The oven is the workhorse of the kitchen. It's the thing that bakes the cookies for your kid's school functions, warms the soup when you're sick, and helps you get that casserole on the table in a pinch.
If you're in the market for a new one, you don't want to make the wrong decision! There are tons of factors to take into consideration (Do you want gas or electric? Do you want a wall oven, a slide-in, or something else? Do you want stainless steel?), but here, we're looking at one thing that seems to confuse a lot of people: the convection setting. Do you need your oven to have that feature?
To help you with your oven shopping, we've explained exactly what the feature does, and the pros and cons of an oven with and without it.
But First, What's a Convection Oven?
It's actually a setting. An oven with a convection setting has a fan and exhaust system that a regular oven does not. It also has a heating element with the fan in the back of the oven (this is all technically called true convection). When the setting is turned on, it starts a fan and exhaust system, which respectively blow and pull hot air through the oven and around your food. When the setting is turned off, the oven works like a normal oven.
Some Deeper Explanations
The Pros and Cons of Conventional Ovens
Maybe this is what you've always had and you just don't see any reason to change things up. Conventional ovens are great! But they also have some drawbacks.
Pro: They're basically fool-proof.
You know the old saying that if you can read, you can cook? That's especially true of using a conventional oven. Recipes are written specifically for the use of this kind of heating, so there isn't as much room for error: If it says to cook something at 375°F for 45 minutes, you should have a finished dish that's cooked through and delicious in under an hour. Isn't that easy?
Pro: You can get a conventional oven with a fan.
Super-basic ovens start around $350, but for $600 or so, you can get one with a fan, which can help mimic the idea of what a convection setting can do. (We say "mimic" because it doesn't have that extra heating element with the fan. But hey, it's something!)
Set your budget: This Is How Much You Should Spend on a New Range
Con: They require a little bit more hands-on time.
You're going to want to turn meatballs to make sure they cook evenly, or rotate your cookie sheets to ensure a perfect bake, and opening and closing your oven to do that lets some of the heat escape, which can further derail your cooking. Once you get the hang of your oven, you'll get used to it, but it's not always a set-it-and-forget-it cooking process.
Con: They tend to cook unevenly.
Conventional gas and electric ovens have the main heat source on the bottom of the oven and rely on radiant heating to heat the oven compartment. This can result in things cooking unevenly, or hot and cold spots in an oven (although electric ovens are more steady than gas ones). And these things can mess with the delicate process of cooking. Because, you know, science.
The Pros and Cons of an Oven with a Convection Setting
If you're gonna spend the money and take the time shopping for a new range, you might want to treat yourself to something with a fancy convection setting (especially now that you finally understand it!). Before you hit the store, consider these pluses and minuses.
Pro: They cook faster, and more evenly.
Raise your hand if you've ever baked or roasted something in your conventional oven only to find that the top (and bottom, once you take it out) of whatever you're cooking "finished" before the center? The idea behind a convection oven setting is that you will be able to get a more even result throughout — to avoid that very situation.
Pro: You don't have to worry about rotating pans.
All that circulating air and even cooking means you no longer have to interrupt the cooking to rotate or rearrange the pans halfway through.
Pro: Food crisps up better.
The exhaust system also pulls moisture out of the oven, so food becomes more crisp and brown. This might be especially good if you make French fries, roasted veggies, or dehydrated fruit on a regular basis.
Pro: It's more energy efficient.
Because you're cooking things faster, and typically at a lower heat (see the con below), you'll be able to save some energy when you're using the convection setting.
Con: You'll have to adjust recipes when cooking on the convection setting.
Most recipes are assuming you're cooking in a conventional oven, so you'll need to make some adjustments to your recipe. Typically, that's reducing the heat you cook at by about 25 degrees, or shortening the cooking time by roughly a quarter, but you're going to want to keep an eye out to make sure things aren't getting burnt if you're on the convection setting. (Note: Some ovens do this automatically, so you'll need to consult the owner's manual before you start setting temps and timers.)
Con: You may be so confused, you never even use the setting.
Ovens with a true convection setting start showing up on the market when your budget hits $700 or so. You may be spending that much (or more) on an oven anyway, but you also run the risk of paying up for the feature and then getting so overwhelmed (when can or can't you use it? How do you adjust the cook time again?) that you just never even use it.
This should help: What's a Convection Oven, and When Do I Use It?
Con: You might need new baking sheets or roasting pans.
It's recommended that you use low-sided pans or rimless baking sheets, especially when baking cookies or roasting vegetables, and that you have two inches from the sides of your pan to the sides of your oven at all times. Depending on the pots and pans already in your arsenal, this might be a bit of a nuisance.
If you were getting a new oven tomorrow, would you get one with a convection setting? Why or why not?