Getting To Know Your Oven

Recently my mother-in-law moved into a new condominium after living in the same house for 25 years. Last week I went to her house and she told me something was wrong with her oven. She told me that this new oven does not cook the same way her new oven. We went through oven basics and a trouble-shooting guide that I outlined below. Just learning her new oven's nuisances and having a little patience, she now can cook just as well if not better than the oven she had grown accustomed to. Ovens tend to have their own personality. Last night I went over there for dinner, she excitedly told me that nothing was wrong with her oven. Here some ways to get to know your oven better:


Oven Basics and Problem-Solving:

  • There are two types of ovens, differentiated by the heat source:  1. Gas (flame heating element) and 2. Electric (coil heating element). Even though the heat sources are different, they essentially are heating elements and the oven functions the same.

    • Baking/Roasting Function: the heating elements on the top and bottom of the oven are on. For best results, place items in the center. Try to keep away from the heating elements. The difference between baking and roasting seems to be a matter of semantics. Baking tends to be associated with baked goods, and roasting with more savory type foods.

    • Broiling Function: only the heating element on the top operates. Therefore, the closer the item is placed to that element will cook/brown faster but will require a more attentive eye.

    • Convection: found in electric ovens. The convection function turns on a fan in the backside of the oven to evenly distribute air, evenly distributing the heat. In theory, if using convection the temperature can be dropped by 25oF. I personally have not found this to be true. However, I do find that the convection feature doe give nice browning.

  • Ovens are not accurate in their heat and distribution.

    • Most ovens can be off 50o to 100o F compared to what temperature it is actually set at. Intuitively, most of us adapt by adjusting the temperature to we see it cook.

      • Use oven thermometer(s) to find out exactly at what temperature your oven is at vs. the temperature on the controls. Have them in a spot where you can read without opening the door, allowing for heat loss. These oven thermometers can be bought anywhere from your grocery to a fancy kitchen store for under $10. (Great photo to use. Just crop out the timer.

    • Poor heat distribution

      • Turn items in the oven 180o half way through the cooking time.

      • Use pizza stones for better heat distribution. (See below.)

    • Fluctuation in temperature.

      • Be aware that the temperature may go up and down 5-10oF while cooking. No worries. That's normal.

  • Every time the door is opened, the temperature drops about 100oF.

    • Don't open the door. That's what the window is for. Yes, patience grasshopper.

    • Ovens are not well insulated, thus can lose a lot of heat easily.

      • Use pizza stones on the racks. This is my favorite oven tip. I have a large square stone on all three racks in my oven. The stones insulate the heat better than nothing. And work like a charm when I bake cookies. I just place the cookies on a sheet of parchement ontop of a baking sheet, then slide onto the hot stone. Perfectly baked cookies every time. Stones also help with better heat distribution.


Most importantly, keep an eye on what you have in the oven (by not opening the door) and trust your instincts.