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The Differences Between Cooking and Baking







You may be surprised - there are more differences between cooking and baking than you'd think.

Included in this article

Primary "cooking" methods for both cooking and baking

The difference of precision between cooking and baking

Helpful skills and science verses art

Primary differences between baking and cooking equipment

History of cooking and baking

Popularity of cooking and baking around the world

Is either cooking or baking healthier?

Suggested cooking classes for improving baking skills

What Are the Differences between Cooking and Baking?

We hear the terms “cooking” and “baking” every day and sometimes people think they are virtually interchangeable. And while of course they are innately similar, they are also incredibly different. The next time you hear a baker lamenting on how they can’t cook and vice versa, don’t be confused. So, what’s the difference then? Well, broadly speaking, cooking is a blanket term used for any sort of food preparation involving heat and combining ingredients, while baking is a subset of cooking using dry heat (usually an oven) and precise measurements. While all baking might be cooking, not all cooking is baking! Let’s get into some of the main differences between the two.

Baking requires an oven, Cooking does not

As we mentioned, baking is a subset of cooking. And while cooking refers to heating raw ingredients to change their chemical compound, how you heat them is what makes it specifically baking. For something to be considered “baked”, it must be heated using consistent dry heat. This constant flow of dry heat comes from (you guessed it) an oven and alters the chemical composition, texture, and flavor of ingredients. In cooking however, while an oven is often used to roast vegetables or bake chicken, an oven is not a requirement to achieve a similar result. And actually, in some cases - heat isn't even required to "cook." Look to some examples like citrus cooked Ceviche or dry cured sausages.

Cooking is flexible, while baking is precise

Oftentimes you’ll hear cooking be referred to as an art and baking referred to as a science. And while all cooking is scientific, it’s true that baking relies on pure scientific precision to create a great dish. The slightest change in humidity, quantity, temperature, or time can lead to drastic differences in the final product. On the other hand, with cooking, great chefs are those who can improvise and create delicious recipes from their imaginations. They understand a little bit extra of this spice, or perhaps introducing the zest of a lemon can completely alter the taste of their dish, while not changing the outcome of the doneness. Of course, there is room for creativity in baking as well, but it is essential that you understand the precision needed for that dish first.

With Baking, a knowledge of science is helpful

All cooking is scientific in nature, but with baking there is a very specific scientific interplay between ingredients. Knowledge of how these ingredients work on a scientific level allows you the skills to become a better and more consistent baker. For example, let’s look at the basic ingredients in nearly every baked good: flour, fat, sugar, egg, and leavening agents. The gluten in flour gives structure to the dish and helps trap air bubbles, while the fat coats the gluten molecules to keep them from combining too much (which results in a tough texture) and keeps the product fluffy and tender. Sugar also helps prevent gluten from forming and cuts into the fat making small holes that are filled with CO2 when the leavening agents react. The amount of these leavening agents (such as baking soda and baking powder) is very important, as too much of them will result in large bubbles of CO2, which will eventually burst and lead to a flat product. Meanwhile,