Whether you want to purchase a new oven or you’re exploring the features of your current oven, you may be wondering what a convection oven is and whether or not it will be helpful for your kitchen needs. Read on to discover all you need to know about convection ovens, including exactly what they are, the different types, and factors to consider when buying one.
A convection oven has a powerful fan and exhaust system that work together to circulate hot air around the inside of the oven to help maintain a consistent temperature. This helps to reduce hot and cold spots and cooks dishes on every rack more evenly.
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Types of convection ovens
As convection ovens continue to evolve, the market has become increasingly complex. You’ll see a wide variety of terms being used, sometimes in conjunction with each other, which might cause you to believe that you need a specific glossary to keep up. Here are some terms to familiarize yourself with:
1. Direct-fired vs. indirect-fired convection ovens
Direct-fired models feature burners that sit directly under the cavity where the food is placed, with heat directed into the space. The heat from the combustion combines with recirculated air and then comes into direct contact with the food. These convection ovens are best suited for high-temperature baking like biscuits, pizza, and flatbread.
The burners in indirect-fired models don’t have direct contact with recirculated air and combustion elements. Instead, the burner is directed into a radiant tube-like heat exchanger, heating food in the cavity from below and above. These ovens have a slower startup and longer cooking times, but many bakeries favor them to cook items like cupcakes and cakes more evenly.
2. Traditional vs. true convection ovens
The traditional convection oven, sometimes known as the “American” version, is a typical radiant oven that features heating elements above and below the cavity where the food goes. It also comes with a fan that keeps the warm air moving.
The true convection oven, also known as the “European” model, adds a third heating element located in front of the fan. This extra feature heats the air being blown, which helps stabilize the interior temperature further, improving cooking efficiency and cutting down on cooking time.
3. Floor model convection ovens
Floor model convection ovens are available in several variations to meet your specifications. They come in half-size models, which are best suited for kitchens with low-out requirements or limited space, and full-size models, which are ideal for spacious high-volume kitchens.
You also have the option to go for either single- or double-deck when considering size and output. They are available in bakery depth ovens, which allows you to stagger the way you arrange the pans. When you alternate your pans between side load and end load. There is more airflow in the cavity, which allows for even baking. Floor model convection ovens also come with an array of programmable features, including the “cook and hold” functionality that you can use to set the thermostat lower than a conventional oven to allow for slow-cooking of roasts and other meat dishes.
4. Countertop convection ovens
Countertop convection ovens may be your go-to option if you don’t have a lot of floor space. Despite their smaller size, these ovens are pretty efficient (they can have wattage ratings of up to 7700!). They’re also easy to install, plus they come in quarter-, half-, or full-size models. Countertop convection ovens are ideal for making baked goods, sandwiches, pizzas, and finger foods.
Considerations to keep in mind when buying a convection oven
Some aspects to consider when choosing a convection oven include:
1. Type of utility
Convection ovens are available in pure electric varieties, as well as liquid propane and natural gas.
Pure electric convection ovens are the most accessible on the market, as most kitchens are ready for installation with little preparation time. While they heat up more quickly, high-power electric models require a considerable amount of energy, which can lead to higher long=-term costs.
- Natural gas
These convection ovens require pre-existing hookups as well as appropriate connectors to set up. That said, natural gas models are usually the cheapest available option in terms of energy consumption. Gas ovens also heat up quicker than electric models. Keep in mind that if you go for a natural gas oven, you’ll still need an electrical connection to run the fan, but this shouldn’t be too expensive.
When weighing your options, remember that gas models typically require about an inch or more clearance around all sides of the pans to allow proper airflow in the cooking chamber. This is due to the placement of the heating elements.
- Liquid propane
A liquid propane convection oven is a viable alternative to natural gas options. Propane typically heats quicker and runs more efficiently than natural gas, but it’s also costlier in most areas. Like with natural gas, you still need electricity to power your liquid propane oven. You’ll also need to confirm that your building has the appropriate equipment (gas lines, tanks, and regulators).
2. Oven size
Countertop and floor models convection ovens are available in a wide array of internal capacity, deck number, and overall dimensions.
- Full or half size
Full-size ovens typically hold five or more standard 18” x 26” sheet pans. These sizes are the most commonly available on the market. Half-size ovens typically feature interiors that hold one or more half-sized 18” x 13” sheet pans.
- Standard or deep depth
If you want a convection oven for commercial purposes, then you might benefit from going for a deep-depth convection oven. Also known as “bakery depth”, this type of oven has an interior 4 inches deeper than standard versions. Deep depth models allow you to load pans in front-to-back or left-to-right positions for improved adaptability and airflow. Remember that these units tend to jut out from the wall more, which means you may need a modified, overhanging exhaust system.
- Single or double deck
Single deck convection ovens provide a moderate amount of cooking space, and they’re often considered economical from a space perspective. However, they are more significant than their single-deck counterparts, which can make them more challenging to accommodate. When looking at floor convection ovens, single decks often feature an area underneath, allowing the placement of other equipment, accessories, and storage. Contrarily, double-deck ovens are best suited for kitchens with high output demands, as they enable you to place double-digit cooking racks inside simultaneously.
3. Fan functionality
Fans determine how effective a convection oven is – without them, it is nothing more than a simple radiant oven. Convection oven fans can have one speed, two speeds, or they can automatically switch direction when you open the oven door (intermittent). The airflow plays a significant role in how the food being cooked will brown, and some units feature fans that circulate in two different ways.
Fan settings in convection ovens will impact certain foods. For example, flan and soufflés need little-to-no fan action to cook appropriately, making two-speed options more suitable. High, continuous speeds are ideal for roasts and other meats. Some convection fans even have reverse air systems with advanced instruments that allow for more precise control, which improves overall accuracy.
4. Manual and programmable controls
Convection oven controls can either be programmable or manual. Programmable controls allow you to put together recipe programs that you can activate with a single push of a button. On the other hand, manual controls provide you with more flexibility as you can adjust the cooking settings as needed.
5. Temperature and time controls
Convection ovens cook faster than conventional ovens, so you may need to adjust the temperature and cooking time of recipes you find online or in cooking books. Some high-tech models have a feature that automatically adjusts the temperature and cooking time of the recipe.
Some convection ovens come with a feature that allows you to circulate steam around the baking chamber. This comes in handy for making artisan bread that has moist, fluffy insides and shiny golden-brown crusts. Steam also helps to keep meats such as turkey and beef juicy without you having to add too much seasoning or oil. Ovens that feature a steam function need access to a water connection. You may also need to install a water filter to ensure that the water quality in your locality does not affect your finished product.
Some convection ovens have a cook-and-hold feature that automatically switches the oven to “holding mode” to keep the cooked food at the desired serving temperature without overcooking or burning it.
Convection ovens are typically made of galvanized steel or stainless steel. Stainless steel is corrosion-resistant and is the go-to material if you plan to use your unit for heavy-duty applications. Galvanized steel is the more affordable option, although it doesn’t offer as much resistance to corrosion and will not last as long. Another aspect to consider is how the metal panels of the oven are held together. High-end convection ovens use welded steel which is more durable than bolted models.
9. Door type
You’ll find convection ovens that feature either solid metal or tempered glass doors. Tempered glass doors allow you to look at the contents cooking in the oven unit without opening and letting the heat out. On the other hand, solid metal doors are more durable and have better heat retention. However, constantly opening solid doors to check on your food could lead to heat loss and higher energy costs.
10. Interior type
The interiors of convection ovens are typically made from aluminized steel, which is the most affordable option that doesn’t compromise on strength and durability. You may also come across convection ovens with porcelain interiors, which are smooth and easy to clean, thus minimizing the risk of bacteria growth from food spills. However, porcelain interiors are prone to cracking, and they tend to wear out faster than aluminized steel.
Some oven interiors also have smooth, coved corners, which are more convenient than straight corners and edges where food spills can easily gather and create bacteria growth.
11. Ventilation system
Before you choose a convection oven, you’ll want to make sure that you have the right ventilation hood and any other ventilation equipment in place. Check the regulations in your area to confirm that you comply with the kitchen ventilation rules.
Why should you use a convection oven?
There are several ways that using a convection oven will benefit your food, including:
1. It cooks food evenly
It’s common for conventional ovens to have hot spots or areas that heat faster and higher than other areas. This can cause food to cook unevenly. A convection oven circulates air to keep the temperature in the oven even throughout cooking, which is especially useful when roasting meats.
2. It cooks food faster
Food in a convection oven cooks about 25% more than in a conventional oven. This is because the fans in the former blow hot air directly onto the food, which speeds up chemical reactions within the oven.
3. It’s more effective at browning
Air in a conventional oven can become humid as moisture is trapped inside it. Convection creates a dry atmosphere that speeds up the caramelization of sugar when roasting, so foods like meats and vegetables brown evenly, but the interiors remain moist.
4. It saves energy
Food cooks faster and at a lower temperature in a convection oven, making it a bit more energy-efficient than a regular oven.
5. Less rotating
Because of the even baking and heat distribution that a convection oven offers, less rotating is required when cooking the food. Because you don’t have to rotate food as much, you won’t need to open your oven as often, which means there won’t be much heat loss.
6. Better cooking of multiple dishes at once
A convection oven is better at cooking more than one dish at once due to the even heat distribution.
7. Quick preheating
A convection oven typically preheats faster than a regular oven, which can help to shorten the cooking time.
Downsides of a convection oven
Though it can often improve your food, a convection oven isn’t always the right choice.
1. Many recipes are not written for this type of oven
Most of the recipes that you’ll come across online and in cookbooks are written for conventional ovens. That means you may need to adjust temperature and cooking time, especially if your convection oven doesn’t automatically change these settings for you.
2. Not suitable for delicate foods
A convection oven is not ideal for making delicate foods like souffles, cakes, custard, and bread.
How to use a convection oven
Here are some tips for cooking, roasting, and baking with a convection oven:
- Convert recipes before using a convection oven
Most recipes will specify temperatures and cooking times for regular ovens, which means if you’re cooking in a convection oven, you’ll have to convert. This is a matter of either shortening the cooking time or lowering the temperature (or a bit of both).
It’s worth noting that some convection ovens make a heat adjustment for you. That means that if you set it for 350°F, it might adjust itself to 325 to compensate. Make a point of reading your manual to understand how your particular model works and the suggested adjustments you might need to make.
- Adjust temperature
A good rule of thumb for convection ovens (assuming that your oven does not self-correct) is to subtract 25°F from the temperature in the provided recipe. Temperature and time adjustments may vary by oven cavity, but if your favorite baking recipe calls for preheating to 325°F, adjust to 300°F.
- Adjust time
For true convection, adjust the recipe time by multiplying by 0.75. For example, if a baking recipe tells you to cook for an hour, adjust to 45 minutes. For exact instructions regarding temperature and time adjustments, check your owner’s manual. Check the food frequently toward the end of cooking.
- Use low-sided baking sheets and roasting pans
Most convection ovens have a fan mounted at the back, which means the air blows forward. However, in practice, the air tends to swirl around in all directions. You’ll want to use pans with low sides to maximize the effect and leave your food uncovered (unless the recipe calls for it). Rimless baking sheets and low-sided pans are especially effective for baking cookies or roasting vegetables. On the other hand, cakes and casseroles rely on the high sides of the pans to maintain their shape.
- Avoid crowding the oven
Convection relies on air circulating freely, so you don’t want to overcrowd the oven and block the flow of air. It would help if you also refrained from stuffing your oven with too many pans at one time to avoid accidentally blocking a fan.
- Preheat to the adjusted temperature
Remember to preheat your convection oven to the correct converted temperature.
When you should cook in your convection oven
Use the convection setting for the following:
- When roasting foods like meats and vegetables
- When baking pies and pastries
- When making more than one tray of cookies
- When cooking food that requires a cover like a casserole
- When toasting or dehydrating
When you shouldn’t cook in a convection oven
A convection oven is not suitable for making these foods:
It might take a little practice to use a convection oven with your favorite recipes, but once you get the hang of it, you can look forward to faster and more even cooking, as well as better browning and less rotating.