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1. Here’s What You’ll Learn

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3. Sheet Pan Meals

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Sheet Pan Meals 101 [4 mins 30 sec]

Download this as a PDF: Sheet Pan 101.pdf

Click below to listen to the audio version: 

Sheet Pan Meal 101

Let’s talk sheet pan meals.

If you didn’t know, sheet pan cooking is my JAM. I’ve written two bestselling cookbooks on sheet pan recipes, “Healthy Sheet Pan Cookbook” and “Easy Sheet Pan Cookbook“, and I’ve developed TONS of recipes over the years that require just one sheet pan and a hot oven. It’s kinda my thing here.

In this section, I’ll be going over what sheet pan cooking essentially is, WHY you want to even make dinner on the thing you usually use to bake cookies on, the types of sheet pans you should always make sure to use as well as the pans you should stay away from.

So why a sheet pan meal?

So first up, let’s talk about WHY you would want to cook a meal on one flat pan in the oven. One thing I’ve always loved about sheet pans is they’re cheap to buy, they’re readily available- as in, you can buy them almost anywhere you get standard home goods, from Walmart to fancy kitchen goods store, and they have a really low barrier to entry. Just about any cook at any skill level can make a sheet pan recipe.

A sheet pan meal is exactly how it sounds- it’s one meal, cooked on a sheet pan. You can sometimes use two different sheet pans in the oven at once, but for the most part, the entire meal is one that one pan. I like to line the pan with aluminum foil or a silicone pad to make for even easier cleanup.

Why does this type of meal work so well? 

The low lip of a sheet pan combined with the heat from a hot oven brings upon maximum caramelization and browning, which is a low-fat, healthier way to pull tons of flavor out of ingredients.

Think of the beauty of a sheet pan meal as the OPPOSITE of a crockpot or Instant Pot meal: where the crockpot and the instant pot use high heat, steam and pressure to break down the proteins in an ingredient to cook it, sheet pan meals focus on pulling the natural sugars in an ingredient to the surface. This encourages browning and crisping and overall enhances the flavor that way.

How much flexibility is there in a sheet pan meal? 

Most sheet pan meals follow a basic formula, which you can kind of see in the images above.

I also lay out a lot of this “formula”, along with breakdowns and examples, in this blog post here on Percolate Kitchen. 

Here are the tried-and-true sheet pan formulas: 

Formula #1: Lean protein plus sliced starch plus olive oil and kosher salt. Example: flank steak and sliced sweet potatoes, tossed in olive oil and kosher salt.

Formula #2: Protein plus cruciferous vegetable plus acidic seasoning. Example: Seared tofu + broccoli + orange and sesame dressing

Formula #3: Fat rendering protein plus non-starchy root vegetable plus fruit. Example: chicken thighs, parsnips, cherries

What to remember when putting together a sheet pan recipe: 

Space. If you’re going for caramelization and browning, you need to allow the hot air to move around the ingredients. This means spacing things out, at least half an inch, so the browning can occur. If you don’t, the moisture in the ingredients creates a steam effect, which will cook the ingredients but not brown them- which means you’re missing out on that texture and flavor.

Low lip. The lip is important- too high, and it traps too much moisture around the food and doesn’t get you the amount of browning you want. Too low or nonexistent, and you run the risk of juices sliding off. I recommend a lip of about one inch, all the way around the pan.

Sturdy. I’m paraphrasing an Anthony Bourdain quote here, but you want the pan to be heavy and sturdy enough that when you bring it down on someone’s head it could cause serious damage. Obviously that’s not what I’m recommending, don’t hit people with your pans! But it’s an easy way to remember that those flimsy dollar store sheet pans are not your friend, and a sturdy, heavy pan from a trusted brand like Analon or Calphalon is. Spend the extra few bucks, My Analon pans are over 10 years old and I have really put them through the wringer, and they show no signs of stopping.

That’s it! From here on out, I recommend you just play around with some sheet pan recipes. Once you start making them, the concept of how things should be laid out on the pan will start to come together. Use the formulas I mention here to start creating your own recipes, too!