What Is the Difference Between Baking and Roasting?

Many people use the terms interchangeably, but is there actually a difference between baking and roasting?

Ever wonder why some recipes call it baking and others call it roasting? You’ve probably roasted vegetables in the oven and baked a cake, but you may have also baked chicken breasts or potatoes. Both techniques use the oven, and they often call for the same oven temperature. So what’s the difference between baking and roasting? Can you accidentally bake something instead of roasting it? We take a look at the nuances between these two common cooking terms.

Baking vs. Roasting

What is baking?

Baking describes a method of cooking using dry heat in an enclosed space (like an oven) rather than over an open flame (like on the grill or a cooktop). Baked items usually start as a batter or dough—picture muffins, cake or bread. As the baked good is exposed to heat, the moisture in the batter or dough evaporates. That gives the baked good structure, allowing it to rise and form a golden brown, crusty exterior. When it comes to temperature, baking is usually done between 300° and 400° F, although most recipes call for preheating the oven to 350°.

What is roasting?

Roasting also uses dry heat in an enclosed space, but it’s the go-to term for foods that already have a structure, like meat and vegetables, rather than batters or doughs. Roasted items are usually coated in a fat, such as butter or oil, to help the exterior caramelize and brown, and it’s important to choose the right temperature–especially when cooking meat—so the inside finishes before the outside burns.

Compared to baking, roasting is usually done at higher temperatures: between 375° and 450°. If your oven-roasted vegetables didn’t turn out crisp and caramelized, it’s probably because the oven wasn’t hot enough!.

Sometimes, roasting refers to cooking an item, like roasted peppers, over an open flame. It’s a more hands-on process that can also be accomplished in the oven or under a broiler.

The Difference Between Baking and Roasting

In the end, there really isn’t much of a difference between baking and roasting. Both terms refer to dry-heat cooking methods that heat up the air inside an oven, surrounding the food on all sides and remaining constant to cook your food at an even rate. When in doubt, use the term “roast” when referring to something with definite structure and “bake” if it starts as a batter and finishes with structure.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.