Here are 15 + Best Tips for Using Your Oven that will help you to get the most out of your cooking and baking, from producing better-tasting food to saving you time in the kitchen.
From making cookies to roasting tender and crisp roast chicken, our ovens are versatile machines that we depend upon on a daily basis. But are we using them as best as we should be for maximum effectiveness?
Oven temperature is so important
Tip #1: Take the temperature of your oven
Just because your oven is set to 375 degrees F. doesn't mean that is what the temperature really is. Most ovens' temperatures do vary by maybe 10 degrees but some can be way off which will cause foods to not bake properly. Just imagine putting in hours to come up with the perfect bread dough only to find it has burnt to a crisp during baking or your roast chicken is still pale after being in the oven for an hour all because the temperature oven is off.
Get an oven thermometer -To know if your oven temperature is accurate place an oven thermometer on a rack inside the oven and heat your oven to 350 degrees F, and check this temperature every 20 minutes for an hour and find the average temperature. Now if you find you have set your oven temperature to 350 degrees F. or (180 degrees C.) and the thermometer says 375 degrees F. or (190 degrees C.) you know to adjust the oven temperature down 25 degrees.
Tip #2: Make sure to preheat your oven
Do you really need to preheat your oven, for some foods YES!!! Depending on the temperature you want, it usually takes about 15 minutes for ovens to heat up, and this is necessary if you are baking quick baking foods like pastries, bread, or cookies, usually items made with eggs and flour. These items need immediate heat to react with ingredients such as yeast or a leavener to make them rise.
Casseroles or stews and items that take time to bake can be put into the oven as it preheats and they will be fine.
Tip#3: How to find the hotspots in your oven
Have you ever been surprised to take out a batch of cookies only to find the cookies on one end of the cookie sheet are darker brown than the other end? Basically certain areas in your oven are hotter than other areas.
Two ways to find hot spots in your oven so you can adjust where you put your baking pans, here's how:
- Use the toast trick -Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. or(180 degrees C.) and lay bread on the baking rack and bake for 10 minutes. Now look at the bread and see where it has been toasted the least and the most and that will tell you where your hot spots are. Now you know where to put your pans in the oven, and that you need to rotate pans during baking.
- Use the flour trick - Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. or (180 degrees C.) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper then add a ½" layer of flour over the parchment. Put the pan in the oven and bake for about 25- 30 minutes. Remove the pan and see where the darker spots are on the flour. These are the areas you have hot spots
Tip #4: Keep the oven door closed to retain heat
This is a rather obvious tip but you shouldn’t ever open the door to the oven while something is baking as that can drop the oven’s internal heat 25 - 50 degrees each time you do so. Almost all ovens have a window and a light, so use these to peek inside your oven.
There is an exception to having the oven door open and that is if you are using the broiler. Because the broiler uses such high heat it is suggested to crack the door.
Convection vs. Conventional (regular) Ovens
Tip #5: Depending on your oven, don't assume that the temperature in a recipe is right for your oven
Determine if you are using a regular conventional oven setting or a convection oven setting. Many ovens have both settings.
Most recipes online have made use of conventional ovens instead of convection ovens and the distinction between the two is rather important.
- What is a Conventional Oven - this oven uses heating coils on the top and the bottom of the oven to heat. The heat does not circulate which does cause hot and cold spots around the oven.
- What is a Convection Oven - foods cook or bake at a faster rate than conventional ovens as they have increased airflow capabilities meaning the oven heat is being circulated around the oven which allows the temperature to stay at a more even temperature and the food bakes or roasts quicker and more evenly.
Always consider what oven you are working with when following a recipe and the temperature that it recommends you cook the food at.
If you are cooking with a convection oven then you will want to decrease the heat by 20 -25 degrees from what has been set by the recipe and check your food three-fourths of the way through the cooking time to guard against your food burning or having uncooked baked goods.
Use the conventional oven to bake these foods
Because a convection oven blows air you should not use this setting for soft baked goods as it can blow the batter. These are foods that need to rise in the oven so go for the regular oven with the heating coils.
Use the Convection Oven for these foods
- Roasting meats and vegetables - roasting these foods is quicker and allows for better browning or caramelization because of the drier heat.
- Stews and Casseroles - These foods will cook much faster on convection.
- Sheet Pan Dinners - quick and easy to bake
- Toasting - coconut, and granolas get nice and toasty.
- Pies - put your pie in a convection oven for a nice puffy crust. Because of the convection, the butter melts faster which creates steam that will make your pie dough rise higher and be flakier.
- Cookies - You can bake two baking pans of cookies at the same time in a convection oven. TIME SAVER!!!
Remember - unless otherwise stated, the recipe is most likely to have been made with a conventional oven instead of convection.
Why and how to use the broiler
The great thing about the broiler setting is you can just turn it on, there is no temperature setting to deal with because the broiler on most stoves goes to 500–550 degree F. or (260–288°C). It's hot and even hotter than most grills. Here are several ways to use the broiler.
Because of the high heat, it's best to use a broiling pan that is slotted to allow the heat to flow around the food and also catch any grease drippings. Good heavy-duty aluminum pans and cast iron also work, but stay away from glass baking dishes as they may break.
Tip #6: Make use of the broiler setting to reduce preheating
If you have limited time to make dinner, and you’ve either left the preheating a bit late or you don’t have time to wait for it to preheat fully, turn the broiler on for 3-5 minutes which will raise the temperature in the oven sufficiently for you to pop your food into the oven in no time. Just make sure to change the setting of your oven back to the cooking temperature once having placed your food in the oven otherwise you may not be eating at all!
Tip #7: Use the broiler for toasting and grilling
The broiler is perfect for cooking many types of foods. The broiler melts cheese, toasts bread, roasts veggies, and grills thin pieces of meat like steaks, chops, and chicken. On the sweeter side use the broiler to toast your meringue for pies.
Inside the oven
Tip #8: Position your racks based on what you are cooking
Depending on what you are cooking and how much heat that food requires, you will need to position the racks of your oven accordingly. It really is a make-or-break factor!
Here are some helpful guidelines on how to rack your correctly:
- Top Rack - Use when broiling so food is close to the heating element.
- Middle Racks -Cookies, pies, cakes, pastries, and casseroles bake best when the racks are in the middle of the oven.
- Bottom Racks - Set the racks towards the bottom of the oven for roasting large, tough pieces of meat. Think of a big roast or a turkey, they take up a lot of room. This is like the slow cooking area.
- When making use of multiple racks, space them evenly to promote uniform air circulation (you won’t need to adjust racks in convection ovens as often due to good uniform air circulation capability that promotes uniform cooking).
Tip #9: Keep your oven clean
Sorry to say, but you gotta clean your oven, and luckily most new ovens are self-cleaning, but that means you have to push a button to clean the oven.
There are times though that you drop some french fries, a casserole boils over, or you drip some batter in the oven and if left in the bottom of the oven these spills will continue to burn. If you don't clean spills as they occur the next time you turn your oven on the food will burn and possibly start smoking. Plus the odor can affect the taste of food.
Once your oven has cooled, clean up any dropped food particles, and if there is a spill clean it up with a soapy damp cloth. If need be use a rubber scraper for burnt-on food. This is a good way to spot clean your oven.
It's a good idea to wipe down the oven regularly like you clean the stovetop, then occasionally do a deep cleaning to remove baked-on grease.
Tip #10: Lining the oven with foil - not a good idea!
Never line the bottom of your oven with foil. It's tempting to do this so spills can be cleaned up easily, but putting foil down will cover up the heating element in a regular oven and stops the airflow in a convection oven. Foil is good temporarily for under a pan or to make a foil tent for your chicken.
Which pans should you use for baking?
Tip #11: Choose your bakeware wisely
Believe it or not but not all bakeware serves the same purpose. Selecting the best pan will ensure optimal results in your oven. The cooking time, as well as the degree of browning, will also depend on the color and material your cookware is made of.
- Metal Bakeware - conducts heat very well, but it does not retain the heat and is perfect for baking dry foods. Use shiny bakeware pans for bread, cookies, and cakes since they reflect heat so you get a lighter colored baked item and more even browning. Dark bakeware yields darker browning because it absorbs more heat which is perfect for a roast, cornbread will get that golden-brown crust or pizza. If using for cookies or cakes, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees F.
- For baking cookies, sheet pan dinners, rolls, and more these are the heavy sheet pans I use and always have great results.
- Glass bakeware - is not a great conductor of heat, but once hot it will stay hot for quite a while. For this reason, use a glass baking pan for wet foods like casseroles, lasagne, cobbler, or bread pudding. A good 13 x 9' Pyrex baking dish can be used for so many recipes. Glass is not good going from stovetop to oven or vice versa, and a biggie - don't use glass to broil foods as it may shatter.
- Ceramic bakeware - is similar to glass bakeware, it just looks prettier and a perfect way to serve stews and casseroles. Be careful of temperature changes that might cause the ceramic bakeware to crack or shatter. For making casseroles, try this 13 x 9 ceramic baking dish.
- Cast iron - cast iron skillets or baking pans can go from stovetop to the oven easily and holds heat really well which helps foods cook evenly and, brown and caramelize beautifully. Make sure your cast iron is seasoned properly before use.
Stay away from very light-weight and flimsy baking pans that can warp in a hot oven and burn your food. You don't need anything ultra-expensive but do invest in good quality bakeware like thick grade aluminum.
Did you know you could do this in an oven?
Tip #12: Use your oven to keep food warm
Keeping food warm until it's time to serve it can be a problem, like when you are making pancakes or waffles for a crowd, or maybe dinner is ready but you are not ready to serve it. The easy solution is to set your oven temperature to its lowest level, which is usually 200 degrees F. and place your food in the oven to keep it warm.
Some ovens come with a warming tray which is another option. And if you have one, lucky you!
Tip #13: Make use of your oven to proof bread
Your oven is an ideal place to proof bread dough and this is especially helpful during cooler weather. In order to get the yeast active, you need humidity and warmth and by following these steps your dough will rise beautifully in the oven.
- Place an oven rack in the center of the oven with a second near the bottom.
- Fill a baking pan or a loaf pan half-full of boiling water and place the pan on the bottom rack
- Put your covered bread dough bowl on the middle rack, shut the oven to allow the dough to rise.
- The heat from the water will create the warmth and humidity needed and the oven temperature should stay around 75 degrees F. Use an oven thermometer to check the oven temperature occasionally.
- If the oven temperature drops for an extended length before the dough has risen, dump the water out of the pan and add more boiling water.
Tip #14: Caramelize onions in the oven rather than on the stovetop
Ditch the endless stirring of onions on the stovetop for that perfect caramelization and place them in your oven instead.
Slice large white onions and place them on a sheet pan with your preferred seasoning and a drizzle of 5 tablespoons of oil (something like olive oil). Mix your onions with the seasoning and any other ingredients of your choosing such as garlic, herbs, and a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar for adequate caramelization.
Then cover your sheet pan with foil to roast at 375 degrees F. for 50 -55 minutes, toss the onions a few times during the roasting time. If after an hour, your onions are not as caramelized as you’d like them to be, put the onions under the broiler to fast track the process and watch carefully so that they don’t burn.
Tip #15: Use your oven to make your kitchen smell good
Using an oven is a great way to get any kitchen smelling enticing.
If you are planning on having guests over and want to infuse your house with mouth-watering fragrant smells then simply place one or two tablespoons of oil or extract needed to get your kitchen smelling fresh and inviting in just a few minutes.
Place one to two tablespoons of your favorite essential oil like lemon or maybe lavender, or you can use extracts such as vanilla or orange in an oven-safe bowl, set the bowl in your oven at 300 degrees F. (140 C.) for 15 - 20 minutes. It works like magic to create a heavenly scented home
There you have it, 15 oven tips and tricks.
I hope all these tips have been helpful. Over time you will learn how to use your oven and understand its good and bad habits so when you open the oven door you will find that perfect roast or loaf of golden-brown bread.
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From learning to cook on a farm in Indiana to culinary school in California, my passion for food is never-ending. Turning on my oven to bake something for friends and family is my happy place, and I am glad to be here at One Hot Oven sharing both sweet and savory recipes with all my baking friends.