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You Are Being Misled By Your Oven

Over the years, we have tested and analyzed a wide variety of ovens, and one feature that has remained consistent is the availability of precise temperature control. Do you want to begin baking? After setting the desired temperature, say 350 degrees Fahrenheit, the element will begin to operate. That’s the price we pay for convenience with today’s ovens.

Sounds really basic, right? Nope. It’s OK to choose a temperature that works with a recipe, but your oven’s actual temperature is probably not going to be spot on.



Different models and brands have different temperature patterns, but most function in a similar fashion: the temperature will rise over your set point at first to make up for the heat that escapes when you open the door to put food inside. Once this happens, the heating element will begin turning on and off periodically. With a properly calibrated oven set to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, the heating element may remain on until the oven’s interior reaches 370 degrees Fahrenheit before turning off and then turning back on at 330 degrees Fahrenheit.

Modern ovens have come a long way from the days when testing the oven’s readiness included sticking your arm inside and waiting for the pain to set in as a gauge of readiness. At its core, though, your oven is just a box with insulation and a heating element within. An oven that warms to the precise temperature set by the user is still a lovely dream because of how difficult it is to achieve.

The cavity’s temperature fluctuates with its contents, changes with time, and varies from oven to oven. Pastry expert Joanne Chang recently informed us that the oven temperatures included in most recipes were likely established particularly for the author’s oven.


Temperature readings from ovens are notoriously inaccurate.

So, what should we do? Is it pointless to analyze temperature-variable cookware? To put it simply, the answer is no.

Real-world baking tests, where we actually cook food and see how it browns, make up the vast majority of our testing method since we are aware that oven heat varies. All ovens have hot and cold patches, and heat is never consistent throughout the cavity, but our tests reliably indicate where the problems lie. Top-tier ovens maintain a uniform temperature throughout the chamber.

Don’t stress too much about precision if you’re using an unusual oven. Food expert Mark Bittman told Slate that he likes to conceive of oven temperatures as four broad categories of heat that work for diverse culinary jobs instead than as specific numbers.

He explains that there are four temperature ranges: “[r]eally low, under 275 degrees; moderate, between 275 and 350; high, over 350 but under, say 425; and maximum.” However, he adds, “I don’t think about those numbers… I just think ‘what am I trying to do here? Blast this stuff or treat it gently, or something in between.'”

Bittman and Chang both advocate utilizing your senses to determine when food is done cooking rather than depending on the cook times specified in a recipe; if you prefer to use temperature measures, an instant-read thermometer should do the job.