Ultimate Guide to Convection Ovens – Everything You Need To Know

roasting chicken in an oven

Have you been hearing about how convection ovens are superior to the regular, conventional ones? Maybe you’re not sure why, or how that might be the case. Before diving in, it’s important to note that while convection baking is better most of the time, it’s not for everything.

Curious to find out what convection ovens are really about, and how to best utilize them? In this article, we touch on those, and many other discussions. Let’s get cracking.

Firstly, How Does A Regular Oven Work?

What is a conventional oven? If you’re unfamiliar with how a regular, or conventional oven, works, here’s the gist of it.

The typical oven has two heating elements – one at the top and the other on the bottom – that heat air inside the oven to cook food. The heating element at the top is used for broiling, while the bottom one is used for most other kinds of cooking or baking.

Because heat only comes from two direct sources, there are pockets of hotter or cooler air in the interior. Because of these hot or cool spots, dishes cook faster or slower depending on their placements inside the oven. This is difficult to manage, and is the reason why cooks rotate their trays in the middle of a baking process.

interior view of an oven
See the heating elements on the top and bottom?

So What Is A Convection Oven, And How Does It Work?

The main idea is that a convection oven has a fan and exhaust system that regular, conventional ovens do not. The fan system allows hot air to be distributed evenly in the oven, surrounding the food, so that it cooks evenly and in a shorter amount of time.

Apart from the fan, the exhaust system also serves some functions. It pulls moisture out of the oven during the baking process, which leaves your food more crisp and fresh. These combined, reduce hot and cool spots in the interior of the oven. Because your food is being cooked by both radiant heat from the heating elements, as well as heated air passing through, every rack gets cooked evenly.

If you’re still unclear, here’s a one-liner to sum it up the comparison between convection ovens and conventional, regular ovens. Both cook by heating air inside of them. The big difference being the air inside a conventional oven remains stagnant, while a convection oven has built-in fans that circulate the air during the cooking process.

Well okay, that was two sentences, but you get the idea.

What Benefits Does Convection Baking Offer?

When we say convection baking is better most of the time, we mean it. There are a plethora of advantages that convection ovens offer, compared to conventional ones. These are a few of the benefits.

  • Cooks faster. In fact, up to around 25% faster. This means that recipes written to cook for 40 minutes can be cut down to 30 minutes, and 60 minutes can be done in 45 minutes, and so on.
  • Quick preheating. Because of the higher temperature and better circulation of hot air, preheating time gets cut down significantly as well.
  • Cooks more evenly. One of the main problems that convection baking solves is overcoming uneven heating of conventional ovens. The fan system avoids hot spots from forming near the heating elements.
  • Reduced moisture. While air in regular ovens is humid, convection promotes circulation which creates a dry atmosphere. This helps foods crisp and brown on the outside, while staying juicy on the inside.
  • Saves energy. This is because convection ovens are able to cook faster, plus at a lower temperature. They save about 20% energy compared to conventional ovens, according to the US Department of Energy.

The Best Use Cases for Convection Ovens

While convection ovens generally offer a superior experience compared to conventional ones, they’re not entirely replacing the traditional ovens. There are some scenarios out there where convection baking can actually do more harm than good.

The good news is that most modern convection ovens come with settings to switch between a convection mode and a conventional mode, so no worries there. Here are just a few scenarios for which a convection oven is good for:

When to use convection

  • Roasting. Just because convection ovens are so good at heating up the exterior of foods while keeping the interior juicy, they’re perfect for roasting. Crispy skin and nicely caramelized exterior, roasting a whole turkey or toasting nuts almost always produce great results.
  • Baking pastries. Using a convection oven to bake puffs or pastries can yield great results, as the convection process creates steam that helps lift doughs. The end result is crispier because the extra heat steams the fat in the dough quickly, creating flaky layers.
  • Large batches of cookies. No need to rotate the tray in the middle of the process due to extremely even heating!
  • Dehydrating. Because of the reduced moisture in the air of a convection oven, it’s perfect for dehydrating due to the dry atmosphere.
putting a turkey into the oven
Roasting is one of the best uses for convection ovens.

When not to use convection

  • Anything that starts as batter. Because these foods are usually delicate and soft, their shapes might not be preserved throughout the baking process due to air blowing on them. This includes cakes, breads, souffles etc. The air circulation could also inhibit the batter from setting, causing them to not rise properly. This results in flat and fluffless baked goods.
  • Anything meant to stay moist. This includes food items e.g. banana bread, cheesecake etc. Because of how the convection process works, the interior air is extremely dry and would suck the moisture out of these foods.

Tips for Using A Convection Oven

If you’re not familiar with the operation of a convection oven, we’re here to help. They shouldn’t be used the same way as a conventional oven, and there definitely are a few points you would want to look out for.

Lower the temperature

As a rule of thumb, it’s generally safe to lower the temperature stated in a conventional oven recipe by about 25°F. This is because even at the same temperature, the air in a convection oven is ‘hotter’ due to circulation.

Just imagine a day without wind compared to a windy day, at the same temperature. You would feel the effects of the cold temperature more prominently on the windy day!

Reduce the baking time

While temperature should be lowered, baking time should also be cut down. This is because of the higher concentration of hot air around your baked goods. Generally, a convection oven only takes 3 quarters of the time needed for a conventional oven recipe – so reduce the recipe time to around 75% of the stated duration.

Check the oven more frequently

This is especially true if you’re only starting to use convection ovens and are not familiar with them yet. If you have other things to do, at least make sure to check earlier than the expected completion time.

When checking, simply look through the oven door using the light (if your model has it). Do not open the door as convection relies heavily on the air circulation, which you might disrupt by letting air out.

a bowl of potatoes in the oven under the light
Use the oven light, instead of opening the door to check!

Use pans with lower sides

This is to promote air circulation and to avoid the sides from blocking hot air from reaching and surrounding your foods. Also avoid covering the shelves with foil for the same reason.

Space out your foods

It’s important to make sure that there is plenty of space between each piece of the food. As the convection process relies on air circulation, packing too much onto one pan can hinder that process.

Use the right setting

As modern convection ovens come with settings for you to tweak, it’s good to know when is the right time to use each one.

The most common setting is a variable fan speed. Choose the high speed when roasting or toasting that requires a crispy exterior, and the low speed for cookies, pastries, or dehydrating. That being said, you’ll typically just use whatever fan speed the recipe calls for, so don’t worry too much about memorizing these.

Wait, Do You Have An Air Fryer?

If you do, it’s good to know that an air fryer is a valid alternative to convection ovens. While not totally substituting them, the fact that they work on the same principles make them really similar in functionalities.

An air fryer is basically just a smaller, countertop convection oven. They work the same – creating hot air, and then circulating them in the interior. So what’s the difference between a convection oven and an air fryer? The main one is that hot air in an air fryer circulates much faster, and is not blown directly onto the food. Well, and also, their smaller size.

Otherwise, if you’re only into the occasional convection cooking here and there, using the air fryer at home is more than sufficient.

air fryer baked cookies
You’d be surprised at how well the air fryer replaces the oven in certain recipes.

Buyer’s Guide: What To Look Out For In A Convection Oven

If you’re looking to grab yourself a unit, but not sure what to take note of when shopping, here are a few points you should keep in mind.

Multiple modes

When shopping for a kitchen appliance, it’s good to value versatility. If possible, look for ovens with four controls: bake, convection bake, convection roast, and broil.

The baking and broiling settings offer non-convection-based cooking methods, with the former using the bottom heating element more heavily, and the latter using the top heating element. Convection bake has a lower fan speed, while convection roast has a higher fan speed.

If your choice of model doesn’t include these four settings, make sure it offers at least the option to turn the convection fan on or off. This essentially makes it multi-functional as a convection oven, as well as a conventional one!

Size

As with many appliances, size is an important factor. With convection ovens, it’s even more so.

A bigger oven would allow the hot air inside to circulate more freely, resulting in more even baking. Full-size ovens almost always cook better than their countertop versions.

Third heating element

Some models have a third, additional heating element. This not only increases the efficiency of the oven, it also makes the hot air a consistent temperature all around. This means that these models cook more evenly than the ones without the extra heating element.

Many terms are used to describe having this functionality, but looking out for “third-element convection”, “European convection” or “true convection” should help you find them.

Wrapping Up

The convection oven is a really great appliance to have in the kitchen once you get the hang of it. It’s able to crisp up food in ways that conventional ovens aren’t able to, and offer much more even heating. This results in less manual intervention required e.g. rotating the tray.

Overall, convection baking is perfect for some quick crispy baking. On the other hand, if you’re baking something that is meant to rise, or to maintain its moisture, then conventional ovens are still the way to go.

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