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Convection ovens: Just a lot of hot air?  Smart Choices Archive

Convection ovens: Just a lot of hot air?

Appliances

Oven airflow: It’s the difference between three sheets of perfectly golden cookies and charred cookies on the top and bottom racks. The same airflow allows for crowded ovens and cooler kitchens when preparing holiday meals – with perfect, restaurant-esque results.

In traditional ovens, static air heats the oven cavity unevenly. Convection ovens are more energy efficient because fans circulate heated air evenly around food. This reduces the temperature and cooking times and allows cooks to make the most of their heated real estate.

How convection ovens work
In a traditional oven, a barrier of cool air forms on the surface of the food, slowing the cooking process. The cause? Cold food interacting with hot air and cool evaporation from the food. Fans in a convection oven blow away this cool layer and replace it with hot air, resulting in faster and more efficient cooking with an evenly heated oven.

The advantages of cooking with convection ovens

  • Speed: Cut cooking time by up to 25%.
  • Temperature: Lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees for most foods.
  • Quality: Convection ovens allow food to cook more evenly and lose less moisture and nutrients.
  • Cooking capacity: Fill each rack using all available space, unlike traditional ovens.
  • No hotspots: Ovens are heated evenly, without hotspots, which minimizes burnt food.
  • Energy efficient: The reduction in cooking times and temperatures cuts energy use, on average, by 20-30%.

The disadvantages

  • Cost: A convection oven can add $300 to the initial cost, but you'll recoup your costs as convections cost about 30% less to operate.
  • Learning curve: Food may not be perfect the first time – cooking time and temperature will need to be adjusted. Play around with convection, turning the feature on and off, to get desired results. Some ovens have auto convection conversion, which converts cook time and/or temperature.

When to use a convection oven
A convection oven is designed to circulate air around food, so use a convection oven when the cooking container allows for the air circulation. Use a convection oven with cookie sheets and shallow pans. For roasting bags, deep pans and covered items, turn the convection feature off.

Tips for cooking with convection ovens

  • Reduce cooking times and temperatures: When baking items for longer than 15 minutes, reduce the temperature by 25 degrees and expect similar cooking times. When roasting meats, cut the cooking time by 25%, but do not change the temperature. Cooking time will be longer when more food is in the oven, and for multiple-rack baking, items on the middle rack may need slightly more time.
  • Promote airflow: Choose pans with low sides and leave the lid off. When baking multiple items, remember to leave at least an inch between them for airflow, and stagger items so one is not directly on top of another. However, when baking cookies, place one sheet directly over another. Center them in front of the fan for even browning.
  • Remember the hardware: Shiny, bright pans reflect heat, allowing for more delicate browning, while dark pans absorb heat, resulting in darker crusts. Choose shiny pans for items like cookies, and dark pans for breads.
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