Yes, There's a Difference Between Roasting and Baking—and It Involves Temperature and What You're Cooking

The terms are often used interchangeably, but each has its own defining characteristics.

Photo: Jonathan Lovekin

Whether you're a seasoned cook or a novice still learning the basics of the kitchen, understanding fundamental culinary terms and techniques—and how to apply them—will only expand your skill set. While some methods are self-evident (boiling pretty much always involves liquid and bubbles), others may be more challenging to differentiate, stumping even seasoned chefs. One such example? Roasting versus baking. These terms, which both involve making something in the oven, are often used interchangeably. But are you roasting chicken? Or are you making baked chicken?

We reached out to food professionals to gain more clarity on the distinctions and similarities between roasting and baking—and found some exceptions to standard epicurean schools of thought.

Roasting vs. Baking

"Not everyone is going to agree, but to us, the key differences [between roasting and baking] have to do with the primary ingredients, the temperature, and the goal," says Cammie Kim Lin, a food writer and professor at New York University. She and her her sister, Leah Su Quiroga, a former head chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif. co-wrote (Serious) New Cook: Recipes, Tips, and Techniques, an instructional resource for fledgling cooks striving to expand their kitchen skills.


On the temperature front, the differences between roasting and baking are fairly cut and dry. Both baking and roasting involve cooking with dry, ambient heat, usually in an oven. Roasting temperatures are typically above 400°F, while baking temperatures are about 375°F and below.

Baking Brings Transformation

Baking, which involves a slightly lower temperature, often involves a metamorphosis—converting liquids to solids, for instance. "Baking is more associated with a cooking process that transforms multiple ingredients into something totally new, like a dough into bread, a batter into a cake, or an egg mixture into a quiche," says Lin.

Roasting Has Wider Applications

Lin and Quiroga note that roasting typically involves whole, solid foods like chicken or vegetables; oils, inherent or added, quicken caramelization. "You'd be surprised how many foods roast well. Almost anything will roast nicely if it has enough fat to help it along," explains Lin.

Roasting is an ideal cooking method for fatty meats, like pork shoulder or belly, but there's no need to stop with animal proteins. "Hearty vegetables like sweet potatoes, squashes, cauliflower, broccoli, and root vegetables, all roast up marvelously with nothing more than a good drizzle of olive oil and some salt," says Lin. "The key is to let them go long enough to caramelize on the outside. (A heavy sheet pan or roasting dish lined with parchment paper helps.)"

Roasting also always aims to brown, whether it's chicken skin or broccoli, explains Ronna Welsh, author of The Nimble Cook and the owner of and chef at Purple Kale Kitchenworks, an online cooking school. With roasting, the heat concentrates or intensifies an ingredient's flavor, or makes its texture more approachable, she adds.

Culinary Crossover

Lin and Quiroga also find that roasting fruit, like strawberries or apricots, with a sprinkle of sugar to mix with natural juices, has delicious outcomes. But wait—doesn't roasting refer to savory foods, while baking pertains (mostly) to sweet treats? "That's one assumed difference between the two terms, but it doesn't hold up. For instance, you can 'bake' squash or potatoes, or a pan of ziti," says Welsh. "We 'roast' potato wedges, but 'bake' whole potatoes, even though, in each case, we want similar transformations: crisp skins and fluffy interiors."

Lin and Quiroga point out other examples that don't square with a hardline rule of thumb. "'Slow roasting' is a thing, too, and that happens at lower temperatures," says Lin.

Expanding Definitions

Obviously, there are marked differences between roasting and baking, but sometimes the definitions simply need to be expanded—and other circumstances may play a part in the terms used, like regional cooking norms. "When we were growing up in Michigan, everyone made baked chicken, not roasted chicken," Lin says.


Personally, the sisters are fans of another cooking method they find foolproof: braising. This involves roasting whole pieces of meat, like duck legs, partially immersed in a liquid, such as chicken stock, with some added wine and aromatics. "Braising results in incredibly tender, flavorful meat that still has all of the browning and caramelization you're aiming for when roasting," says Lin.

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