Why You Should Ditch The Bowl When Tossing Salad

Salads are one of the most versatile foods you can make. Whether as an appetizer, a side dish, or even as a main course, they can include just about anything. From something as simple as leafy greens with chopped tomatoes and cucumbers drizzled with dressing, to more complex combinations of vegetables with grains or grilled meat, they're the perfect way to fill bellies while providing a nutritious meal. But, they can also be a bit annoying to put together.

If it's not all chopping, it's the mixing and serving that sometimes raises our hackles. You'd think that tossing everything together in a bowl would be a simple affair, but realistically, it can be hard to mix a bunch of different ingredients together. Trying to equally coat each morsel with dressing while attempting to keep everything from falling out of the bowl is tricky. Then, when you go to serve the salad, the smaller-cut ingredients like to sink to the bottom, leaving all the larger leaves at the top — and no one likes to end up with just a bowl full of plain spinach.

There's a much easier way to get the job done, however, that will make you want to skip the mixing bowls and never look back — sheet pan salads. By mixing and serving your salads on these trays, you'll be able to eliminate the mess, ensure that each serving is a balanced portion, and reduce the number of dishes you'll have to wash.

The easiest way to toss a salad

You can use the sheet pan method for raw salads as well as for those mingled with warm ingredients. While you can do this trick with any type of baking sheet, using a jelly roll pan is how you'll get the most from this upgrade. The raised edges keep everything tucked inside the pan when mixing and thy prevent chunky veggies like slices of avocado or lettuce wedges from falling out.

For cold salads, one tip is to pre-chill your sheet pan in the refrigerator before you start. That way it will be nice and cold when you're ready to use it, and it will help to keep the produce from wilting. (This sheet pan pasta salad hack is also an excellent way to cool down cooked noodles before assembling the dish.)

While the tray is chilling in the fridge, wash and chop your salad ingredients, and if you're making your own dressing, prepare it at this point too. When everything is ready to go, layer all the ingredients onto the pan but save the dressing until just before serving to avoid everything getting soggy. 

The most efficient way to toss a sheet pan salad is with tongs. You'll find that mixing is much easier in this type of flat vessel rather than a round bowl. And, once mixed, all the pieces will be evenly distributed across the entire sheet — no more beans, cubes of cheese, or crunchy croutons lost at the bottom.

How to make warm salads with just one pan

The magic of sheet pan salads is even more evident when you're using the technique with cooked ingredients. There are so many tasty roasted vegetables you can use, like butternut squash, broccoli, cauliflower, and beets. Roast chicken is also delicious in Caesar salads, and crispy seasoned chickpeas can add flavor and protein to any kind of salad as well. These roasted ingredients will serve as the base to which you'll then add the cold elements.

The first step is to get everything that will be roasted onto the pan and into the oven. While those foods are cooking, do all the rest of the prep for the salad ... the chopping, making the dressing, etc. Once your hot ingredients are ready, you can either let them all cool before adding the rest of the salad components into the same pan, or you can make it a warm salad by putting it all together while still hot. However, know that items like lettuce or fresh herbs will wilt almost immediately when combined with the heat, so this may work better for salads made with heartier greens such as kale or cabbage, or those made with grains like rice and quinoa.

Simply pile everything directly into the pan, toss with your dressing, and it's ready to serve. The beauty here is not having to use any extra bowls. The sheet pan is used for the cooking, the mixing, and the serving, which makes cleaning up a cinch.