How Does a Convection Oven Work?

By Toni Matthews-El

At first glance, a convection oven and conventional oven may seem very similar, however they cook food using different methods. In this article, we’ll go over the benefits and drawbacks of using a convection oven, as well as how a convection oven works.

Convection ovens vs. conventional ovens

Though both types of ovens can be powered by electricity or gas, it’s in the way they cook food that the greatest differences present themselves.

A convection oven is an oven that’s designed to introduce radiant heat from the bottom, top, and back of the oven. It cooks food by using at least one built-in fan, circulating dry air evenly throughout the appliance.

A conventional oven uses stationary heat that rises from the bottom of the oven to cook food. This type of oven creates a lot of humidity, which results in food being cooked via steam. Because conventional ovens don’t circulate air, food might not cook as evenly. This specific issue is why some recipes require you to rotate a tray halfway through baking (doing so ensures that the baked item is evenly cooked).

Thanks to the constant air circulation in a convection oven, there are no pockets of air, allowing the oven to cook food faster and at an even pace. Air circulation also allows a convection oven to cook up to 30 percent faster than a conventional oven. Because of this difference in cooking time, it’s generally recommended that you turn down your oven by 25 degrees to account for the difference in cooking speed.

Understanding how a convection oven works

To learn how a convection oven works, it’s important to understand the key components that make up the system. These parts include the inner housing, heating element, and impeller.

  • Inner housing—The inner housing, or chamber, of the oven is the enclosure where you place the food. There are a couple of racks in this chamber, in addition to a special rotisserie rack for preparing roasted meats.
  • Heating element—A convection oven typically uses a combination of heating elements on the top, bottom, and rear of the inner housing to warm the entire oven. These heat sources allow food to cook evenly regardless of where it’s placed in the oven. The heating element is typically made of nickel wires and concealed inside a brass tube.
  • Impeller—This cylindrical-shaped fan is similar to a propeller, except it lacks blades. It’s responsible for pushing the air out in a constant direction, allowing hot air to circulate evenly throughout the oven.

How to use a convection oven

  1. Carefully check the manufacturer’s instructions—It’s possible that the type of convection oven you have won’t let you prepare certain meals. Check your model number and determine if there are foods you won’t be able to cook in the oven.
  2. Adjust the temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit—When preparing a recipe that’s meant for a conventional oven, you’ll want to account for the quicker cooking time of a convection oven. That means lowering the temperature a few degrees to keep your food from overcooking.
  3. Preheat the oven—While it’s true that a roast doesn’t need to be pre-heated, this isn’t true for other foods. With the way a convection oven preheats, it’s possible that failing to do so can actually cause the meal to burn. Follow the recommended preheating instructions and place your food into the oven only when the preheat cycle is complete.
  4. Keep an eye on the timer—A convection oven might cook your dinner more quickly than you’re used to, so make sure you constantly check on the food you’re making. If necessary, use a timer that accounts for the faster cooking speed.

Tips for using a convection oven

To get the most out of a convection oven, remember that it works best with certain foods and certain types of cookware.

Foods that work best with a convection oven

  • Roasts—Roasting meats is ideal because the meat gets seared early on in the process. This seals in the most essential juices, leaving you with a tender, delicious cut of meat. 
  • Baked goods—Convection ovens allow you to bake multiple trays of baked goods, like cookies and brownies, at a faster speed.
  • Pies—Pies can cook more evenly in a convection oven, with the tops and bottoms browning at a roughly equal rate.
  • Pizza—Place your pizza stone at the bottom of the oven and then preheat the oven for the best results.

Foods to avoid cooking in a convection oven

Unlike cookies, pastries like breads and cakes are best prepared in a traditional oven because the humidity and standing heat of a conventional oven let them cook more thoroughly. In general, it’s best to avoid cooking foods that require a greater deal of humidity than what a convection oven can provide.

Is a convection oven worth it?

There are some advantages to owning a convection oven, such as:

  • Convection ovens cook food for a shorter amount of time and use 20 percent less energy each month when compared to a standard oven.
  • Depending on the oven size, it can be fairly quick and easy to clean.
  • Since these ovens cook food evenly, you don’t have to worry about opening the oven door to rotate the tray halfway through cooking.
  • Convection ovens allow thicker cuts of meat to cook without preheating, while also retaining much of their essential juices.
  • Because these types of ovens range in size, you should have no trouble finding the right convection oven for your kitchen.

Despite these positives, there can be some setbacks:

  • Baking can be problematic, particularly for cakes (the outside of the cake can cook faster than the middle). Because of this, it’s best to prepare a cake in a conventional oven rather than a convection oven.
  • The fan is a fragile piece of the oven that can fail or break down. If this happens, your oven won’t be able to cook food properly. Make sure the fan in your convection oven is made of high-quality materials, so it can last for years to come.
  • Convection ovens are slightly more expensive than conventional ovens, costing around $1,000–$2,500.

Convection oven considerations

If you’re thinking about buying a convection oven, consider a few important factors before purchasing one.

  • What’s your budget for buying a new convection cooking appliance?
  • Will it fit into your existing kitchen space or will you need to remodel your kitchen to make it fit?
  • What types of food do you routinely prepare?
  • Will you have an alternate method available to cook food if the convection oven doesn’t work or needs repair?
  • Can you set aside money to keep your convection oven free of issues or to take care of any necessary maintenance?

Frequently asked questions

Do I need special cookware for a convection oven?

No, but it’s recommended that you use cookware with low or shallow sides. This will help the airflow around the food and let it cook more easily.

Can you put aluminum foil in a convection oven?

While it’s possible to use aluminum foil, it’s often advised that you don’t because the foil can reflect heat away from the food, which might affect the accuracy of the recipe’s cooking time.

Is there an advantage to roasting meat in a convection oven?

Convection ovens are great for roasting meat because of their ability to sear and trap juices, which allow thicker cuts of meat to cook and remain moist and delicious.

Does food cook faster in a convection oven?

Thanks to the way convection ovens circulate heated air around food, it’s possible for food to get cooked up to 25 percent faster than with a conventional oven.

Do I need to preheat my convection oven?

Yes. Because of the way the oven heats, it’s possible to burn or ruin your food if you don’t follow a correct preheating method. The convection oven should have a preheat setting; make sure you turn on this convection setting before putting in most foods. The one exception would be for roasting meat, which generally doesn’t require preheating.

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