Roast vs. Bake: Is There A Difference?

teal filtered image of a baked potato with sour cream, bacon bits, and chives, and a chicken drumstick, on a light teal background.

One recipe says to roast the chicken breasts in the oven at 400° F. Another recipe calls for the chicken breasts to be baked … in the oven… at 400°.

What’s going on here? Are roast and bake really interchangeable, or are there subtle differences? The answer is both.

In this article, we’ll break down the multiple meanings of both roast and bake, what the difference means for the home cook, and which term you may be more likely to encounter on menus.

🍴 Quick summary

In the context of cooking (not baking), roast and bake often mean the same thing—to cook something in an oven, usually at a relatively high temperature. The word bake is usually used when a dish is covered in sauce or cooked in a covered pot. Roasting is often more simple, usually involving a meat or vegetable being coated in oil or another fat, seasoned, and then cooked in an open pan or on a rack. But the word bake is commonly used for this type of preparation, too.

What is the difference between roasting and baking?

Bake and roast are often used to mean the same thing, and for good reason. In cooking, both roast and bake commonly mean to cook something in an oven.

Historically, roasting was done on a spit, with the food being directly exposed to the fire, while the word baking was applied to cooking done in a dish.

Obviously, you can still roast something on a spit, but today home cooks most commonly encounter the word roast in the context of recipes for oven-cooked meats or vegetables. At the same time, some recipes use the word bake for similar or even the same preparations.

Here are some of the distinctions that often lead to one word being used instead of the other.

Sauce or no sauce

If a dish cooked in the oven is covered in a sauce, it’s usually described as baked. In contrast, it’s more common for one that’s just coated in oil or another fat to be described as roasted.

Covered or uncovered

Often, a dish described as roasted is one that’s cooked on a rack or in an uncovered pan—allowing it to be exposed to the heat to become browned and crispy. When a dish is cooked in the oven covered, it’s usually described as baked.


Some recipe writers tend to use bake when they call for the food to be cooked at a lower temperature, such as 350°, while using roast for higher temperatures, such as 425°. But this is definitely not always the case.

Now see if you have all your ingredients in place to ace this quiz on whether a food is roasted or baked!

What else can bake and roast mean?

The words roast and bake also have other common applications in the context of food preparation.

baked goods

Obviously, the words bake and baking are also used in the context of what we call baked goods, like breads and cakes. This type of baking is also most commonly done in an oven, but unlike baking chicken, for example, it often involves a more significant transformation in shape and form—picture a time-elapsed image of soft dough or semiliquid batter rising into fully-formed deliciousness.

This is one of the reasons why a distinction is sometimes made between baking and cooking. Baking in the sense of dough- and batter-based concoctions is most closely associated with breads and desserts, while cooking is associated with meals and savory things. But the two can certainly overlap—pot pies and pizzas are both baked and savory. In this way, baking can be thought of as one type of cooking in the general sense of food preparation.

The verb roast and the adjective roasted aren’t often used in the context of baking, but they can be, such as when you’re incorporating a roasted element into a baked good (using roasted strawberries in a cake, for example).

Delve into another great baked debate: pie vs. cake. What’s the difference and which is better?

roasting without an oven

Some people still roast things the old-fashioned (ancient) way: on a spit over an open flame. Although grilling is similar, it’s not common for the word roast to be used in the context of grilling (especially when the food is in direct contact with the grill surface).

coffee and nuts

The words roast and roasting are also used in more specific ways to refer to how certain types of foods are prepared. Coffee beans are roasted, and so are certain nuts (chestnuts roasting on an open fire, for example).

roast and bake as nouns 

And then there’s roast and bake as nouns. A roast is a cut of meat meant to be roasted, most commonly meaning it will be cooked in an oven “low and slow”—at a relatively low temperature and for a long time. This is how roast beef is prepared. Not all dishes called roasts are cooked uncovered. Pot roast, for example, is so called because it’s cooked in a covered pot.

As a noun, the word bake is often applied to things like casseroles and other one-pan dishes, as in cheesy pasta and kale bake or chicken and root vegetable tray bake. More generally, it’s also used as a word for the product or process of preparing a baked good, as in Look at the bake on that pie crust or It’s one of your best bakes of the competition (fans of The Great British Bake Off are very familiar with this usage).

Examples of roasting vs. baking

Here are some examples of how these two terms are often used differently (even though they can mean the same thing).

baked chicken vs. roasted chicken

When recipes use the label baked chicken, the chicken is often cooked in a pot with a closed lid, in a sauce, or as one ingredient in a mixture (like the aforementioned casseroles). Sometimes, the word baked is used when the recipe calls for a lower temperature.

In contrast, using the term roasted chicken typically indicates that it will be cooked at a high temperature and in an open pan or on a rack. The goal is usually to achieve a crispy skin—which means that skinless chicken cooked in the oven may be more likely to be called baked than roasted.

Still, some recipes use the words bake or baked in reference to chicken prepared with the roasting method just described.

baked potatoes vs. roasted potatoes

The term baked potato is a set phrase that refers to a specific thing: a potato cooked whole—in its skin (sometimes in foil). While baked potatoes certainly meet the qualifications to be considered roasted, everyone knows what to expect when they order a baked potato.

Potatoes labeled as roasted potatoes commonly consist of potatoes that have been cut into pieces, tossed in oil, and cooked in the oven until golden brown. Very small potatoes may be cooked this way without even being cut, but they’re still likely to be called roasted.

baked vs. roasted on a menu

All things being equal, you’re probably more likely to encounter the word roasted on a menu for the simple reason that it tends to imply a crispy, golden-brown finish. It just sounds more delicious: roasted. Yum.

Time to perk up with these robust coffee terms!

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