By Vanessa Greaves

Why should something as simple as sheet pan dinners have rules? Because you want to end up with all the ingredients cooked just the way you want them. Besides, they're pretty easy rules. But they do make all the difference.

Photo by Meredith

Try this recipe: Pan-Roasted Chicken with Lemon-Garlic Brussels Sprouts and Potatoes

How to Make the Best Sheet Pan Dinners

The genius behind this oven-baked spin on one-pot-cooking is that it's supposed to make for simple prep, cook, and clean-up. And all that's true -- as long as you keep these basic tips in mind:

1. Use the Right Kind of Pan

The right baking sheet to use for sheet pan dinners is called a half-sheet pan. It's made of heavy-gauge metal, measures 18 by 13 inches, and has a 1-inch rim all the way around. It's sturdy enough to take high oven heat--and sometimes broiler heat. The size allows for ingredients to be spread out so you don't crowd the pan. (Crowded pans make for mushy meals because the ingredients steam instead of roast.) And the rim is low enough for heat to move across the ingredients to give them a crisp, brown, caramelized finish. Jellyroll pans may look the same, but they're generally smaller and flimsier than half-sheet pans. The good news is half-sheet pans are not expensive and they're the kind of multi-taskers that you'll use again and again for a whole lot more than sheet pan dinners.

2. Line the Pan for Easy Clean-Up

You'll see lots of blog photos of sheet pan dinners where the pan is all crusty with baked-on bits. (See the photo at top, for example.) But let's get real. You're not interested in scrubbing pans. The solution? Line the pan with heavy-duty foil or parchment paper (not waxed paper). You might have to do a little light washing later, but a well-lined pan cleans up in a jiffy.

3. Give Dense or Whole Vegetables a Head Start

Vegetables like potatoes and carrots take much longer to cook than softer vegetables like green beans, asparagus, and tomatoes. Depending on what else you're adding to the pan, you should roast the denser vegetables for 30 minutes or more before adding the other vegetables to the pan. In this recipe for Greek Lemon Chicken and Potato Bake, small whole potatoes cook along with bone-in chicken leg quarters for 45 minutes, then the green beans are added 15 minutes before the pan comes out of the oven. If you cut the denser vegetables into small pieces, they'll need a shorter head start.

4. Oil Up the Ingredients

To ensure that vegetables don't dry out while they're cooking, make sure you completely coat them with oil. The best way to do this is by putting them into a large bowl and adding the oil and any other seasonings in your recipe. Then stir with a spoon or with your hands to cover everything thoroughly. A smart move is to do the dense vegetables first, then use what's in the bowl to coat the softer vegetables that will be added to the pan later.

5. Rack 'Em Up

Let's say you want to bake breaded chicken or fish over vegetables. To keep that crisp coating, use a wire rack to raise the breaded ingredients above the moisture in the pan. Use the same approach when you're roasting a cut of beef or pork so the juices baste the ingredients while the meats gets gloriously browned. Everyone wins.