You are looking for new, better cooking products to update your kitchen and your meals. But what on earth are these odd devices? How does a convection oven work?
How is it at all different from the more traditional version you already own and use? Should you switch? What are the types and setting to look out for? How do you pick one convection oven among the very many out there? What even is this modern thing?
I know who you are. You like cooking— it is your passion, your hobby, what you do to show affection and relieve stress— but you are completely mystified by the technicalities of cooking devices and the constant and inevitable deluge of new gadgets.
If this is you and if these are the bewildered questions swimming through your head when you visit yet another website selling finicky cooking devices, do not worry. I have your back!
I have taken my extensive amateur and professional cooking experience and pulled it into researching the mechanisms and details of the convection oven mysteries. Here is all that I found!
How a normal oven looks and works
People have been using ovens, in different forms, since the dawn of time! However, the oven we call “conventional” (as opposed, here, to a convection oven) is a fairly recent invention.
This type of oven is also called “thermal” or “radiant” because they have a heat source— usually, either gas that feeds a flame or electricity— that heats up a the bottom and sides of the oven, which radiate heat into the internal air.
How does an oven work? This hot air is then allowed to drift passively in currents all across the inside of the oven cavity. This is the action that cooks the food you place on the oven racks.
The problem with this sort of cooking is that the heat is inconsistent and it ends up taking longer than necessary to cook the food. The moving air, which provides the heat, can be blocked by the objects you place inside the oven. This is how cold spots emerge.
The anatomy of a convection oven
If you have ever looked at a convection oven diagram, you have most certainly been very, very confused. Are all those small parts, sections, bits and bobs really necessary or just for show? What do they even do?
To make matters worse, there are many different manufacturers— and each of them has their own complicated design and features! How are you supposed to understand this contraption?
After taking some time to analyze convection ovens and their diagrams, I’ve found several parts that are common to all of them:
- Every convection oven will have a heat source. This is typically an electric conveyance element. They might be placed at the bottom, at the top, or on both. This last option makes for more even cooking.
- Look into the technical details of your user’s manual for more in detail information!
- A fan or two fans. These are necessary to blow the air around, fulfilling the principle that moving air is faster and better at cooking than static air is. In some types of convection ovens, the fans will have heat sources of their very own.
- Racks (one rack or two) that allow you to cook your meal at different altitudes.
- Settings control. This can be buttons, dials, or another form of controlling. In some convection ovens, the settings will allow you to cook just as you would in a normal oven.
- Door with a handle that helps you pull down to open. This will sometimes have a clear section that lets you look inside to see your meal’s progress. The ovens that have this feature are the best!
How the convection oven works
The main difference between the convection oven and the conventional thermal or radiant ovens is the fan. This crucial element circulates the hot air— which was left to passively drift in the thermal oven— all around the oven cavity.
This means the hot air is not just static around the food but is being blown onto it! This way, the food heats up and cooks a lot faster.
The accelerated air, by colliding with the food and stimulating faster chemical reactions, is the direct responsible for the better and swifter cooking results of convection ovens as opposed to conventional thermal ones.
Basic ground rules for using a convection oven
Is using a convection oven just the same as using a regular, conventional one? No, dear reader! There are certain useful guidelines that you need to keep in mind when you switch from using a conventional oven to your new convection one. Here they are:
- Time reduction: As moving air (just like any fluid) is a lot more efficient at heating than static air, you can expect your meal to be ready in— even!— a whopping 25% less time than it would take in a conventional oven.
- Meals that take you longer to cook (think of, for example, a roasted chicken or lamb’s leg) will save a greater proportion of time than a meal that takes only minutes (like a brownies loaf). While you are cooking, you might need to move and rotate the trays around to ensure even distribution of heat. Just explore: you need to stay attentive as you learn the ropes of your new device.
- Even with the time savings, you need to dial the temperature down to a lower setting than you would to cook the same meal in a conventional oven. Calculate a decrease of about 25 degrees.
- You want the air to circulate as freely as possible— only so will the convection feature actually be worth the fuss. To allow this, you want to use baking trays and pans that have low sides.
- If you are using aluminum foil or baking paper inside your convection oven, be mindful of the air circulation, as it might disturb the sheets. You might want to put something on top of the corners to make sure it stays in place!
- Play around with the convection settings if your oven gives you that option. You can create different textures in your food by turning the convection on at different points in time. For example, if you are roasting a piece of meat and want the middle juicy but the outside crisp, turn it on at the beginning to seal the juices in and then off during the rest of the cooking.
What to cook in your convection oven
Not too complicated, is it? Once you have learned exactly what to do to make the most of your convection oven, you are almost ready to start cooking! Make sure that you pay attention to what food you are putting in— not everything will cook well in convection mode. You are in the clear with these food items:
- Roasted meats and chicken
- Things that should be crunchy (potatoes, oven chips, baked asparagus with cheese, etc.).
- Pies and cookies.
- Pizza crust! If you haven’t tried this one recipe yet, you do not yet know what you are missing. It’s heaven on earth!
What not to cook in your convection oven
Convection ovens, with their circulating air to produce heat, are a drier cooking environment than conventional ovens. For this reason, they do not ace at cooking moister dishes such as these:
- Moist cakes and bread loaves.
- Custards or souffles. These usually need to have a thicker, softer consistency— aka., more water.
- Food that needs to be reheated. This food will already have lost moisture. If you reheat it in the convection oven, it will end up chewy, dry, and wholly unappetizing.
Remember that you need to adjust the temperature of the oven to 25 degrees lower than recipes indicate for traditional ovens.
Also, know that you might need to adjust the cooking time: a quarter to a full third less time than you would need in a conventional oven. Keep an eye out and don’t burn anything!
Happy and simple cooking!
Now that you know everything about convection ovens and the mystery of how they work, you are more than ready to graduate into practice! You will be able to understand the differences between your traditional, run of the mill oven and your special convection oven. This will help you decide on the best way to cook different meals.
As always, you know that cooking is essentially about enjoying yourself and leading a happier life that is filled with delicious nutrition and good company. So, more important than asking “How does a convection oven work?” is using it to make a simpler, happier life with those you love. Happy cooking and enjoy your meal!