Dear Home Ec 101,
How come if I put a pie in the oven it’s baking, but if I put a chicken it could be called roasting or it could be called baking?
Flummoxed in Florence
Some of it is cultural conditioning and evolving language as many people use the terms interchangeably, but largely the term roasting tends to be applied to meats and vegetables while baking refers to breads and pastries.
However, there are some subtle differences between the two methods.
The terms baking and roasting have more to do with the type of heat actually applied to the item in the oven, than the place in which they are cooked. You can roast meat over an open flame; think of a pig on a spit, turned over a large fire. The heat source is cooking the meat as the heat is transferred directly to surface of the food. In baking, items are in a pan or on a sheet and it is a combination of the heating of the pan itself and the already hot air in the oven that cooks the item.
For both baking and roasting, it is a dry heat that cooks the food item, not steam created by the ingredients used.
Now let’s bring a different term into the fray, braising. Braising is a wet heat applied to food, such as a pot roast. This method can render a tough cut of meat quite tender, but it is not the same as boiling so don’t get carried away with the addition of liquid to your dish.
Oh, and just for fun? Your average baked potato isn’t. If you cook it in the microwave it’s steamed and if you place it on a sheet pan in the oven it is roasted.