand the difference, even though I’d distinguished the two terms for many years!

  32. Valerie says:

    When I took Home Economics back during the Pleistocene era, there was a difference between baking and roasting. Baking was done in the oven, and open ie. a cake or cookies. Roasting always meant the cover was put over top, as in a roast. The lid would often be taken off during the last short while, to help in the browning. If on the top of the stove, such as with a pot roast, the lid was kept on. So … baking = open to the heat; roasting = a cover over top.

  33. Nkiru says:

    Thank you this article is very precise. Someone knows her onions. Nkiru, Nigeria.

  34. Daniel says:

    This article was informative, but as others have mentioned, baking is not reserved to bakery items. The article doesn`t explain baked ham, chicken etc.

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