Roasting and Baking – What’s the Difference? Can You Do it on Your Grill?

Summer is coming…It’s time to turn off that indoor oven! More heat in the house? No thanks!

Did you know that there is practically nothing you can’t cook, bake, roast or grill on an outdoor grill? In fact, after reading this post, you may find you will rarely cook in an indoor oven again!

A spatchcock chicken roasting on the barbecue
© CCat82 – stock.adobe.com

But what is the difference between all these terms? And how do you adjust and control the power of your outdoor grill to achieve one or the other?

In this post, we’ll explain some of the differences between roasting and baking, before giving you a quick, simple walk-through on how to set your grill up for each one.

What is Roasting?

Roasting and baking are very similar cooking methods. The difference is mainly in what kind of foods you would cook with them.

Roasting is a perfect technique for bigger joints of meat or whole birds, and some vegetables.

When roasting, whole food items are typically coated with fat, or oil and cooked at a medium heat for a longer period than quick-grilled foods. You’re aiming for 350-375° F under the hood with the lid closed. You will get to that beautiful brown crust or skin, it’s just going to take longer because you are cooking over a lower heat.

I like to start with full power for a quick heat blitz, then after just a few minutes, turn a side burner or two off (or push coals to one side on a charcoal grill) and position the meat over the indirect heat to complete cooking slowly.

What is Baking?

Baking is usually the term applied to foods that are mixed together before cooking, not “whole.” So this can be muffins and bread, pies or cookies. But it can also mean casserole dishes such as beef and vegetable stews, or lasagna.

With baking, some kind of pan or dish is often used to contain the mix of foods, and the cooking temperature will be lower than roasting.

As with roasting, indirect heat is used. And the addition of a pan, foil or cast iron dish further protects food from the heat and lets you cook meats in sauces and gravies, with vegetables, pasta, rice and more.

Cast iron is your best friend here. Indestructible and unburnable, if you’re baking in a dish over direct flames, reach for your Dutch oven first!

Can I Roast or Bake on My Grill?

Of course! The secret is to set your grill up for indirect heat, so there’s no direct radiant heat hitting the food, only convection just like a traditional oven.

You have to either use a heat deflector, or set up your grill with all coals banked on one side so that none of them are directly under the food giving radiant heat.

After this, the key is to see your grill as an extension of your indoor oven. After all, your indoor oven is just an insulated box of dry heat! Your grill can be that too with a setup of indirect heat.

Make sure you use a good digital thermometer to monitor temps though, your outdoor grill will likely not be as consistent in temperature as your indoor oven, and external factors like the weather can mess with cooking temperatures and times too.

What about Roasting or Baking on My Smoker?

Even better! It doesn’t come much better than a slow-smoked roast beef.

Again you need to adjust your heat so that you have indirect heat under the meat. Break out the thermometer…this could take a while.

Don’t forget you can always do a foil-wrap part way through cooking if you need to push faster through the “stall” in a slow roast.

Another thing to remember is a drip pan to prevent flare-ups and to catch all those delicious juices dripping from your slow-roasting meat. I like to add veggies and potatoes to the drip pan. They will roast beautifully in the meat juices and fat. Nothing like multi-tasking on the grill!

Check out this handy chart for times and temperatures to roast different meats on your smoker.

What about the Difference between Grilling and Roasting?

Grilling means direct heat, high heat, quick cook. It’s your go-to choice for smaller cuts such as individual steaks, chops or smaller chicken quarters, veggies and firm fish.

Grilling gives you those all-important sear marks on your meat and gets dinner on the plate in under half an hour.

Roasting is a slower process, ideal for larger cuts of meat, which need indirect heat to cook the bigger piece all the way through.

Can I Broil on my Grill?

Ah, now you’re back to your indoor oven, and we don’t want to go there! Broiling is pretty much the same as grilling, but the high heat comes from above instead of from below. So you can get VERY similar results.

However, broiling in an indoor oven will not give you the same intense temperatures as grilling directly over flames and of course, no awesome grill marks.

So yeah, as we said, turn off that indoor oven!

Which Foods are Best Roasted or Baked, and Which are Better Grilled?

Roast a chicken on the grill or in your smoker, and you will never go back to that indoor oven!

Along with beautifully browned crispy skin, you’re going to have some good-looking grill marks, a little smokiness, and a more complex deeper flavor than you can achieve indoors. Oh, and did I mention a nice cool kitchen too?

Duck, turkey, and larger joints of meat such as pork butt, brisket, whole fish will all roast great on your grill with indirect heat.

But say you want some sweet gravy cooked right into that chicken? This is where you pull out your cast iron Dutch oven, and load it up with the bird, vegetables, maybe a slug of wine or juice, some herbs and then bake it over indirect heat on a medium grill, 350-375°F just as you would in an oven.

Just don’t peek too much because you’re letting all that good heat out every time you raise the lid. Plug in your meat thermometer and trust your grill to take care of the rest.

And why stop at meat? Take your baked goods to the grill…bread, cookies, pies. Just keep the lid closed as much as you can, and you will find that your grill can bake just as well as an indoor oven.

Because you’re using indirect heat to bake, you will find the flavor will not get smoky. (Love my grill but draw the line at smoky cookies…)

Click here for a great cookies-on-the-grill recipe. Imagine what a hit this will be with the kids this summer!

Experiment!

The takeaway here is to think of your grill as a multi-tasker. It’s not just your “grill,” it’s your “roast” and your “bake” and can cook just about anything you can think of, given a chance.

Recently when some crazy control panel died on my oven, I took an apple pie to the grill, and do you know it not only turned out great, it was also the best crust I’d ever made.

Of course, every grill is different, and you will have to tinker with temperatures and times, burners on and off, etc., to find what works for you.

Here’s a quick reference for different grill methods that will help get you started:

Method:Good for Cooking:How to Set Up a Gas Grill:
RoastLarger meats, whole birdsIndirect heat. Burners ON one side, OFF on the other side. Or coals pushed to one side. Temperature around 375°F
BakeCasseroles, pasta or rice dishes, breads, muffins, cookies.Low indirect heat. Burners ON one side, OFF on the other side. Or coals pushed to one side. Temperature around 350°F
GrillSteaks, chops, individual chicken quarters, fishHigh direct heat. All burners/coals on.
BarbecuePork butt, brisket, whole birdsVery low indirect heat. Burners ON one side, OFF on the other side. Coals pushed to one side. Temperature around 250-300°F.
SearSteaks, thick fish like salmon or tuna, chops.Highest direct heat. All burners/coals on.

Conclusion

Take it outside! Your grill is your powerhouse, there’s nothing it can’t do!

Baking or roasting, grilling or barbecuing. It’s all good, and now we hope you have a clearer idea of the subtle differences between them.

You may need to experiment a little with how much direct and indirect heat to use, whether or not to use a water pan for added moisture, how long to cook to achieve the crunchy bark we all love.

But hey, trying and tasting is all part of the fun.

And don’t forget to be adventurous. Try baking an apple pie or a pot roast. The sky’s the limit. And the indoor oven may well be history, at least for the summer!

Let us know what works for you? Did you try something entirely new on your grill? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Mark Jenner

Hi. I'm Mark Jenner, owner and creator of FoodFireFriends.com.I grill and smoke food outdoors at least three days a week on a wide range of equipment, have done so for years, and love nothing more than cooking good food, over live fire, enjoying it with friends. The aim of this site is to educate and help others to do the same.

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