Oven 101: What You NEED to Know

Oven 101: What You NEED to Know to be successful when you bake something in the oven. Including temperature and how most ovens are inaccurate, the surprising effect of rack placement, and the exact differences between convention vs. convection. Side-by-side photo comparisons and an explanatory video included!

OVEN 101 - You NEED to know this stuff! My oven always runs cold and yours probably isn't accurate either.

Since I get asked so many ‘what went wrong’ questions I’m continuing on with this Baking Basics series in the hopes that it’ll help you guys become more confident and knowledgable in the kitchen. Less fails, more deliciousness. That’s my motto! So today is all about Oven 101. Not the sexiest topic but filled with things you’ll probably be surprised to learn. Plus I’m using COOKIES to illustrate my points and to make you just a little hungry.

Temperature

OVEN 101 - You NEED to know this stuff! My oven always runs cold and yours probably isn't accurate either.
An oven thermometer is a necessity to make sure your oven is heating correctly. Many home ovens are off by 15 degrees, some by even 25 degrees or more! I’ve never had a home oven be 100% accurate. In fact, our new oven often tells me it’s preheated to the temperature I specified when it’s actually at least 20 degrees cooler.

It may not seem like a big difference but baking at the wrong temperature can significantly change your final product. I’m using cookies in this video as an example because it’s so easy to see the differences, but the same is true for just about anything you’re baking.

This is what your cookies should look like if they’re baked at the correct temperature of 350°F. This is what they’ll look like if they’re baked 25°F too cool, and this is what they’ll look like if they’re baked at 25°F too hot. Pretty different results and you might never know why your baked goods don’t look like the photo until you start using an oven thermometer.

Placement

Where you place your oven rack MATTERS. Every baker needs to read this!!
The position of your oven rack can also have a surprising impact on your cookies. Some recipes will specifically tell you where to position your oven rack, but most of the time it should be in the middle. Why? This is where the heat will be most even.

See, if you bake your cookies (or anything) on the top rack, there won’t be as much browning. On the bottom rack, there will likely be too much browning.

The same effect can occur when you’re baking multiple dishes at once. The other baking pans can block the heat from moving around freely and screw up the way the product is baked and browned. If you can, try to bake off one batch of anything at a time instead of doing multiple pans at a time.

Convention vs. Convection

What you need to know about convention vs. convection oven baking!
Unlike a convention oven, which are standard here in the U.S., a convection oven has a fan inside and an exhaust system that helps to circulate the hot air. This allows the oven to heat more quickly and evenly, and to bake more quickly and evenly. It’s more energy efficient and can even lead to better browning since the blowing air creates a drier environment. It bakes so much more evenly that you don’t actually need to rotate your baking trays.

Convection is great for savory preparations like roasts or anything that is covered like a braise or casserole. It’s good for cookies, pies, and pastries. It’s NOT good for delicate foods like custards, soufflés, cakes, and quickbreads.

How to Adjust

If you’re using a convection oven in place of a convention oven in a recipe, be sure to drop the temperature 25°F. Also begin to check for doneness earlier, at least 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through the recommended baking time.

About Tessa...

Tessa is a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. She loves to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. She's on a mission to make the world a more unapologetically DELICIOUS place. Tessa lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

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24 Responses to “Oven 101: What You NEED to Know”

  1. #
    Kerry at Kerry Cooks — March 30, 2016 at 7:31 am

    So useful! I’m sure my oven runs cold so I just mentally adjust

  2. #
    L — March 30, 2016 at 8:29 am

    I don’t have an oven at home so I use a countertop/toaster oven to bake my baked goods. Is it necessary to have an oven thermometer if I’m baking in a countertop/toaster oven

  3. #
    Diedra Fahrner — March 30, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    Thank you!! I am buying myself an oven thermometer asap!!

    • #
      Tessa — March 31, 2016 at 8:36 am

      Yay!!

  4. #
    Kristin — March 31, 2016 at 10:22 am

    Thank you for the information on convection. My oven cooks both ways, but I never use the convection for fear of ruining what I am cooking. Now, I’ll give it a try!

    • #
      Tessa — March 31, 2016 at 5:26 pm

      I was afraid to use our new oven which cooks both ways at first too. I think you’ll grow to love the convection! So much faster and even cooking.

  5. #
    Marie Biswell — March 31, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    Great video, thankyou! I’m a lazy baker & put all the trays in the oven & cook as much as I can at once….and then I am always disappointed with my results! I’ll try to be a patient baker from now on!
    AND… here in Australia, we have Convention ovens & Fan Forced ovens (we don’t call then convection ovens here!)

    • #
      Tessa — March 31, 2016 at 5:25 pm

      Glad you enjoyed! And I just spent most of March with family in Australia so I’m familiar by now. I have to say, it took me a while to figure out how to use their Aussie oven haha!

  6. #
    Lesley Bartolo — April 2, 2016 at 1:05 am

    Thanks so much for this! The mystery has been solved! I am using a convection oven and I have been wondering why my actual baking time is always less than the ones indicated in the recipes I refer to…so do most recipes assume that one is using a conventional type of oven?

  7. #
    Shiela mostoles — April 9, 2016 at 7:00 am

    I am planning to buy a convection oven, but a bit worried for my cakes and cupcakes since I bake both for parties. Is there any way I can bake my cakes in a convection type? Thanks!

    • #
      Tessa — April 9, 2016 at 6:12 pm

      Most convection ovens should give you the option to turn the convection fan on or off, so you wouldn’t have to worry about your more delicate treats.

  8. #
    John @ John's Oven — May 4, 2016 at 11:34 pm

    Now this temperature difference could very well be the reason why I am so bad at cooking anywhere else besides my own home. I know my oven like I know the fingers on my hand – how much it takes to heat, which setting works best, how long it takes to properly cook. It’s too difficult for me to deal with uncharted territory!

    • #
      Tessa — May 6, 2016 at 8:52 am

      Yes, exactly! When we moved to our new house I was at odds with our new oven for a few weeks. It’s definitely helpful to fully understand your own oven.

  9. #
    Kelli — May 13, 2016 at 9:03 pm

    Thank you Tessa, Very helpful info re: convection vs conventional oven. Was always confused if 50 or 25 degrees less than conventional, & clarifies that once & for all. Was uncertain until now which oven setting worked best. If or when time permits, wondering if you could address baking sheets. I purchased a top of the line thick (heavy) aluminum one. All the reviews said they were so great. They stopped the cookies from burning & all bake evenly, however took a lot longer to get them to appear “done,” plus noticed there was no crisp texture at the outer edges that we love. Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. Went back to my old thinner – baking sheets (1 is buckled but love the way baked good turn out on it vs the supposedly superior baking sheets).

  10. #
    Alice — May 28, 2016 at 3:14 am

    Hi Tessa,

    Thank you for your video. I am very new to baking and have a hard time trying to understand my new convection oven. I really throw away quite a bit of cookies and cupcakes because either too cook or not cook or partial cook (top cook, inside not cook).

    My oven has a top tray, a bottom tray and a central tray with selection to select top heating or bottom heating or both heating. If I want to bake cookies and cupcakes, may I know should I use the top tray and top heating or place at centre tray with both top and bottom heating ?

  11. #
    Carrie Fitzwater — May 29, 2016 at 11:29 am

    I learned most of this on my own when they made me the baker several years ago. The convection oven instructions on the Otis Spunkmeyer Cookies were very specific. I am self-trained, but certainly believe baking=science and cooking=art.

  12. #
    Roberta — July 31, 2016 at 11:57 am

    I’ve never heard a conventional oven called a convention oven before. My mental picture is of a bunch of ovens wearing name tags milling around in a large room. 🙂

  13. #
    Trish — August 13, 2016 at 8:45 am

    Hi tessa! I have a conventional oven and I noticed that when I’m baking only the bottom heating element lights up. Broil function works fine so I think the top heating element is not broken. In the oven at my previous house, the top heating element lights up from time to time when in baking mode. I’m not sure if it’s just how the oven works as they are not of the same brand. I’m curious to know if the same goes for your oven?

    • #
      Tessa — August 14, 2016 at 9:44 am

      Hi Trish! Typically for baking the top broiler element doesn’t turn on. Baked goods are usually too delicate for that kind of direct heat because when something like cookies are baking, the cookie pan protects the bottoms of the cookies from any direct heat. Does that make sense? In all my home ovens, the top element only functions as a broiler.

  14. #
    Shari — January 13, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Hi Tessa, I just wanted to give you a big thumbs up for this video. It was very informative. I really want a convection oven now. I used to say that I would never get one, because I never knew anything about them. Now after watching your video, I am going to work on getting one. Thank you so much for the insight.

  15. #
    Emily — March 27, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    Pretty sure you mean “conventional” oven, not “convention”! Thanks for all the science 😉

  16. #
    Chrisoula — April 30, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    Dear Tessa,
    Since you have followers from countries that dont use Farhenait but Celsius, for the temperature, I would appreciate if you gave us the temp. in Celsius. Of course I can search in the internet but again you are the expert. Thanks in advance!

  17. #
    Liszt — June 9, 2017 at 7:31 pm

    Useful tips!

  18. #
    Ed K. — June 13, 2017 at 9:51 am

    Thanks Tessa for a great informative video about oven baking. One thing I would like to add is baking cookies on an airbake cookie sheet. Once I started using one of these sheets, my cookies came out better than ever before.

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