How Did the Romans Cook and Prepare Their Food?

The ancient Romans cooked over an open hearth with hanging kettles or in a preheated oven that baked foods as it cooled. In the country or in wealthy homes, Roman kitchens were an attached room on the back edge of the home. In the cities, Roman commoners usually shared a public kitchen, purchasing bread from bakeries and cooking simple meals over common hearths for later consumption at home.

Home hearths were built without chimneys, so meals were generally cooked over charcoal coals, which generate less smoke. Game and meat was either boiled in pots suspended over the fire or on spits. Special bread ovens were filled with coals to warm up. Once the oven was hot, the coals were removed and the bread dough slowly baked as the oven cooled. These ovens were sometimes built of bricks on the hearth, but more often were portable and could be removed from the heat.

Romans used a wide variety of cooking utensils, but the most important was the simple pot. There was no easy way to clean most cookware, so it was often treated as disposable and tossed out when it became too dirty. According to the American Journal of Archaeology, other utensils included a variety of knives, mortaria and pestles for grinding grains and herbs and water heaters to keep food warm using the same principles as the modern steam table.