Sports fan or not, you know the Super Bowl is more than just a game; it’s a cultural institution. Even if you don’t tune in “just for the commercials,” you can’t escape hearing about them, or the game itself—or the food traditionally associated with it. Leading up to February, you’re inundated with recipes for chili and chicken wings, which are tempting even if you’re not into football.
But if you’ve already satisfied your cravings for blue cheese dip and nachos (or, conversely, are making an effort not to eat too much in the way of dip and nachos), you’ll still need a meal to sustain you on the day of the Big Game.
If you’re looking for something a little different yet still festive-ish, you could try your hand at a pigskin-centric recipe, or go for a dish inspired by a particular team. But if you just want something simple and delicious and don’t care about acknowledging the occasion by making even a token bowl of guacamole, it’s a great time to toss a bunch of stuff on sheet pans and crank up the oven. The same is true of pretty much any lazy Sunday (or hectic weeknight, for that matter) of the year.
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Sheet pan dinners are easy to put together, fairly quick to cook, mostly healthy, adaptable to various tastes and ingredients, and a breeze to clean up, but admittedly, they do have their limitations and aren’t quite the miraculous answer to all your dinner issues that many would have you believe. For instance, while the idea is to simply dump everything together and have it all cook perfectly with no other interference from you, that’s not always realistic. And even if you start with what appears to be an abundance of raw vegetables, they can sometimes shrink considerably.
They’re really ideal for a small group of people, so if you’re hosting a big Super Bowl shindig, you’re probably better off ordering pizza or setting up a build-your-own bowl buffet. For everyone else, here are some basic tips to get the best results.
How to cook a sheet pan dinner:
1. Choose the right pan. Use a low-rimmed half sheet pan so air circulates well and you don’t lose any ingredients during stirring or when transferring the pans from counter to oven and back again.
2. Line it for easier cleanup. Parchment paper or aluminum foil really cuts down on mess; sometimes a little juice finds its way underneath (or seemingly magically through the foil, even when there’s no visible tear or breach), but it’s obviously worse if you forgo lining. That said, if you don’t mind a little more scrubbing, don’t sweat it. You can still lightly film the bare pan with oil or mist it with cooking spray (in addition to oiling your ingredients) so there’s less sticky mess to deal with once dinner’s done.
3. Consider your ingredients’ density, and cut them uniformly. Root vegetables like onions, carrots, and potatoes, and other harder veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower work especially well in this format, but they should all be roughly the same size so they cook evenly. You can still add more tender produce like zucchini and tomatoes, as well as things like pre-cooked beans, but might want to wait until about halfway through so they don’t totally collapse.
4. Add ingredients in stages if need be. Even if all your vegetables will cook in perfectly timed harmony, you might need to start your protein sooner—or later. Pretty much any protein works, but whereas chicken pieces and cubes of beef or pork (not to mention tofu, seitan, and tempeh) can usually cook right along with the hardier veggies, more delicate things like shrimp, salmon, or other seafood generally only need a brief time in a hot oven. Of course, their size and thickness still matters, so you should always use your best judgement. If you have whole chicken parts, especially with bones intact, they may need to go in a few minutes early to ensure they’re cooked all the way through by the time everything else is done. When in doubt, refer to a recipe—you don’t have to follow it exactly, but it can be a great guideline for times and temperatures.
5. Coat everything in a little fat and season well. Since sheet pan dinners tend to cook at relatively high heat, fats with higher smoke points, like grapeseed and olive oils and ghee or clarified butter, are better. Toss your ingredients well in your chosen fat, as well as plenty of salt and pepper (and any other herbs or spices you want) before putting them in the oven—you can do this right on the pans too, no need to dirty a mixing bowl (and use latex gloves if you don’t want to dirty your hands either!)—but don’t add a lot of sauce; a little lemon juice or vinegar is one thing, and if you marinated your meat, a bit still clinging to it is fine, but if there’s too much liquid in the pan, your ingredients will steam and soak and turn out wan and mushy. And if your sauce has a higher amount of sugar in it, it’s likely to burn if you add it at the very beginning.
6. Never crowd your pans. Speaking of steaming and soaking, you also want to make sure your ingredients aren’t piled up on top of each other without enough elbow room, or they won’t caramelize or develop proper texture. Use multiple pans if your chunks of meat and/or veg look like they need more space, and if you’re using larger pieces of meat like whole chicken breasts or thighs, consider elevating them on a small rack (even a raft of scrunched-up aluminum foil) in the middle of the pan to let them brown more uniformly and their juices drip down and disperse without completely swamping the vegetables.
7. Pay attention to finishing touches. If your ingredients are almost done (i.e. cooked through and approaching just the right degree of tenderness) but not looking their very best, turn on the broiler for the last few minutes of cooking time to impart color and even a few spots of crisp char. And when your sheet pans come out of the oven, consider sprinkling on some minced fresh herbs or other garnishes to brighten things up. Even a simple squeeze of citrus is nice, or you can drizzle on a slightly more complex creation, from Argentine Chimichurri Sauce to Lemon Dill Vinaigrette. Optional but highly recommended: serving with rice, grains, mashed root vegetables, or even toasted bread to bulk it up and catch all the juices.
And there you have it: a casual, satisfying, and not-too-demanding meal perfect for any occasion, whether you’re watching the Super Bowl, the Puppy Bowl, just commercials, something else, or nothing at all! Here are some specific sheet pan recipes to consider whenever you need an easy win at dinner time.
USA Pan Extra Large Rimmed Baking Sheet with Nonstick Cooling Rack, $35.99 on Amazon
A rimmed pan guards against spills, and a bonus rack doubles for cooling and roasting when you need it.
Ranch seasoning punched up with plenty of garlic seasons juicy chicken, carrots, and potatoes to perfection. Get the One Pan Garlic Ranch Chicken and Veggies recipe.
Use pork or chicken sausages and pair them with crisp-skinned fingerling potatoes, soft red onions, and sweet apples, plus fresh sage and rosemary. This is begging for some spicy whole grain mustard on the side, and maybe sauerkraut too. Get the Baked Sausages with Apples Sheet Pan Dinner recipe.
Zingy, tender shrimp and softly charred peppers and onions, all done in the same pan, are made for folding into soft tortillas with a squirt of lime and some avocado and cilantro, but would be equally good over rice. Get the Sheet Pan Chili Lime Shrimp Fajitas recipe.
Panko and shredded cheddar combine for a beautifully crisp and flavorful crust on these pork chops, which would be delicious with pretty much any vegetables you’d like to throw in the pan. Get the Sheet Pan Crispy Cheddar Pork Chops recipe.
For something a little bit lighter, go with simple, healthy salmon and veggies in a classic teriyaki sauce. Get the Sheet Pan Teriyaki Salmon & Veggies recipe.
Or go totally vegetarian and bake tofu and vegetables together, as in this vegan sheet pan wonder (which does call for thickening the sauce in a separate pot first, but you could always cheat with something store-bought). Roasted cashews and sesame seeds add crunch. Get the Sheet Pan Chinese Cashew Tofu recipe.
Most fall flavors work well all through winter, and honestly, this sheet pan pork tenderloin with rosemary, honey, and balsamic vinegar is so good you could eat it all year long. Golden beets and parsnips make interesting earthy-sweet additions to the more standard carrots and Brussels sprouts here, a good reminder to experiment with all kinds of veggies in sheet pan dinners. Get the Fall Sheet Pan Pork Tenderloin with Honey Balsamic Roasted Vegetables recipe.
Ordering takeout is easy, but making this one-pan Mongolian beef barely takes any longer. As with any sheet pan recipe, you can also play around with the vegetables by adding and subtracting different kinds (think green peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus, snow peas, even celery, which turns silky when roasted). Get the Sheet Pan Mongolian Beef recipe.
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Related Video: How to Make Sheet Pan Fried Eggs
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