Planning dinners can get a little crazy sometimes. You know how it is: You decide to really cook this week and put together a week of menus that look great on paper but can end up taking more time and using more kitchen equipment than a catered event.
Give yourself a break with a sheet pan dinner — or two — every week. These simple-to-plan, easy-to-serve meals allow you to cook the whole meal on one sheet pan. It just takes a little prep work and timing to go from raw to roasted, leaving a few kitchen utensils and a pan for clean-up.
While most of the dinner is roasting away, you can whip up a simple salad or light side if you’d like to do so.
The basics for sheet pan dinners are pretty simple.
The rule you MUST follow is this: Use a good-quality, standard size (13 inch x 18 inch) rimmed half sheet pan. You’ll understand the importance of the rim the very first — and I dare say only — time you try this on a rimless cookie sheet or smaller sheet pan.
When you go to stir or flip your food, you’ll be none too happy seeing your chicken thighs and potatoes sliding off the tray and onto the bottom of the stove because either there’s no rim to corral them or that too-little tray is piled as high as a make-your-own-sundae and there’s no room for food to spread out for even roasting.
Get a heavy duty, uncoated, aluminized sheet pan rather than nonstick options. If you want to avoid tough clean-up, use cooking spray or parchment paper on your uncoated sheet pan.
Planning a sheet pan dinner is a little like matchmaking: You want to pair proteins and vegetables that have similar cooking times so they finish together. The Sheet Pan Garlic Roasted Chicken and Potatoes is a good example of this. So is the Curried Chickpeas and Cauliflower Roast. Everything goes in at once and finishes at the same time.
Sometimes, though, you want to bring compatible ingredients together for a good time that may need different cooking times. You just need to be sure that each ingredient goes into the oven in good order so that everything finishes at the same time.
If you’re making a seafood or fish dinner, put the vegetables in first. When they are almost done, add the fish or seafood. The Roasted Salmon and Broccoli with Chile-Caper Vinaigrette is a good example of this. This dish is beautiful and would serve nicely for a dinner party as well as a quick weeknight dinner.
The Vegetarian Chili with Buttermilk Biscuits is another example of planning how you are going to add your ingredients for the best end result.
If you’re cooking with the kids, get them into the sheet pan plan with the Chicken and Waffles recipe. You can serve this for dinner, but we bet you’ll love it for Sunday brunch as well. With two butters on the side, you can satisfy sweet and savory taste buds.
Be sure to place the baking sheet in the oven as it preheats to get a sizzling surface for the food. This will help build a browned crust.
As you prep, consider seasoning and size.
You can season everything on the pan with the same spice mixture or you can season items individually. At the WV Marketplace and The Purple Onion, we have selections of sauces and spice mixtures that can help you build the flavors for your meal. Want an Italian taste? Try coating chicken, red onion, carrots and potatoes with one of our Italian spice mixes. Just put each item into a bowl, add a little olive oil to coat and sprinkle in the seasoning. Toss and pop in the oven to roast. Toward the end of the cooking time, drop a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes onto the skillet and let them burst to add a fresh taste to the dish.
Maybe you want a flavorful sauce. Add that sauce to the meat and give the veggies a simple seasoning of salt and pepper or a complimentary spice.
As for size, it’s best to cut vegetables to the same size and shape (too large and they won’t cook through, too small and they’ll burn). Look for meat cuts of the same thickness so they’ll cook evenly.
Remember this: If at first you don’t get the cooking time just right and the chicken needs to come out for a bit because the potatoes or carrots aren’t done, just pull it out, keep it warm and slide it all back together when everything else is roasted.
When it’s time to add the food to the pan, don’t overcrowd it. Food needs to have space so air can circulate. If the food is too crowded on the pan, it will steam rather than roast.
Think about placement, too. Place whole proteins in the center of the sheet pan where they’ll absorb the most heat and scatter the vegetables on both sides.
If everything on the pan will be tossed midway through cooking, you can mix it all together. If you’ve got something like fish that will not need to be tossed, be sure to give it a separate side on the sheet pan. If your recipe calls for citrus slices whose juices will benefit the things below it, make sure that thing gets placed on top of everything else before your sheet-pan dinner goes in the oven.
Finally, have some fun with that sheet pan. Bring back this 1960s Saltine Toffee Bark recipe. These salty-sweet treats are irresistible and make great gifts.