What are Convection Ovens good for, anyway?
Whether you’ve recently bought a convection oven or have just discovered the convection button on your current oven, you might be wondering what exactly it does.
Is it really that different from a conventional oven? Should you always use your convection oven now? Or is it better to use it sometimes, depending on what you’re cooking or baking?
It can be tough to figure out, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be glad you put the effort in. With the right approach, convection ovens can turn average dishes into five-star creations. Whether you’re looking to bake, cook, roast, or dry food, a convection oven can be a good option.
What a convection oven is
I promise that a convection oven isn’t as confusing as it sounds. A conventional (or traditional) oven heats from the top and/or bottom. A convection oven does the same thing, but also has a fan and exhaust system that moves hot air around. This effectively blows the hot air onto and around whatever you are cooking or baking, allowing the oven to maintain a constant heat. Convection ovens provide more even cooking and baking, as well as shorter wait times. This is because a traditional oven has “hot and cold” spots due to the lack of air movement, causing it to cook at an uneven speed.
This idea can be a bit hard to process, because to most of us an oven is an oven. It can help to think about the wind on a cold day. If it’s 40° Fahrenheit outside and the wind is blowing, you’re going to feel much colder than if it were 40° Fahrenheit with no wind. This is because the air is not stagnant—it’s moving around you and hitting you. The same concept applies when you cook with a convection oven.
Reasons to use a convection oven
If you’re looking to cook something quickly
Convention ovens cook and bake food approximately 25% more quickly than a traditional oven because hot air is directly blowing onto and around the food (instead of just surrounding it) so its internal temperature increases more quickly.
If you want your food coked more evenly
A traditional cover creates hot/cold spots because the air is stagnant. However, a convection oven has a consistent temperature throughout due to the use of the fan and exhaust system. The circulation of air cuts out variations in temperature, allowing your food to cook or bake evenly.
If you’re hoping to brown your food without drying it out
A convection oven is dryer than a traditional oven because the fan and exhaust system removes water from the air, while a traditional oven simply remains humid. This dry air is more appropriate for roasting, and results in quicker caramelization of sugar. This causes foods to brown without become dry. A traditional oven, on the other hand, has the tendency to simply steam food rather than roast it.
If you want to cut down your energy bill
The fact of the matter is that convection ovens use less energy and time. When you’re using a convection oven, you cook at a lower temperature for a shorter period of time. This results in less electricity being used to get the oven up to its maximum temperature, as well as less energy being used throughout the cooking process.
When to use your convection oven
- If you’re roasting food (such as meats, vegetables, or nuts), a convection oven will produce a better result. The food will be more brown and crispy without becoming dry
- If you’re baking a pastry or pie, a convection oven will create more steam (because it melts fat more quickly), which will give your dough a more flakey, golden appearance
- If you’re baking a large number of cookies, using a convection oven allows you to bake multiple trays at once because the temperature is consistent throughout the oven
- If you’re cooking/baking anything that is covered (whether it’s with aluminum foil or a lid), moisture is not a concern. As a result, using a convection oven just means the food will cook faster
- If you’re toasting/dehydrating food, a convection oven is a better choice because it will remove moisture more quickly compared to a conventional oven.
When to use your conventional oven
While you can almost always use your convection oven, it’s a good idea to instead rely on a conventional oven when baking anything that begins as a dough and sets while it is baking. For example, it is better to bake custards, cakes, and breads in a conventional oven because the fan could cause the batter to become lopsided, which will result in an undesirable appearance upon setting.
However, it is worth it to experiment. When making bread, for example, you may value crisper, more evenly baked bread over something aesthetically pleasing. It is always best to determine what your needs are, and for what occasion you are baking or cooking. Sometimes appearance matters more than taste, and other times taste is priority.
Convection oven tips and tricks
Using a convection oven is a bit different than using your conventional oven. It’s easy to get the hang of, but be sure to follow the following tips:
- Because a convection oven has a consistent temperature, bake at 25° Fahrenheit lower than called for
- Check your food regularly, because a convection oven cuts down baking/cooking time by as much as 1/3
- Remember the air needs to circulate for a convection oven to be effective. As a result, use trays and pans with low sides so air can reach the food
Have any more tips? Let us know in the comments. If you’re ready to start convection oven cooking, head over to our buyer’s guide and choose one of the best convection ovens!