Your Oven's Settings, Explained

It goes beyond bake and broil.

Close-up of woman pressing timer on oven
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There are a surprising amount of options available on ovens these days. While each appliance company has their own spin, there are a handful of basic functions designed with specific temperatures for particular foods. So when recipes say bake or roast, do you know how to get the right setting from your appliance? When should you use broil over a high-temperature bake? Let’s start with the basics to get the most out of your cooking.

Preheat

I’m sure you’ve experienced the disappointment. You throw the French fries in the oven, ready to pair it with your juicy burger that’s out on the grill. You’re a little late, so you rush it, adding the fries and hoping the heat will catch up. The result? Soggy, limp fries and a sad feeling.

Taking the time to preheat your oven creates the best outcome for your food. While the preheat function isn’t exactly a button, your oven will usually beep or indicate that it has reached the desired temperature. Have some patience and wait.

Of course, there’s always an exception. If you hate to preheat, try this cold oven poundcake recipe that works without any oven preparation.

Bake

We previously explored the difference between baking and broiling . Simply put, baking circulates air at temperates between 170 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit to cook food slower. The indirect, dry heat is perfect for solidifying the inside of a cinnamon roll while adding just a little browning to the outside. Other dishes that are typically baked might be our favorite meatloaf or this gooey macaroni and cheese .

Broil

Did you know this is an American word? The same function in the United Kingdom is called "grilling." That should let you know a little about the function.

When it’s used, the top heating element in the oven gets very hot, much like the grates on a grill. Since the heat is above the food, the top of the dish is exposed to high heat. The closer it is to the top of the oven, the quicker it will sear.

The broiler is meant to be used in close proximity to your food, ideally placing it on the top rack of the oven within four to five inches of the coil.

Recipes that can use some crisping are perfect for the broil function of your oven. Make sure to get it fully heated before popping the food in, and feel free to rotate the dish to get the maximum coverage.

Each oven is different, and there may be a place that gets better results. Over time, your oven will reveal its broiling secret spot where the browning is just right. These tomatoes with a crusty breadcrumb crust are perfect for the broil button, a contrast of juicy, ripe produce with a crunchy top.

Broiling temperatures are usually around 550 degrees Fahrenheit, so keeping a close eye on the food to prevent burning is necessary. Cheesecake doesn’t taste good with a charred top, so be diligent.

Roast

Some ovens have a roast setting, the middle ground between baking and broiling. Using the same type of all-over air circulation as baking, the oven cooks at a higher temperature, around 400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Try this with a showstopper recipe like crown roast of pork .

Self-Clean

Consumer Reports says this function gets an oven clean without any harsh chemicals. They also warn that the web has tons of stories of how the self-clean feature on ovens causes broken parts and blown fuses. However, they’ve debunked this, saying it isn’t common to have a malfunction from this convenient solution for cleaning the oven. If you’ve got this button, use it.

There is a word of warning about self-cleaning the oven: If you have loose food particles or big messes, you can have smoke. The self-clean uses temperatures around 800 degrees Fahrenheit to burn off mess, so a quick wipe out is advised. Also remove the racks from the oven to prevent damaging the easy slide coating that’s on the steel. When you’re finished, wipe it out again to remove any ash.

Bottom Heating

Some ovens have a bottom heating function that makes sure the base of the dish is cooked first. This works great for pizza crusts.

Warming

An oven with a warming setting is designed to keep your dishes warm while they’re waiting to be served. This utilizes temperatures around 170 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, but can be easily replicated by setting your oven to 200 degrees.

Don’t make the mistake of using any dish that wasn’t made to go in the oven. It’s easy to switch food from a cookie sheet to a tray, keeping all the serving ware a safe temperature.

Timer

Please use the oven's timer. As cooks, we often get distracted and forget when we popped something in the oven. This takes the guesswork out, emitting an audible alarm when it’s time to check the food. When setting the timer, make sure it starts. Some ovens will require you to press ‘start’ or double tap the timer button, even after entering a specific time.

The timer function is especially useful when recipes require you to change the temperature  or adjust the food during the cooking process. A good example is this recipe for chess pie that asks the cook to protect the crust from burning after a few minutes of baking time.

Clock

This should be set to use the timer on many ovens. If the electricity goes out, you’ll need to do it again.

Convection

Usually indicated by a little fan symbol, the convection setting cooks faster than a conventional oven. Fans move the air around the oven area to evenly and efficiently heat the food. If the recipe isn’t specific to a convection setup, try reducing the oven temperature 25 degrees. Convection is only found in electric ovens as gas can’t be used with a fan element.

Pie dough and other pastries with fat really benefit from convection baking. The fat melts quickly, creating steam that lifts the dough for an airy feel. Cookie trays also don’t need turning as the temperature is circulated through the entire oven.

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