If you’re looking for family-friendly meals that are as easy to clean up as they are to cook, consider the simple sheet pan.
If you understand the benefits of roasting, you’ll quickly warm to the benefits of sheet-pan suppers. In short, these are complete meals in which everything is cooked together on a sheet pan in the oven. At the end of the meal, you have one pan to clean.
Anything that can be roasted is a potential candidate for a sheet-pan supper. And though something such as a whole chicken roasted with potatoes and carrots technically might qualify, sheet-pan suppers typically use meats already in ready-to-serve portions that can be transferred from sheet pan to plate with no slicing or other preparation.
A bonus is that most sheet-pan suppers cook in about 30 minutes, making them good solutions to the “problem” of weeknight dinners when most of us can’t or don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
Sheet-pan suppers can incorporate boneless and bone-in chicken and pork chops, sausages, shrimp, fish fillets and more.
Most of these dishes have three elements on the pan: a protein, a starch and a green vegetable. Rice and pasta don’t lend themselves easily to this technique, but potatoes and sweet potatoes are great in the starch department. And the list of vegetables is pretty long. Just think of any vegetable you enjoy roasted: broccoli, asparagus, cauliflowers, carrots, green beans, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms and more.
A sheet-pan supper in its most basic form will take one element from each group, say chicken thighs, potatoes and Brussels sprouts. For roasting, they really need nothing more than salt, pepper and a bit of oil. But you can add other flavors, too.
Start by looking in your spice cabinet. You can toss any one of these elements with your favorite seasoning salt, Italian herb blend or Cajun seasoning.
The proteins often will have some kind of coating, such as barbecue sauce or honey-mustard glaze or chile paste. Indian curry or Asian teriyaki are other possibilities. Glazes are popular in part because they help browning.
Fish and chicken sometimes get a breadcrumb coating, and post-oven sprinkles might include nuts, cheese, herbs or scallions.
The trick of sheet-pan suppers is a problem of logistics: how to cook three (or more) foods on the same sheet pan at the same oven temperature and have them all come out perfectly cooked.
Solving that problem can take some practice — or you can use a tested recipe like one of those accompanying this story.
For the most part, you want to spread all of the ingredients in a single layer on the pan to aid browning.
A standard sheet-pan recipe will serve four people. It will use a pound or more of protein plus about a pound each of starch and green (or other) vegetable. All of that will fit on a half sheet pan, which measures about 18 by 13 inches. Or you can use two quarter sheet pans, which each measure about 9.5 by 13 inches.
Using two pans can be an advantage, especially if different ingredients cook at slightly different rates. In other words, one recipe will have you start one element first because it needs more time to cook, then later add the other elements that don’t need as much cooking time.
Working this out can take a bit of practice, but read on for how it all works in today’s recipes.
In the recipe for chicken Parmesan with green beans and potatoes — which also has some onion and red bell pepper — everything can cook in about the same time. This recipe calls for cooking all the elements at 450 degrees for 25 minutes. But that depends on a few factors such as the actual size of the pieces of chicken and how soft you like your green beans.
In other words, consider all recipes for sheet-pan suppers as general guidelines. Be prepared to check them occasionally in case one element gets done before the others are ready. So you do need to keep an eye on these meals a little bit, but it’s a whole lot less babysitting than you would do for any similar meal cooked on the stovetop.
The elements for the garlicky shrimp with asparagus and tomatoes could just about cook all at the same time. But the tomatoes do benefit from a few more minutes to brown and caramelize. And this recipe has a fourth element, garlic bruschetta, which kind of needs to be cooked first to get crisp and avoid getting soggy from the shrimp’s juices.
In the recipe for chipotle-glazed pork chops, I give the vegetables — broccoli and sweet potatoes — a head start because I like my chops just barely cooked to the minimum 145 degrees recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but if you know you like your chops well-done, you may want to put all of the elements in the oven at the same time.
Once you make a couple of sheet-pan suppers, you’ll quickly get the hang of it. You’ll find that for your tastes you like cooking this or that vegetable a little more or this or that meat a little less.
You’ll also quickly realize how many different dinner possibilities are open to you — all with dirtying only one pan at night and with about 30 minutes of mostly hands-free cooking.