The Confident Kitchen Series
Convection ovens are a source of confusion for many folks. It is one of the questions that I am often asked to explain how a convection oven works compared to a conventional oven. Some of the same folks who have asked me this question have high-end ovens in amazing kitchens. They rarely use their ovens because they really don’t know where to start. Trust me on this – cooking with convection ovens is NOT scary. This post is all about Convection versus Conventional Ovens Tips and Techniques.
Convection versus Conventional Ovens Tips and Techniques
To simplify, the convection is a forced air oven which makes your food preparation, cooking and baking more effective, efficient and versatile. The food cooks more evenly, browns beautifully (approximately 25 % less time), and at a lower temperature (typically 25o°F less/15o°C).
A good conventional oven has its place as well. My Mom has always had a conventional gas oven, and as much as I enjoy cooking and baking with a conventional oven, they do have a few drawbacks, such as: hot and cool spots in the oven, lengthy cooking and baking times, and lack of air circulation resulting in uneven browning. After using both types of ovens, it reinforces why I love using a convection oven.
Let’s start with an example: Upon visiting a friend just prior to her opening a new restaurant, she was stating in frustration…………….., “I hate this oven!” She asked me to take a look at the oven and give her some advice. Apparently, she was testing a recipe for the second and third time because her lovely lunch buns were not baking properly. After investigating, I noticed that the oven had some amazing features that would impress any chef, such as: convection bake, convection roast, no-fan, low-fan, high-fan options and the “convection-convert” choice (which is absolutely brilliant). She was a little hesitant to try any of these new features. After a few demonstrations of how these features worked and which feature worked best for which recipe, the once under-appreciated oven soon gained significantly higher status.
You can probably tell that I am an enthusiastic advocate of convection ovens. My first opportunity using a convection oven was in a very busy private golf club where I worked as a pastry chef. I soon learned the many benefits of baking, roasting or drying foods with a convection oven. I was hooked!
Convection versus Conventional Ovens Tips and Techniques
Here are a few convection oven features that I use and what I use them for:
- To caramelize root vegetables or bake croissants and scones, I turn the fan on high. I want the tips of the vegetables to turn golden in the caramelization of the roasted vegetables and I want the quick rise of the scones and similar baked goods.
- To bake a more delicate item such as a cheesecake or angel food cake, I turn the fan off.
- I use the convection oven as a food dehydrator by turning the temperature and fan on low to dry apple or tomato slices, make jerky or dried citrus peel.
- To bake cookies to golden perfection, I turn the fan on low.
As a chef, one of the features that I am delighted with is the capability to bake not one – not two – but three sheets of cookies at the same time with excellent results. The daily task list at work is lengthy, so this is a great feature. At home, this feature also works well on Grey Cup or Super Bowl Day when multiple trays of chicken wings and appetizers are a must. I also use all three racks at the same time for what we call “oven meals” – for example, roasting chicken legs on one tray, roasting diced butternut squash on another tray, as well as roasting seasoned potato wedges on the third rack. Take advantage of this feature to catch up on mise-en-place. Just yesterday, a tray of raw pecans halves went into the oven for roasting while the rest of dinner was cooking. I keep a variety of roasted nuts at the ready in my freezer for my marathon baking days or for sprinkling on morning breakfast bowls.
My convection oven tips:
- As with any recipe that you make for the first time, remember that every oven is different! CHEF TIP: You will notice in the photo above that I have an internal oven thermometer hanging on one of the racks in my oven. If I am testing a recipe, particularly if it is a dessert or pastry item, I double check the temperature internally and make adjustments, if necessary before I put my food into the oven. And, I have found that different settings on ovens (bake, convection bake, roast or convection roast) fluctuate the internal temperature of the oven.
- I tend not to depend precisely on the instructions for cooking times on most recipes and this is why: err on the side of caution and set the time for 30% less time than indicated in the recipe and keep checking until done. Adjust your recipe notes accordingly. I have a habit of keeping scrupulous notes regarding the correct cooking times and temperatures. Perhaps it is my competition background that has established this practice so clearly in my day-to-day routines. Our coaches told us to try, try and try yet again when working on a competition recipe. You made sure to keep very, very precise notes as to what you did, how you did it, at what temperature, in which oven, and how long it took. I would not expect that you would need to go to these lengths, however, I would encourage you to get into the habit of at least writing down adjustments to your recipes, with your particular oven as you go through the learning curve of using your convection oven.
- Generally, when you are using the convection oven to bake, you can assume that you will bake 25oF lower and it will take the same time as stated in your recipe. (See note above)
- Keep in mind that roasting pans, cookie sheets and cake pans for convection ovens should be shallow in order for the fan to be the most effective and efficient. I use shallow cookie sheets to roast chicken as often as I use them for cookies with excellent results. There are also racks available to lift the items to be roasted from the bottom of the baking sheets or roasting pans to ensure fan effectiveness.
- Pans that are lighter in colour (stainless steel, aluminum) yield the best results in a convection oven. Darker pans tend to make foods over-brown, so you will have to be diligent in checking on the cooking process. You might find it useful to keep this tip in mind: line these pans (as well as any other type of pan for easy cleanup) with parchment paper to avoid over-browning.
- Typically, when you are using the convection oven to roast, assume that you will roast the item at the same temperature and that it will take 25% less time.
Using a convection oven need not be scary. There is a lot of information available to help you get started and I have listed several under the heading: Additional Resources below. You can now try some of your favourite recipes once again and I am confident that you will be pleased with the final product. Let me know how it is going? I am happy to offer more tips if you need them.
And as an extra incentive to get you started using a convection oven, here is a very handy convection converter that will help calculate convection temperature and convection time.
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