Shutterstock / Alice Day
Sheet pan dinners have taken off like wildfire, and for good reason. Cooking on the humble sheet pan not only makes it easy to get weeknight dinner on the table, but it also creates a healthy, flavorful cooking environment. Quick and healthy—sign me up! Don’t worry if you’re a sheet pan newbie, because everyone comes up against some obstacles. It really is possible to cook your entire dinner all on one sheet pan…if you avoid these six all-too-common mistakes.
Using these sheet pan dinner tips, you’ll find yourself with flavorful, easy-to-execute dinners in no time. While your meat and vegetables cook up in the oven, you’ll feel at ease to whip up a side of rice, quinoa, or a side salad. Here are the most common mistakes people make with sheet pan suppers (and how we suggest you fix them).
1. Your sheet pan warps in the oven
Sure, you can use any old sheet pan, but you might want to upgrade if your sheet pan warps in the oven. Most inexpensive (or older) sheet pans tend to warp at some point in the cooking process, and sometimes that can toss your smaller ingredients onto the oven floor! That’s because the oven’s heat can buckle thin baking sheets, so look for professional, heavy-gauge aluminum baking sheets. Norpro makes a few good models that last a lifetime.
2. The food lacklusterly steams in the oven
If you overcrowd the sheet pan, the result is steamed food instead of beautifully flavored, browned food. Steam is the enemy of searing, and it can also water down your flavors and make everything taste a little bit blah. Do yourself a favor and keep plenty of space in between the ingredients. If you’re feeding a large crowd, that might mean using two sheet pans.
3. Everything sticks to the sheet pan
Unless your sheet pan has nonstick coating, there’s a good chance your entire meal could stick to the pan. Even if it does have a nice coating, all that browning can create a cleanup disaster—and that’s not why you chose a one-pot meal! Using aluminum foil or parchment paper will maximize the amount of food that makes it onto the plate (and, it keeps cleanup easy). If you’re planning to use the broiler, choose aluminum foil so you don’t catch the parchment paper on fire.
4. The ingredients don’t cook evenly
Those hearty potatoes certainly aren’t going to cook at the same rate as tender salmon, especially if they’re not trimmed to the right size! If you’re using ingredients with longer cook times, cut them into very small pieces while leaving quicker-cooking foods in larger sizes. For example, in this pork and asparagus sheet pan dinner, we dice the potatoes but leave the asparagus whole. If you’re still worried about it, you can choose to cook the ingredients in stages. Start with the longer cooking foods and add the tender ones for the last 10 minutes of cooking.
5. It just lacks that promised flavor
We promised you easy, flavorful, healthy food—but your sheet pan dinner falls short in the flavor department. You can take advantage of flavorful marinades and seasonings, but you can also be wise when it comes to choosing the ingredients. The foods that work best for sheet pan dinners are naturally good when roasted. I would almost never roast a ribeye (that would be reserved for the grill or seared in a cast iron) but I would definitely roast a piece of salmon or a chicken breast. Think about the ingredients list and combine foods that naturally taste good together—like salmon and green beans.
6. The food is burnt on one side of the pan and undercooked on the other side
Every oven works a bit differently—my oven works great on the top left side, and not so great on the bottom right. These are oven hot spots and, like becoming a grilling expert, a sheet pan expert has to know her oven. Invest in an inexpensive oven thermometer to make sure that your settings really pan out to actual oven heat (mine tends to run 25 degrees under). Then, you’ll know where and how to rotate your sheet pans. If you’re cooking on two racks, it’s always a good idea to swap them halfway through the cook time to ensure even heating.
The best way to truly master the sheet pan supper? By experimenting! Play around with the ingredients and learn firsthand what works and what doesn’t. Start with these 38 sheet pan dinners and branch out from there.