Kitchen Basics: Know Your Oven


Perhaps one of the trickier aspects of moving into a new kitchen is getting your bearings. Unless you're lucky enough to have your kitchen built to your specifications, there are probably a lot of "less than ideal" things you're going to have to learn to live with. Such is life.


I generally just go with it in such situations. I organize as best I can and, like The Borg, start to adapt. But one thing worth investigating in a systematic way is how your oven heats. The majority of home ovens are horribly inaccurate and uneven. Most ovens can be calibrated, so buy yourself a cheap oven thermometer, pull out the oven’s instruction manual, and try to get the oven calibrated as best you can.


Even when the oven is calibrated, you might be shocked at how wide its temperature fluctuations are. We once lived in an apartment where the oven had a temperature range of 100 degrees pretty much no matter what temperature it was set at. And while your oven’s fluctuations may not be quite so dramatic, they still happen.


This sort of variability is nightmarish for recipe writers, and there's really no way to account for it other than to issue a standard caveat about how you should know your oven and adjust accordingly.


Armed with a thermometer, you can gauge how accurate your oven's thermostat is and how the temperature fluctuates over time. It's an easy and inexpensive fix that will improve your cooking experience. You may find that you need to set your thermostat higher or lower depending on whether your oven runs cool or hot. Even after calibration you may find you need to make some adjustments each time you use the oven.


Another thing to account for is the dreaded hot spot. Have you ever baked a batch of cookies only to find that the ones towards the outside of the cookie sheet start to burn before the ones in the center have cooked through? Or maybe the back left-hand corner of your oven gets hotter than anywhere else.


This can be an infuriating problem, especially if you're taking the trial and error route to learning your oven. My favorite test for hot spots is the white bread test. 


Preheat your oven to 350˚F, and place a rack in the center of the oven. Place slices of white bread in a grid pattern on the oven rack, and leave them until they begin to toast. Note which slices toast (and burn) faster than others. This will indicate the hotter areas inside your oven.


Unfortunately, there's no magic fix for those hot spots. But, armed with the knowledge of how your oven works you can make adjustments to your cooking that will lessen the effect of hot spots. Avoid placing baking pans in the hottest parts of the oven, and rotate baking sheets to prevent burning or overcooking. In an attempt to lessen the effect of hot spots, many recipes already instruct you to rotate your baking sheets, but you should do this anyway.


Finally, be aware that the placement of your oven racks will also affect cooking. Most (if not all) ovens are hotter at the top than at the bottom. Thus, if you have two baking sheets in your oven, one on a higher rack and one on a lower rack, the one on the higher rack will cook faster. Therefore, it is important not only to rotate your pans from front to back, but also from top to bottom. 


A note on convection ovens: One of the purported benefits of a convection oven is that it produces a more even heat, but this does not necessarily preclude it having hot spots. Often, the area right in front of the fan tends to get hotter than the surrounding areas, so it pays to do the hot spot test with convection ovens as well. Also remember that convection ovens tend to cook things faster, so if you have a convection oven we recommend setting it 25 degrees lower than a recipe instructs (unless the recipe is written specifically for convection ovens).


To amend your oven's uneven heat, I also recommend placing a baking stone on the lower rack of the oven as it preheats. The stone will act as a heat sink and lessen the effects of hot spots and temperature fluctuations. Do not use a baking stone when broiling. The stone can crack or shatter.


A New Generation of JOY


In the nearly ninety years since Irma Rombauer self-published the first Joy of Cooking, it has become the kitchen bible, with more than 20 million copies in print. This new edition of Joy has been thoroughly revised and expanded by Irma’s great-grandson John Becker and his wife, Megan Scott. They developed more than six hundred new recipes for this edition, tested and tweaked thousands of classic recipes, and updated every section of every chapter to reflect the latest ingredients and techniques available to today’s home cooks. Their strategy for revising this edition was the same one Irma and Marion employed: Vet, research, and improve Joy’s coverage of legacy recipes while introducing new dishes, modern cooking techniques, and comprehensive information on ingredients now available at farmers’ markets and grocery stores. Joy is and has been the essential and trusted guide for home cooks for almost a century. This new edition continues that legacy.


On Sale November 12, 2019


List Price $40.00 (price may vary by retailer)


List Price $19.99 (price may vary by retailer)