7 Tips For Cooking A Big Meal In One Oven

The holidays are here, and it's the time of the year when most homes set a feast on the table for friends and family. A big meal is a staple part of many celebrations, and that means laying out a spread of multiple dishes, from appealing appetizers and savory main dishes to delicious desserts. The holiday season comes with many different festivities like Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and even New Year's Eve. Each of these special days has its own food traditions, and most families indulge. After all, It's often said that a family that eats meals together stays together.

According to the University of the People, there are many reasons why family time is essential during the holidays, including bonding and encouraging communication. Life Gets Better supports this claim by stating that bonding over food creates a sense of support among loved ones.

The process of preparing food and the main event itself — eating and conversing with loved ones — makes holiday meals extra special. It can be satisfying to prepare every dish for the big gathering, but It becomes a super cumbersome task when you have to do it with just one oven. Here are some tips to help you manage the job.

1. Decide how many dishes you're making

Your holiday dinner will have you running around like you're in a game of Cooking Fever if you do not take some time to decide what you'll cook and what you'll need to bake. Just as planning outfits and gifts for big and small gatherings is paramount, taking time to list what you want to serve is a tremendous service to your sanity.

Mealplify opines that planning meals reduces stress and helps you make healthy food choices. It also enables you to deal with "decision fatigue." So to avoid feeling overwhelmed, save time and money, and enjoy a more varied menu (via Lite n' Easy), get to planning.

Knowing all the dishes you're going to make ahead of time and taking the time to organize and get familiar with your recipes is a good start. At the very least, you'll know what can go in the oven simultaneously. If you're having a hard time deciding what to lay out for the most sophisticated holiday meal, Ina Garten has tips that could ease the burden.

2. Use an oven thermometer to help you cook foods with similar temperatures together

Trust the oven dial at your peril: slippery things, those dials. You don't want to turn it to a specific temperature, only to end up with half-cooked food. It's even worse if you're baking. Different foods cook at different temperatures, and some can withstand fluctuations without getting ruined, but for baked foods, any difference, whether slightly lower or higher by a few degrees, could spell doom for the expected outcome. The antidote is to use an oven thermometer.

Leslie Jeon of The Baker's Almanac explains that you need an oven thermometer when baking because it ensures your cooking time is as it says in the recipe. It also improves your baking and helps ensure the outcome you expect.

To cook foods that need different temperatures together, Jules of the Stonesoup blog recommends setting the oven to the lower temperature and letting the other food take longer to cook. She warns that baking is the exception to the rule. It's best to bake sweet treats like cakes together with similar foods since cakes and cookies usually bake at a lower temperature than many savory dishes, and there's often a narrower window for an ideal outcome. The trick is to know how to use your oven thermometer, and MasterClass offers some tips.

3. Do a test run before the actual cooking

You know how dress rehearsals are done for almost everything these days? Well, hold one for your cooking. Run a simulation to learn how to make the most of your oven space. To do the test run, determine the dishes you want to make, then pick out the different pans you'll use to cook them. Check which pan could go where and which dishes will go in the oven before the others. Do you put the bigger casserole pan on the top rack, or does the meat go there?

After you've worked out the pan arrangement, it is paramount to check that your oven heats up to the right temperature when turned on. Check the dials, and use an oven thermometer to confirm if the preheating temperatures are accurate. Cnet explains that over time and with constant use, the internal components of your oven undergo a lot of stress and may not work as intended. The last thing you want is to put your casseroles, cookies, and veggies in the oven and after long minutes, find that they're all undercooked or even burnt. 

4. Use the right pan size for each dish

Since you're trying to get a lot done in little time and with one oven, try to use the smallest pan that will accommodate your dish. Think oven-minimalist cooking. There's no point in using a pan that can hold eight servings for a dish that only makes four, so use the appropriate pan size to match the recipe's yield. 

Furthermore, using the correct pan sizes also improves the outcome of the final dish. Using a bigger pan than you need could reduce the cooking time and might cause the food to burn, while using a smaller pan could increase your baking time (via Joy of Baking). Ultimately, since you're trying to get the holiday meal ready on a schedule, cooking time matters a lot. Using the right pan sizes will not only ensure your cooking is everything it should be, but it will also save you time by ensuring you get the dish right the first time.

5. Space out your dishes In the oven

As you place your delicious casseroles and pies in the oven, remember to space them out. As Cnet points out, spacing out the pans ensures even circulation of heat. This way, your different foods will all cook well. It might seem counterproductive when you're trying to fit as many dishes as possible in your oven, but remember the goal is to cook all your dishes once without burning or overcooking them. Another way you can space out the food is to use all the racks in the oven.

Spacing is particularly imperative for baking. You don't want the dough or batter burnt at the edges or uncooked in some parts. While cooking savory dishes, spacing lets each one cook at its own pace. Arla reminds you that knowing your oven in and out will help you understand the best placement for each dish. Besides, if you did a test run or cooking simulation as suggested earlier, spacing and arrangement should be easy-peasy lemon squeezy.

6. Use cooling racks to create more space

While our other tips talk about time management and space maximization, this one actually helps you create more room in your oven. Martha Stewart explains that cooling racks are the wire racks you use to cool those delicious, freshly baked goodies. According to Cookery Space, you can use your cooling racks in the oven as long as you've confirmed they are made of oven-friendly material. Your cooling rack has many uses in the oven, such as grilling meat, basting your homemade chicken, and oil-less cooking.

If you're concerned that your oven is too hot for the rack, check the manual, packaging, or the manufacturer's website to know what kind of material it was made of and if it's suitable for use in your oven. And if you have more than one, even better! Cooling racks are particularly helpful because of the air circulation they provide. So, don't be afraid to employ this extra help in making the turkey and the poundcake.

7. Do your baking the day before the main event

To help you with your big holiday meal, consider doing all the baking the day before the dinner. You'll have more time and oven space to make the perfect upside-down rum cake alongside a batch of cookies. Betty Crocker opines that you can bake two to three days before the big day for un-iced cakes. This will give you ample time to whip up other dishes for the big family gathering. Refrigerated cakes can also be baked up to three days in advance, but iced cakes are a little less forgiving. 

Remember that you can bake different sweet treats simultaneously. Simply follow the guidelines laid out by Stonesoup to set the oven to the right temperature. To prevent burning, consider putting your cakes on different racks. If there are many pans to fit in, be sure to space them out to enable good heat and air circulation.

As soon as your baking is out of the way, you'll have more space in your oven to cook the other dishes needed for your big holiday meal.