Why You Should Throw Out Your Oven Thermometer

published Jan 28, 2019
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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

The cake that sunk in the middle or cracked on the top. The roast that came out too rare or dry as a bone. I feel your pain. So, what do you do? Chances are, you run out and buy an oven thermometer the first chance you get. Then, you determine that the actual temperature doesn’t match the one you’ve selected. Next step? You adjust future recipes by upping or lowering the temp setting because you now know that your oven runs hot or cold. Common sense, right? Not so fast.

While you’ve probably heard lots and lots of experts tout the important of an oven thermometer, I actually vote against them. Because they can really sabotage you. Here’s how.

The Problems with Using an Oven Thermometer

1. Oven temperatures aren’t constant.

Ovens don’t stay at a set temperature for the entire time you’re baking. An oven works pretty much like the heating system in your home, cycling on and off, and temps can swing by as much as 25 degrees higher and lower during a cycle. (And guess what? These variations actually promote better baking.) This makes oven thermometer readings virtually meaningless.

2. You have to open the oven door in order to read oven thermometers.

As soon as you open the oven door, the oven temperature drops, giving you a lower reading.

(Image credit: Diana Yen)

3. An oven thermometer just measures the heat in one zone.

Ovens have invisible zones, meaning the temp in one spot is probably different than the temp in another. So if you put your thermometer off to the left on the top rack but you put your baking pans in the center of the middle rack, the two things could be experiencing two very different temps.

4. Appliance companies have already calibrated their ovens for you.

When appliance companies develop ovens, their test kitchens bake items that are supposed to be baked at 350°F. If they find that they get perfect results when the oven is set to a higher or lower temp, they’ll calibrate the oven so that when you set the temperature at 350°F, you’ll actually get the temp that they’ve determined gives the best results. If you go and recalibrate your oven, you’re negating all the hard work that went into developing the product.

What to Do Instead of Getting an Oven Thermometer

1. Always preheat.

Be sure to preheat your oven before you pop your buns in the oven.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

2. Try a test run.

Buy a cake mix or a can of refrigerated biscuits and bake it at the temperature specified on the package. Again, remember to preheat your oven first. If you get great results more or less in the time recommended, there’s no need to worry about your oven temperature. If, on the other hand, your baked goods come out too dark or too light, you can then experiment with setting the oven temperature 25 degrees higher or lower. Ultimately you can recalibrate using the instructions in the oven’s use and care manual. But I wouldn’t suggest doing that unless you are consistently getting over- or under-baked results with many foods.

3. Play around with the convection setting, if you have one.

If you’re using the convection setting, try baking without it. Or if you’re not, try using convection. I’ve tested dozens and dozens of ovens and I can tell you that sometimes you get better results with convection and sometimes you don’t. There’s no consistency between brands or even among foods; cakes may rise higher on convection, while cookies come out misshapen, and vice versa.

More on Convection Ovens

4. Keep your oven clean.

Dirt on the walls can skew results. Don’t be afraid to use the self-clean cycle on your oven. It’s been tested to meet safety requirements and will eliminate lots of unpleasant scrubbing.