How and when to use your oven’s convection setting

What is convection cooking?

Regular ovens – also called conventional, radiant or thermal ovens – rely primarily on a heating element, whether gas or electric, at the bottom of the oven to heat the oven cavity. (There is also another heating element at the top of the oven that is responsible for broiling when there is no broiler drawer.) Air is relatively stagnant in conventional ovens, but with convection , there’s a fan that circulates air, which helps food cook faster and can reduce dreaded hot or cold spots.

“When hot air blows over food, instead of just surrounding it, the food tends to cook faster,” Susie Middleton wrote in Fine Cooking. “A short version of the scientific explanation for this is that moving air accelerates the rate of heat transfer that occurs naturally when air of two different temperatures converge. To help you understand this, consider wind chill : When cold air blows against you on a windy winter day, you feel colder faster than on a windless day at the same temperature.” For this reason, convection cooking is much more efficient, with food cooking up to 25% faster compared to conventional ovens.

And as hot air circulates, it creates a more consistent temperature throughout the oven. This can reduce – and in some cases eliminate – the need to rotate items left to right and toss pans from upper racks to lower racks to promote even cooking.

Types of convection ovens

Not all convection ovens are created equal. In my experience with them in professional settings, convection ovens were separate appliances where the fan was always on. But in many home ovens, it’s a setting you can turn on and off as you see fit, leaving the cook the choice of using conventional or convection cooking.

More affordable “convection” ovens simply have a fan in the back that helps circulate hot air from the heating elements to the top and/or bottom of the cavity. But “true convection”, “third element convection”, or “European convection” ovens have an additional heating element near or around this fan that blows heated air inside. This additional heating element creates a much more efficient cooking environment compared to ovens without them, making it the desired – and more expensive – option. (Although there are also countertop convection ovens, I’m focusing on built-in wall ovens and slide-in ranges for this article.)

Above all, unless explicitly stated, all recipes are written for traditional ovens. So when you’re following a recipe and want to use convection, lower the temperature 25 degrees and check for doneness 25% earlier than the time listed. (The item may still cook faster even with the reduced temperature. Also, it is almost always a good idea to check everything you have in the oven halfway through the baking time to see how it’s progressing.)

One thing to note, it is important to check your user manual to understand how your oven works before setting temperatures. Some ovens adjust the temperature for you when using convection. If this is the case, although you set the oven to 400 degrees, for example, it would automatically fall 375 degrees. And depending on the manufacturer and model, it may display the original inlet temperature or the converted temperature.

When baking with convection, you want to make sure you’re not doing anything to prevent crucial airflow. This means using pans with low sides (baking sheets are ideal) and not crowding the oven, so that there is plenty of room for air to move around the food.

Convection cooking is ideal for foods that keep better in a dry place. climate and where you want to encourage browning and crispiness. So roasted meats, potatoes and vegetables are all ideal, and it’s great for reheating things like fried chicken or baked pizza. Generally speaking, convection cooking is suitable for savory foods that you would cook on a baking sheet. It is also generally good for baking on multiple racks, such as when baking multiple trays of cookies. (It may still be a good idea to rotate the trays, especially if the oven is not “true convection”.)

Beyond cookies, which, remember, can cook faster and turn out crispier with a convection oven, the advice is also mixed for other pastries and desserts.

“One of the things that gives me a heart attack every time I bake in a convection oven is macarons,” said pastry chef and co-founder of Bakers Against Racism Paola Velez. “You usually want stale air. You don’t want it to move, because it’s a delicate cookie. It’s almost like a fairy wants to pat it and push it and screw you, it’s the oven The fan can also send light objects flying, such as when toasting shredded coconut, and it’s also a good idea to weigh parchment paper down with a spoon to keep it secure.

“You wouldn’t want to bake any kind of American-style layer cakes in them, because they’re going to get a nice little dome,” Velez said. “So if you want a nice smooth top, a conventional oven is best.” The dry environment created by convection ovens is also bad for creamy things that do better in a moist cooking environment, like flan and cheesecake.

On the other hand, baker and chef Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery in Boston said fine dining: “I use a convection oven for almost everything in the restaurant. I like the even heat. If I had to choose, I would use convection over a standard oven anytime. I use convection to toast nuts quickly and evenly, to make evenly baked tuiles to garnish desserts, to bake our brioche and raisin-pecan breads, tart shells and filled pies, cakes, cookies and breakfast treats.

However, it’s important to note that mass production in a commercial oven and small-scale baking done at home are two entirely different beasts. So when it comes to using convection for baking at home, Velez advises against it: “There’s a purpose to it, but I don’t know if in the baking world it’s really that useful.”

Which convection setting to choose

You may also notice several types of convection settings on your oven, such as “convection bake”, “convection roast”, “convection crisp”, “super convection”, and “air fry”. (Countertop air fryers are just little convection ovens, after all.) What’s the difference?

According to Katie Sadler, Whirlpool Kitchen Brand Manager, “Each cycle design is optimized for the types of food they are intended for, with Convect Bake being ideal for baked goods and casseroles and Convect Roast being ideal for whole roasts. , poultry and fish. Whirlpool declined to share details about what’s actually going on in the ovens, and other appliance makers utter similarly vague language when it comes to the various settings they offer, but that seems to have to do with fan speed and or which heating elements are switched on. ¯_(ツ)_/¯. If your oven has multiple convection options, my advice is to experiment and use your best judgment if you want to engage the setting.

So should you use convection? I use it whenever I’ve cooked bacon, baked frozen pizza, or reheated leftovers, and I can’t wait to roast a chicken in it or use it for my Thanksgiving turkey. I’ve also heard it’s great for putting crispy edges on roasted vegetables. But I plan to stick to conventional baking for the desserts I make (cookies included).

If you’re open to a bit of trial and error and adjusting the way you use your oven, convection is a great tool to master, especially if your goal is faster cooking and crispier exteriors.

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