When should you cover food in the oven | Dos and don’ts

When should you cover food in the oven
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Baking is a term most often used when the recipe calls for dry cooking food in the oven. Some recipes call for covered baking, while other recipes do not require that the food be covered while baking.

Many pastry dishes, meat dishes, and breads may be baked without the need to cover. But what if there is no recipe? How do you know when to cover and when not to cover? And, what is the purpose of covering food when baking?

Food cooked in the oven should be covered in aluminum foil, either loosely or tightly, depending on the desired outcome, to lock in moisture and keep the food tender. If, however, the recipe requires the surface of the food to be browned, the food should be uncovered. This may cause the food to dry out slightly. But, it may also be the desired outcome.

When should you cover food in the oven

Let’s start by talking about what baking actually is. Baking is a dry heat method of cooking. It usually refers to food being baked inside the oven without covering the food. The average temperature for baking is around 350°F that will allow food to reach the correct internal temperature while baking.

Certain types of food are ideal for baking, such as breads, cakes, cookies, certain meat products, etc. Essentially, the food may dry out slightly, but this is a desired effect of baking. In addition, baking will most likely cause the surface of the food to brown, but only slightly.

Should you cover food while roasting

You don’t need to cover small pieces of food while roasting, but you will get better results when roasting larger cuts. 

For example, if you roast chicken wings, covering them wouldn’t make them as crispy because the steam would soften the skin.

On the other hand, if you put larger cuts of meat in the oven, covering them will soften them and, at the same time, capture the aromas and infuse the meat with them.

Roasting is essentially baking but at a much higher heat. The purpose of roasting is to enhance the flavor of the food through a reaction known as the Maillard Reaction, which causes the surface of the food to brown substantially more than in baking, as well as caramelizing the food. Indirect, infused heat is used when roasting food.

Roasting is ideal for larger, whole cuts of meat, root, and bulb vegetables. However, when cooking a large piece of meat, such as a brisket, leg of lamb, or chuck, to mention a few, you may want to tent the food in the oven, or cover it tightly with foil, depending on the desired outcome, before finishing it off by grilling the surface of the meat.

Keep in mind that roasting is a slow cooking process while grilling is a fast cooking process.

Why do we cover food in the oven?

Whenever you are covering food in the oven, you are no longer baking the food. Instead, you are now steaming, braising, or poaching the food in the oven. Food naturally possesses moisture and liquid. Baking dries out this liquid, and essentially dries out the item that you are baking.

When you cover the food in the oven, any liquid added to the food, or present in the food, will start to condense and will help to lock in the moisture in the food. This is what is known as moist heat cooking.

Baking covered versus uncovered

Certain types of food will need to be covered before grilling the food in the oven. For example, you should cover lasagna while it is cooking in the oven. You may eventually remove the cover and grill the surface to create the Maillard Reaction. The reason for this is similar to the reason for covering large cuts of meat before you grill the surface.

In addition, some recipes call for a longer cooking time which may cause the surface to brown faster than the inside of the food item cooks. In these cases, you may want to cover the food while it is cooking.

Roasting may not always be ideal because the surface may brown too fast while the inside of the food is still raw. Or, if you are in a hurry and would like to cut down on the cooking time, you can bake the food at a higher temperature, covered, and grill it quickly afterwards.

There is a simple rule to keep in mind when you need to figure out whether the food should be covered or not. If your desired outcome is to brown the surface of the food, you may want to roast it, or grill the food in the oven, uncovered. However, if you want moisture and tenderness, but you do not require any browning, you may want to cover the food while in the oven.

How does aliminium foil help food in cooking?

Aliminium foil helps to cook food evenly. It has a high thermal conductivity index. This allows the foil to distribute heat evenly when cooking. In addition, the foil may help to deflect some of the heat in the cooking process to help slow the process down.

If sealing in moisture while cooking is the objective, you should tightly seal the food with foil. If, on the other hand, you simply want to shield the food from grilling on the surface while it is cooking, you may only need to loosely cover the food with foil.

For example, in the case of baking a cake, you may notice that the surface of the cake is browning faster than the center of the cake, after you have stuck a toothpick into the cake. In this example, you don’t want to seal in moisture, but you do want to shield the cake from browning any further while it is baking. Loosely tenting the cake is the ideal solution to help the cake bake without burning the surface.

Does food cook faster covered or uncovered

Food generally cooks faster if it is covered with a lid on the stovetop. This is because this style of cooking not only generates more heat but also traps the heat inside, allowing for a faster cooking time. For example, if you want to boil eggs on the stove top, and you are waiting for the water to boil, place a lid over the pot. This will help to heat the water up much faster.

However, when baking food covered in foil in the oven, you may actually achieve the opposite reaction. The foil may actually deflect heat, causing the foil covered food to cook a bit slower. This method also helps to prevent energy loss during the cooking process.

While you may think that the food covered in foil will cook faster because it creates more heat through steam cooking, this is not the case.

Do you reheat leftovers in the oven covered or uncovered?

Ideally, it may be better to reheat food in the oven uncovered. You are not cooking the food from scratch. You simply want to heat the food without causing it to become soggy or mushy. Covering the food may cause it to heat up through its own steam, which in turn may cause it to become soggy.

The best method to reheat food in the oven would be to grill it for five minutes to help heat up the food and slightly brown the surface a little bit more. This method is ideal for reheating chicken, pizza, or any other type of food that needs to be crispy and not moist.


I am a kind of person that would sneak a taste out of grandma’s pot when I was barely tall enough to reach it. I grew up in kitchens full of love and liveliness and have spent my whole live learning, experimenting and succeeding in the art of cooking. At Pro Family Chef, every day is an opportunity for a new meal and a brand new flavor. I created this website to connect people that love to cook, with the products designed to make their cooking easier, hassle-free and rewarding every time.

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