There are HUGE differences between roasting and baking. It's just that no one pays attention to them anymore. And really, no one can keep the stories straight anyway.

Our understanding is that roasting implied direct exposure to an open flame, while with baking the heat was indirect. Our dictionary says roasting involves no moisture and baking is to cook by dry heat – no great help there….

Madeleine Kamman, who is pretty sure of herself (even in her non-native tongue), essentially agrees with us, saying that roasting "in the old days" meant cooking meat on a spit over the "dancing flames of the hearth," while baking meant cooking meat in the dying heat of the bread baking oven.

Nowadays, she says, roasting or baking is a function of temperature. If you want succulent meat, you roast at 400°F (205°C) or above, and if you want good, "average tasting meat" and a good gravy, you bake at 325°F (160°C). The cut of meat you choose, however, plays a role in whether you decide to roast or bake. Better, tender cuts can be roasted, while lesser (but still good) cuts should be baked. (Still lesser cuts must be braised.)

Sharon Tyler Herbst agrees with the general temperature distinction between roasting and baking, but says that roasting also implies the use of some fat, either integral to the food, as duck fat, or added, as for roast potatoes.

All of this fascinating information gets you no closer to the answer to your question, however, does it?

Fancy modern ovens – especially convection ovens – do sometimes have both roast and bake settings. Which you choose determines whether only the bottom heating element turns on, whether the bottom and top both turn on, and/or whether the convection element turns on in connection with the bottom or top elements. We also find "convection roast" and "convection bake" settings in some ovens. Unfortunately, we have not found any consistency from manufacturer to manufacturer in what these settings mean.

In at least one Maytag convection oven we checked, they ask you to use the bake setting "for baking and roasting." The convection bake setting automatically lowers the temperature you set by 25°F, and the convection roast setting asks you to check your food when 75% of the anticipated time has elapsed. There is no additional heating element associated with the convection fan (and therefore some would disdain this as not a "true" or "European" or "true European" convection oven). As far as we can tell, Maytag's conventional ovens only have a bake setting, which, of course, is used "for baking and roasting."

Electrolux ovens do not have bake and roast settings, but they have bake, convection bake, and convection roast. Convection bake uses the lower heating element and the fan in the center of the back of the oven to circulate the heated air. Convection roast uses heat from the lower element and the central convection element, again using the fan to circulate the heated air.

In Bosch's conventional ovens, baking means that both the upper and lower elements will cycle on to maintain the set temperature. Roasting uses both the upper and lower elements to maintain the oven temperature, but uses more intense heat from the upper element to apply more browning to the exterior of the food while "the inside remains especially moist." In its convection ovens, the same elements are used in the same proportions, but the fan circulates the air, although the heating element behind the back wall of the oven is not activated.

General Electric's most basic electric ovens only have a bake function for "baking or roasting." The company's fanciest Monogram convection wall oven has a bake setting, as well as convection bake and convection roast, both of which use the convection heating element and fan. According to a GE spokeswoman, the two different settings use different heating elements and/or fan cycling algorithms that are optimized for their target foods. Their take on the baking/roasting question has less to do with temperature and more to do with the type of food being cooked. Cookies, breads, cakes, pies, casseroles, etc. are baked, while meats are roasted (the exception being ham, which is almost always referred to as baked rather than roast ham).

Kitchenaid electric convection ovens make the curious distinction that you do not have to preheat the oven for roasting, "unless recommended in the recipe." (Can anyone show us a recipe that does not specify preheating the oven?) Beyond that, they cycle the top and bottom elements on and off to maintain temperature when you are "baking and roasting." In convection baking, the fan is used and all three elements are used to preheat the oven, but only the bottom and convection heating elements are used once the initial temperature has been reached. In convection roasting, all three elements and the fan are used throughout the cooking process.

This all relates to ovens that are currently on the market. It is possible that older ovens and other brands also have both settings. Whether they mean anything or not is anybody's guess.

You can see that accuracy in the semantic use of the words "roast" and "bake" has little meaning and consistency – and certainly no advocates – anymore. Even sticklers such as us have caught ourselves saying one when we meant the other. Sadly, this battle has been lost.