Your Oven is Lying to You

We’ve tested and reviewed a lot of different ovens over the years, and one thing has been a constant: Every oven has offered specific temperature control. Want to start baking? Select a temp, such as 350°F, and the heating element switches on. That’s the deal we’ve made with our modern ovens.

Sounds fairly straightforward, right? Nope. It’s all well and good to choose a temperature that corresponds to a recipe, but your actual oven temperature is typically far from exact.

Temperature patterns vary between models and manufacturers, but most work in a similar way: The temperature will ramp up initially, climbing above your desired temp to compensate for heat loss when you open the door to place your food inside. The heating element will then begin to cycle on and off. If your oven is well-calibrated and you’ve set it to 350°F, the element might stay on until the cavity hits 370°F, then switch off, then switch back on when it dips to 330°F.

Oven technology has come a long way from the days when the best way to tell if an oven was up to temp was by holding your arm inside and measuring the time it took for the heat to become unbearable. But at the end of the day, your oven is basically an insulated box with a heat source inside. It’s terribly difficult to perfect, and the idea of an oven that heats to the exact specified temperature remains a beautiful dream.

Heat varies throughout the cavity, it varies over time, and it varies from one oven to another. In fact, temperatures recommended by most recipes were likely developed specifically for the author’s oven.

Oven temperature is far from exact.

What to do, then? Are we wasting our time reviewing cooking boxes that vary in temperature no matter what? The short answer is no.

We know that oven heat fluctuates, so the bulk of our testing process is in real-world baking tests where we cook actual food and see how it browns. All ovens experience temperature variation, and heat is never totally uniform throughout the cavity, but our tests give us a reliable sense of whether there are problematic hot and cold spots in a given model. The best performing ovens are more consistent throughout the cavity.

If you’re cooking in a particularly quirky oven, try not to worry too much about accuracy. According to food guru Mark Bittman, oven temperatures are “a convention.” The former NY Times columnist told Slate that he prefers to think of oven temperatures as four broad categories of heat that work for different cooking tasks.

“[R]eally low, under 275 degrees; moderate, between 275 and 350; high, over 350 but under, say 425; and maximum,” he says. “But I don’t think about those numbers … I just think ‘what am I trying to do here? Blast this stuff or treat it gently, or something in between?’”

“Oven temperatures are a convention.”

Common sense and practice, then, are key to using your oven to its best effect. Both Bittman and Chang urge home cooks to pay close attention to when food looks, smells, and feels ready, rather than relying on cook times recommended by a recipe. If you’d rather use temperature measurements, an instant-read thermometer should do the trick.

After all, the temperature of your food itself is a far better indicator for doneness than the number on the oven’s display.

How to Choose an Oven

Appliances are the workhorses of your kitchen. Together, they will add up to about nine percent of your kitchen budget. This figure is surprisingly low, considering the technological advances and energy efficiencies today’s appliances offer. While features and performance are obviously the most important considerations in choosing appliances, how they’ll look in your kitchen probably matters to you, too.

How to Choose an Oven

The traditional range or stove, a single unit with cooktop above and oven below, is an affordable, space-conserving solution still chosen by most homeowners. But it’s just one of the cooking options offered today.

Some serious home cooks choose commercial-style stoves with six or eight burners instead of four, basting and grilling functions, and built-in warming ovens. (Real commercial stoves pose special challenges, such as special ventilation systems and noncombustible walls and floors, when used in the home, so commercial-style may be easier to live with.) Other people love the new modular cooktops that let you add burners, downdrafts, griddles, deep-fry and steamer units, woks, rotisseries, and grills. And these are just a few examples of what’s available!

A modular approach to overall kitchen design is a pronounced trend. Wall ovens separate from cooktops let you create several cooking work stations instead of just one. A double wall oven stacks two ovens to save space and deliver twice the baking/roasting capacity, which many people find useful for special occasions. And you can still get two-oven stoves, with one oven below the cooking surface and the other well above, at cabinet height.

The first decision in range shopping has always been gas versus electric. Many serious cooks prefer gas for its instant response, precise controllability, and lower operating cost over time. Others praise the evenness of electric heat and the lower initial cost of the appliance.

Today, you can get the best of both heating methods with “dual fuel” ranges that let you mix gas and electric heat sources; for example, gas cooktop burners and an electric convection oven/broiler. Convection ovens, most often electric, use heated air to cook up to twice as fast as conventional ovens that rely on radiant heating action. You can even get a combination microwave/convection oven.

Electric coils are the most popular kind of electric burners, and the least costly. Smooth-top surfaces are offered with one of three heat source types: radiating electric coils beneath the glass surface, halogen burners, or magnetic-induction elements. All require thick, flat-bottom cookware. If gas is your choice, sealed burners are easiest to clean, and a pilotless ignition system means no hot spot when burners are off. Commercial-style glass stoves offer high BTUs (British thermal units, the measure of cooking heat) and high style. They require heavy-duty ventilation systems.

What about controls? Controls that are located on the front or on the side of the appliance are most common and convenient, but universal access means just that: While someone in a wheelchair can reach front-situated controls easily, unfortunately, so can a curious toddler. People with young children may prefer controls located on the backsplash, out of reach of exploring fingers. Wherever they’re located, controls should be easy to understand and operate. Top-of-the-line ovens may include electronic temperature readouts and touch-pad, rather than knob or dial, controls.

While many people like to blend refrigerators and dishwashers into the cabinetry with matching fronts, the latest trend is to keep ranges visible. However, if you do want to de-emphasize your oven, the easiest way is with an under-counter model. (Make sure the oven you choose is designed for under-counter use, because not all are.) You may install a cooktop directly above the oven or locate it elsewhere in the kitchen. A cooktop directly over an under-counter oven functions much the same as a conventional range, but, with no range backsplash and with the control knobs located on the countertop, the result is a more integrated look.

Cleaning baked-on spills from the cooktop has always been a challenge, but several options make short work of them. For easiest cooktop cleaning, consider ranges with ceramic glass cooktops housing electric or halogen burners; simpler knobs and handles; and a top and backsplash constructed from a single piece of metal, so there’s no seam to collect spills. Self-cleaning ovens come in two varieties: one that uses a high-heat cycle that turns cooked-on spills into ash you can wipe away, another that offers a continuous-clean function.

Range Hoods

If you don’t have a ventilation fan above your cooktop that vents to the attic or outside, you’ll want a range hood with ventilation fan built in. Why? Even if you don’t find some cooking odors objectionable, vaporized grease can dull beautiful new kitchen surfaces, and moisture can compromise the efficiency of home insulation. The solution is an updraft range hood that funnels cooking grease and smoke into one area so that the fan can draw it through a duct to the outside.

Filters capture additional grease and odors. Look for range hoods that come in copper, stainless steel, and other good-looking, easy-care materials, or customize a standard hood with ceramic tile to create a major focal point, furthering your decorating scheme. As an alternative, down-draft ventilation, usually part of a cooktop or grill, also employs a fan and duct arrangement. Units that rise above cooktop level provide the most effective venting.

Call Absolute Appliance Repair NOW if you have any problems with your oven!

(415) 831-1259

 

GAS OVEN REPAIR

Is your oven not baking?

  • Bad bake ignitor. You can’t tell it’s bad by looking at it–you must measure amperage. Just because it glows orange, doesn’t mean it’s good. On round ignitors, look for a current draw of 2.6 to 2.8 amps. On flat ignitors, look for 3.2 to 3.6 amps. Insufficient current draw will not allow the gas valve to open. If unsure how to test, check this tech sheet.
  • Bad valve. If ignitor checks out OK, remove power from oven, pull the two wires off the valve and ohm test. Should read two to five ohms. If open, replace valve.
  • Pilot is out. Try reigniting pilot. If it goes out again, check 1) gas supply (out of gas, crimped line, etc.), 2) pilot orifice clogged or dirty.
  • Pilot flame not wrapping around thermocouple. Reposition the thermocouple bulb so the pilot flame wraps around it.
  • If pilot is spark ignited and you’re not getting spark to the pilot, replace the spark electrode, spark module, and the ignition wire. These parts are inexpensive enough that it’s not worth the trouble to just replace one, replace the entire ignition system as long as you’re in there.
  • If your broiler is not working check the above steps with the broiler instead of the oven

Is your oven not self-cleaning?

  • Self clean latch bent or misaligned. Inspect for proper alignment to make sure that latch is contacting the latch switch.
  • Defective Self clean latch switch. Run continuity check.
  • Bad function selector switch. Run continuity check on switch.

Is your gas oven not getting hot enough?

  • Sluggish ignitor. A good ignitor will fire the oven in less than three minutes. If it takes longer than this, the ignitor is starting to go. Measure ignitor current draw as described above. As the ignitor gets sluggish, it takes longer for it to fire the burner as the oven cycles on and off while the in use thus lowering operating temperature.
  • Oven door gasket ripped or torn.

Is your oven door stuck closed?

  • Defective ERC. Check for error code in display. If error code given, check against manufacturer’s code explanations in owner’s manual or tech data sheet inside oven control panel.
  • Misaligned self clean latch. Disassemble oven to manually free latch and realign or replace as needed.

OVEN PROBLEMS

Is your oven not baking?

  • Bad bake ignitor. You can’t tell it’s bad by looking at it–you must measure amperage. Just because it glows orange, doesn’t mean it’s good. On round ignitors, look for a current draw of 2.6 to 2.8 amps. On flat ignitors, look for 3.2 to 3.6 amps. Insufficient current draw will not allow the gas valve to open. If unsure how to test, check this tech sheet.
  • Bad valve. If ignitor checks out OK, remove power from oven, pull the two wires off the valve and ohm test. Should read two to five ohms. If open, replace valve.
  • Pilot is out. Try reigniting pilot. If it goes out again, check 1) gas supply (out of gas, crimped line, etc.), 2) pilot orifice clogged or dirty.
  • Pilot flame not wrapping around thermocouple. Reposition the thermocouple bulb so the pilot flame wraps around it.
  • If pilot is spark ignited and you’re not getting spark to the pilot, replace the spark electrode, spark module, and the ignition wire. These parts are inexpensive enough that it’s not worth the trouble to just replace one, replace the entire ignition system as long as you’re in there.
  • If your broiler is not working check the above steps with the broiler instead of the oven

Is your oven not self-cleaning?

  • Self clean latch bent or misaligned. Inspect for proper alignment to make sure that latch is contacting the latch switch.
  • Defective Self clean latch switch. Run continuity check.
  • Bad function selector switch. Run continuity check on switch.

Is your gas oven not getting hot enough?

  • Sluggish ignitor. A good ignitor will fire the oven in less than three minutes. If it takes longer than this, the ignitor is starting to go. Measure ignitor current draw as described above. As the ignitor gets sluggish, it takes longer for it to fire the burner as the oven cycles on and off while the in use thus lowering operating temperature.
  • Oven door gasket ripped or torn.

Is your oven door stuck closed?

  • Defective ERC. Check for error code in display. If error code given, check against manufacturer’s code explanations in owner’s manual or tech data sheet inside oven control panel.
  • Misaligned self clean latch. Disassemble oven to manually free latch and realign or replace as needed.

Call Absolute Appliance Repair NOW if you have any problems with your oven!

Phone lines

(415) 831-1259 San Francisco
(415) 388-0690 Marin County
(650) 525-0512 South SF / Daly City / Pacifica