Have you jumped on the sheet pan dinner trend, yet? If not, let me get you started with my Herbed Lemon Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner.
So what’s the whole sheet pan dinner trend all about? Well, at it’s core, it’s really about easy meal prep.
Basically, you throw the whole meal on a sheet pan, including the meat, the starch and the veg. Put the pan in the oven to cook and voila! Dinner is done!
There are all kinds of variations on the theme with different meats, starches, veggies and seasonings. There are sheet pan dinners based on Greek flavors, Mexican, Italian, American….you name it.
There are even sheet pan breakfasts. I sort of consider my Blueberry Pancake Cobbler a sheet pan breakfast. It’s not made in a sheet pan…but it’s got the same basic premise as a sheet pan breakfast. I just happened to make a smaller batch.
What’s that basic premise again? Put it all in a pan and bake it. The whole meal is done together. Easy peasy. Extra bonus with the cobbler is that there’s no flipping of pancakes involved.
So, I was watching a cooking show recently. It was one of those shows that visits various restaurants around the country.
In one of the episodes, they made this lemon chicken. It was one of their most popular items.
They put the chicken pieces in a large roasting pan. Then, they smashed up some garlic, squeezed on some lemon juice, poured olive oil over all and added seasonings.
Into the broiler it went. Yep. The broiler. Fifteen minutes later? Unbelievably juicy lemon chicken. The skin had a bit of char. The meat fell off the bone.
Honestly. It looked amazing. I swore I could taste it by just looking at it. And it was so easy!
I was intrigued. Amazing fifteen minute chicken in the broiler? I had to try it.
I followed every step exactly as they had made it. I had red flags being raised all along the way. Should I cut the chicken breast into a smaller piece? Would it cook evenly?
I think the minced garlic is going to burn…but their’s didn’t burn. It looks like too much olive oil…Do I really need that much?
What happened? Well, first, there was no way my chicken was going to be fully cooked in 15 minutes.
Yes. The garlic burned. Yes I should have cut some of the larger pieces of chicken into smaller pieces.
Yes, there was too much olive oil. And by the way, that much olive oil hanging out at a high heat under a broiler? Olive oil has a lower smoke point than other oils. Yeah. I’ll leave it at that.
So we had dinner and it was okay, but it was nothing like the dish I was trying to recreate. Oh, and that wasn’t even a sheet pan dinner! That was just sheet pan chicken. Clearly I had some work to do.
Here’s the thing about sheet pan dinners…each item on the pan has it’s own needs. Sometimes, you can strike the balance just right and everything turns out at it’s peak deliciousness.
The problem is…it’s hard to strike that balance just right. Something inevitably reduces the perfection of one of the items on the tray. What are those issues? I’m glad you asked!
Challenges with Using Only One Sheet Pan for Sheet Pan Dinners
Overcrowding. The beauty of roasting food in the oven is the lovely browning and crisping that happens. When a pan is overcrowded, all the edges of the food are not exposed. This can lead to less than ideal conditions for browning. Instead of browning, you end up steaming.
If you space out the food on the sheet pan in a more ideal way, you’re simply not going to get a lot of food on it. It’s simple math. More space between each piece of food = less food.
And really, if I’m cooking a sheet pan dinner, I’d really like to get enough on it to serve my family at least once. Of course, leftovers are always a bonus.
Excess Liquids. Overcrowding can promote steaming. But you know what else promotes it? Liquids. If you throw a bunch of high water content veggies on the tray, and they’re over crowded, they’re more likely to release liquids without enough heat exposure to evaporate them.
What happens then? There will be lots of excess liquid with no place to go. That liquid gets everywhere and instead of roasting, your food ends up getting steamed. Or, if there’s a lot of liquid? Boiled.
Fats. If you’re cooking a protein that has some fat to render, then everything on the pan cooks in that fat. Don’t get me wrong, you might want some of that fat to make it’s way around your dish. Often times, it’s much more than you want and it can make everything feel a little greasy.
Uneven Cooking. Different foods take different amounts of times to cook. This is why, when I roast trays of veggies, I often put each veg on their own tray or at least put vegetables with similar cooking times together. Carrots take longer than mushrooms. Potatoes take longer than asparagus.
If you leave a sheet pan full of food in the oven for the time it takes the longest item to cook…you could end up with some overcooked items.
If you take the sheet pan out when in the time it takes for the shortest item to cook…you could end up with some undercooked items.
Even if I find the right items that all need about the same time to cook, I still end up with the whole overcrowding issue if I’m cooking enough food to feed a family.
Tips for Perfectly Cooked Sheet Pan Dinners
But, there is an answer. I already alluded to it in a paragraph above…
The answer is this: Instead of making a sheet pan dinner…Make a sheet PANS dinner! Yep! Instead of calling this Herbed Lemon Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner, I could have called it Herbed Lemon Chicken Sheet Pans Dinner!
Of course, it would have looked like a typo. I like to think of “pan,” in this case, as the process, as opposed to one literal item.
Okay. We’re going to use more than one pan. I chose to use three, one for each item of my dinner.
I happen to have three racks in my oven and a cabinet full of sheet pans, so that worked out well for me.
However, if you only have two racks in your oven or only two sheet pans? No worries! Just follow the directions in the recipe notes.
Alrighty then! Let’s dive into this!
Sheet pans? Check. Foil? Check. Yep. I like to line my pans with foil. It’s not mandatory unless you want to have an easy clean up. For me? I choose easy cleanup. It’s mandatory.
Let’s start with the chicken. Bone in. Skin on. Remember my Recipe Ready Roasted Chicken? That’s what I use for added flavor and moisture.
I don’t eat the skin, though it can be tasty. I just let it do it’s job in the oven and remove it later. Everyone can make their own decision at the table.
Have your butcher cut the breasts in half if they are very large.
For the chicken, I brush olive oil on the bottom of the sheet pan and toss a bunch of fresh thyme sprigs all over it. I smash up some garlic cloves, peel them and scatter them between the thyme sprigs.
If you want to pump up the garlic flavor, feel free to rub the cloves all over your chicken pieces before you place them on the tray. I didn’t need the garlic to “move in.” I was fine with just having them live in the same neighborhood with the chicken.
Place the chicken on the herbs and garlic. Cut some lemons and squeeze them over the chicken pieces. Then, drizzle with olive oil. Season generously with kosher salt and pepper. Sprinkle with dried oregano.
Throw the squeezed lemon halves on the pan and that’s pan one, ready to go. Oh, before I forget, there’s one thing I didn’t do this time, but I will try the next time.
I will add a few more lemon halves that I didn’t already squeeze. Yep. Just cut up a couple of extra lemon halves and place them on the chicken pan with the squeezed lemon halves. Let them roast with the chicken. Stick with me. We’ll use them later.
For the potatoes, first let me add a disclaimer. My sheet pan contains 3 pounds of potatoes. The recipe only calls for 1 1/2 pounds.
Why the discrepancy? Well, I had a three pound bag of potatoes. If I was going to spend time roasting, I figured I’d roast them all. Leftovers could easily be heated up for breakfast potatoes in the morning or for another dinner.
And, since I’ve roasted those tiny potatoes a million times before, I already knew that even with a full pan, I wasn’t going to have any of the issues that come with overcrowding.
If you’re not a leftover kind of person, just use enough for the one meal.
My choice for this recipe was teeny tiny golden potatoes. They’re small, about an inch in diameter. I like them because they roast beautifully. There’s no cutting involved and they cook relatively quickly.
For this tray, we’re going to stick with olive oil, salt and pepper, just like the chicken. But instead of thyme, we’re going to use fresh rosemary. No garlic or lemon here.
I didn’t want every single part of the dinner to be seasoned exactly the same way. I wanted the flavors to complement each other. So we’ve got a variety of flavors that will meld beautifully at the end.
Now it’s time for the asparagus.
Olive oil and salt remain constant. And, I brought garlic back into the mix. Same prep with the garlic as the chicken. Just smash, peel and add to the tray.
Once you have all the pans prepped and ready, it’s time to get cooking. But there’s a few secrets to the cooking of said pans.
There’s more detail in the recipe, but the bottom line is this. We’re going to take advantage of cooking time and cooking location.
There are three racks in the oven. (Again, if you have two racks and/or only two sheet pans, see the notes in the recipe.)
Whatever is on the top rack has more exposure to direct heat and therefore more ability to brown.
We’ll start the chicken on the top rack so that it can brown and then move it to a lower rack to finish cooking. Then, the potatoes get the top rack to get some extra browning.
The asparagus goes into the oven last. It cooks the fastest. Mine only took about 5-8 minutes. It will depend on how thick your asparagus is and how hot your oven runs.
(If you only have two racks, but chose to use 3 pans, you could easily put the asparagus into the oven after you take out the chicken and potatoes.)
When the asparagus is done, remove the pan from the oven and roll the asparagus spears back and forth in the pan to pick up some of that roasted garlic flavor.
That’s it! Herbed Lemon Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner.
Okay, it sounds like a lot, but I swear it’s easy. I know you know that I like to give you every cotton pickin’ detail and 50 reasons behind it, so there are a lot of words here. Some people like or need all of the details.
The rest of you will be like, “Oh. Multiple sheet pans? Cool. I’m good to go.”
Basically, all you’re doing is throwing foods on sheet pans and cooking them in a way that respects what each item needs to be it’s best.
You’ll see that when each tray comes out of the oven. The chicken will be beautifully browned and juicy. The potatoes tender and a little crispy. The asparagus, I dare say, will not be over cooked.
Finally, for serving, I put all of it back onto one of the sheet pans. I chose the asparagus pan. It had the most amount of room. I also didn’t use the chicken pan because I wanted to remove the chicken pieces from all the residual fat left on the pan. Buh-bye!
Now, we don’t have to worry about overcrowding anymore because everything’s already been cooked to individual perfection. Pile it all on the one pan in whatever style you choose. It will be rustic and beautiful.
Then, squeeze some extra lemon (roasted lemon, if you took that step, fresh lemon, if you didn’t) over the chicken and sprinkle with fresh oregano or other fresh herbs.
I have to tell you, I was pretty proud of my sheet pan when I was finished. It looked so much better than I had imagined. And, yeah. I got a, “Wow!” when my family saw it.
Better yet were the multiple “Yums.”
Herbed Lemon Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner. In life, sometimes one is enough. When it comes to sheet pans? For this recipe?More is better.
Herbed Lemon Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner
For the chicken:
- 1 whole chicken, bone in, skin on, cut up into parts 3-4 pounds
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 small lemons
- 6 cloves garlic smashed and peeled, whole
- dried oregano
- fresh thyme
For the potatoes:
- 1 1/2 pounds tiny golden potatoes
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
For the asparagus:
- 1 pound fresh asparagus trimmed
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- 3 cloves garlic smashed and peeled, left whole
- fresh lemon juice
- fresh oregano or other fresh herbs
Place oven racks evenly spaced in top, middle and bottom positions. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line two large and one small baking sheet with foil for easy clean up.
For the chicken:
Brush one of the large baking sheets with olive oil. Scatter a handful of fresh thyme sprigs over the pan. Smash the garlic cloves, remove papery skin and scatter in the pan. Place chicken parts on top of garlic and thyme. Cut lemons in half, squeeze 2 of the lemons over the chicken pieces. Then, drizzle each piece with olive oil. Season generously with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Sprinkle dried oregano over the top. Add squeezed lemon halves to the pan.
For the potatoes:
Place potatoes on the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Then, using your hands, roll the potatoes around until they are all coated with the oil. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Sprinkle chopped fresh rosemary over all.
For the asparagus:
Place the trimmed asparagus on the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add the smashed, peeled cloves of garlic.
Place the tray of chicken on the top rack and the potatoes on the middle rack. Roast until chicken is a rich golden brown. Then switch the potatoes to the top rack and move chicken to the middle rack. This will prevent the chicken from over browning while it continues to cook. It also give the potatoes a chance for some direct browning. Cook chicken and potatoes for a total of 20-35 minutes or until chicken temperature reaches 165 and potatoes are fork tender and have your desired level of browness.
About 5-10 minutes before chicken is done, add tray of asparagus to the bottom rack. Cook until desired tenderness. Time will vary based on thickness of asparagus. Check at 5 minutes and then add time as necessary. When it's done, remove the pan from the oven and use tongs or a fork to roll the asparagus around the pan to pick up the roasted garlic flavor. (See recipe notes if you only have two oven racks or two baking sheets.)
To serve, arrange chicken, potatoes and asparagus on one baking pan. I like to choose something other than the chicken pan so that nothing is sitting in the excess fat/juices from the chicken. (I used the asparagus pan.) Once assembled, if desired squeeze fresh lemon over the chicken and garnish with fresh oregano or other fresh herbs.
*If you only have two baking sheets or two oven racks, you can cook the potatoes and the asparagus on one sheet. I used a full 3 pounds of potatoes on my sheet just to get them all roasted, but the recipe only calls for half that amount. So, you should have enough room on that sheet to add the asparagus, but add it only AFTER the potatoes have cooked for about 15- 20 minutes. Then, remove the pan from the oven and add the asparagus. (You can already have the asparagus on another plate, with olive oil, garlic and seasonings done and ready to add to the pan. The asparagus will only take about 5-10 minutes depending upon thickness.
*If you're not sure when to put the asparagus in, don't sweat it. You can wait until the chicken and potatoes are done and out of the oven, then pop the asparagus in.
*For the juiciest, most flavorful chicken, I used bone in, skin on. The chicken was already cut up into parts. I cut each chicken breast in half to help them cook a little faster, because they were so much larger than the other pieces.
*This isn't part of the recipe, but I want to do this next time I make it. You're already adding your squeezed lemon halves to the chicken pan. Cut up a couple of extra lemon and those halves( that haven't been squeezed) to the chicken pan. Let them roast along with the chicken. Then, you can use those to squeeze over the tray later, instead of using fresh lemons.
*I don't give measurements for olive oil, but I would say I use somewhere between 1-2 Tablespoons for each pan. You don't want to drench it. You just want enough so that all of the items on the pan get a light coating.
*I used teeny tiny potatoes. They were about an inch in diameter, give or take. They cook much faster than a larger potato, so they work well in this recipe. You can also cut up larger potatoes into smaller pieces so that you have a similar cooking time.
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