Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Oven Settings

posted in General by Kathy Maister

Have you ever tried to cook frozen French fries in the oven without preheating the oven? The directions often say preheat to 425 degrees. That can take 15 to 20 minutes. So, after 10 minutes, you lose your patience and in the oven they go. Big mistake! Your French fries take forever to get crispy!

Today I’m going to talk about “conventional” oven settings. 

There are many recipes for making fish, chicken, nachos, etc., that will say bake and others that say broil as a method of cooking. Do not confuse them. These are two very different ways to prepare food. With “baking” you always have to start with preheating the oven.

Note from Jon Sacker: A quick translation for your British readers, or American readers of British recipes, broiling (US) = grilling (UK), which should not be confused with grilling (US) = barbequing (UK). Hope that helps :-}

Preheating

Preheating an oven is essential or you will throw off the cooking times. All cooking times are based on a preheated oven unless otherwise stated in the recipe. Luckily, when most (modern) ovens reach their desired temperature, they beep at you, or a light goes on or off. You then know it is OK to put food in the oven and start the timer.

Conventional ovens all have several settings. In addition to preheat, there is bake, broil, self-clean (if you are lucky!) and some ovens even have a ‘warming drawer.’

Before turning the oven on, make sure the oven racks are in the desired position. It’s easier to move the racks in a cold oven; you are less likely to get burned that way! Baking is usually done in the middle of the oven. Broiling (see below) is usually done closer to the top of the oven.

Bake

Baking is used to cook things like chicken, potatoes, fish, stews, cookies and cakes. Food gets cooked from the outside in. (Unlike a microwave which causes food molecules to vibrate, creating friction that heats and cooks the food in all directions at once.) You check for “done-ness” by examining the internal temperatures, for example by sticking an oven thermometer into the food.  While your food is baking, try not to open the door too often to check for done-ness.  Every time you open the oven door to see if your food is cooked, your oven temperature will drop and extend the cooking time.

Oven Temperature Metric Conversion Chart:

Farenheit Celsius Gas Mark
275º F 140º C gas mark 1-cool
300º F 150º C gas mark 2
325º F 165º C gas mark 3-very moderate
350º F 180º C gas mark 4-moderate
375º F 190º C gas mark 5
400º F 200º C gas mark 6-moderately hot
425º F 220º C gas mark 7- hot
450º F 230º C gas mark 9
475º F 240º C gas mark 10- very hot

Broil

Broiling means to cook food (like steaks, hamburgers, chicken breasts) under very direct heat. With a gas oven, you actually see a flame. An electric oven has coils directly above the food. My oven insists the door be closed for the broil to work. Some ovens you have to leave the door open. The oven manual should tell you what works with your oven.

Obviously, the closer you are to the heat source – the higher the heat. If you have positioned the racks too close to the broiler, your steak may get burned on the outside and still be raw on the inside. Many recipes will tell you how far away from the broiler you should be.

Do make sure that the baking dish you are using is safe to put under the broiler. Pyrex dishes are NOT broiler safe and could possibly explode from the intense heat of the broiler!

You can also broil things on an outdoor grill over charcoal or some other heat source. I have been to many barbeques but I have never actually done any outdoor grilling myself! We live in a condominium and don’t do outdoors very well!

Warming Drawer

As noted above, your oven may have a warming drawer. If you are having a dinner party, this is a great place to keep the food warm while waiting for your guests to arrive. The food is kept warm at a very low temperature. As I don’t actually use it very often, I store cooking equipment in my warming drawer.

I hope this brief introduction to conventional oven settings was helpful.

Cheers!

Kathy

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37 Comments

Jon Sacker said:

A quick translation for your British readers, or American readers of British recipes, broiling (US) = grilling (UK), which should not be confused with grilling (US) = barbequing (UK). Hope that helps :-}

sarah murphy said:

I am just starting to really enjoy cooking and I am learning. I came on to this site because I bought a new cook book and want to learn how to broil chicken. I never broiled anything before in an oven, so I will now make some chicken this weekend, I hope it comes out good. I will broil it, I cannot find my manuel for my gas oven, so I will cross my fingers and follow the directions. Thanks for your help

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks Jon!

Sarah, broiling chicken can be a bit tricky. Here is a recipes that include some broiling tips. Good Luck!

Blessy said:

Hai Kathy,

Your recipes and blogs are always helpful. This might be a simple question, but I hope you help. In a self-cleaning oven, hw do we clean the oven and what solution should we use for the cleaning process.

Please help,

Blessy

KGWagner said:

Blessy -

Self-cleaning ovens don’t really clean themselves, per se. What they do is basically turn off the thermostat and change into crematoriums. They get super-hot, and turn all the baked-on grime into dust. That’s why you have to lock them, and the lock won’t release until the temperature gets down to ambient again.

Once that’s complete, all you need to finish up is a damp sponge and some clean rinse water to wipe the interior down.

The smell can be objectionable, so you don’t want to do it too often if you can help it. One way to help it is to keep a cheap cooking sheet on the bottom rack to catch whatever overflow may occur from things you bake. The pan is either easier/faster to clean, or disposable, depending on your mood

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks KGW for jumping in with a great description of how self cleaning ovens work!

The only thing I would add is that if there is a lot of spillage on the bottom of your oven, the self cleaning “crematorium” can make your kitchen very smoky as it burns everything into dust. (Also some ovens being self-cleaned for the very first time can cause a bit of smoke as well.) An open window and a fan help to keep the air moving. Wipe up any really obvious spills before you start.

Also, pick a cold winter’s day to self-clean an oven as it can take 3-4 hours to complete the process.

Most directions say to remove the racks as they will discolor during the cleaning process. (Mine did!)

Be sure to plan on staying home during the entire cleaning process!

Good Luck Blessy!

Blessy said:

Thanx Kathy and KGWagner for the reply…Will have to take time to clean the oven this week :) ….

daisy said:

You know I was doing the whole thing wrong, but by reading this it helped me out alot thnx!!! Now I can broil my chicken the right way.

Kathy Maister said:

That’s great Daisy! Remember every time you open the oven door, even for just a peek, the temperature drops significantly and the cooking time gets thrown off!

Bobby Godwin said:

I am male and am doing lots of cooking as of late. I went to your site to see if I could find information on re-warming food in a conventional oven. I know that that’s probably a simple thing to cooks like you, but I can’t seem to find anything about what temp to use and how long. I do not have a warming drawer. I do have a microwave, but, I thought for several dishes, or a large dish, like what was left of a low country boil, it would be better to warm it in a conventional oven.
Bobby Godwin

Kathy Maister said:

Reheating leftovers is pretty tricky. The texture is never quite the same as when it is freshly cooked.

Reheating most things in the microwave is actually your best bet.

For rice based recipes you can add a few drops of water so that the dish does not dry out too much.

I reheat pizza in a frying pan. It works brilliantly! The crust gets really crispy again.

For conventional oven reheating, set the oven to 325-350 degrees and just about anything should be reheated in about 10 minutes. Depending on what you are reheating, you may want to cover the dish with some tin foil.
Good Luck and thanks for this great question!

P.S. Just remember with leftovers…when in doubt…throw it out!

KGWagner said:

Bobby –

As Kathy says, reheating leftovers is tricky. With larger quantities and with some foods, the amount of time you’d have to reheat them is roughly equal to the original cooking time, which is no fun.

What I’ve found is that it’s easier to separate things into single servings and microwave them, being careful to separate faster/slower cooking foods. Generally speaking, faster cooking foods would be things with more fat content, and slower cooking foods are more water & solids.

So, for instance, if you want to reheat a single serving of ham and potatoes, you’d give the potatoes a minute or so, then add the ham and 30 seconds. They’ll both come out about the same temperature.

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks KGW – you are so right about re-heating in single serving size – great tip!

Bobby I would like to also add that it is essential to store leftovers properly.

Laks said:

Hi

I have basic baking question. After pre-heating the oven, do I turn it off before I insert food inside the oven?

thanks

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Laks!

That is actually a very good question.

The quick answer is NO do not turn the oven off!

Pre-heating is just that; getting the oven hot before you put the food in it. It is necessary for the oven to stay hot while you cook your food. Cooking times are based on a pre-heated oven. If you put food in a cold oven, it will totally throw off the outcome of the recipe.

Kenmore Parts said:

Very interesting. I didn’t know about all these little secrets and I was wondering why my French fries didn’t have the same taste as those you eat at a restaurant. Mmm, can’t wait to taste the first crispy fries made by me in my own oven.

Cody said:

My oven has letters (ie Warm, low, MD, MD-Hi, Hi) versus number settings. My question is, what are the actual temperature settings that go with the letter? (Ex, possibly low= about 200 degrees??)

Thanks,

Cody

startcooking.com said:

Hi Cody,
To be absolutely certain what those setting are, you will need to buy an oven thermometer, place it in the oven and do some testing.

Oven thermometers range in price from about $4-$30. You can buy them at the grocery store or a hardware store or on-line.

I would guess that with your settings medium is 350F, but that is only a guess.
Warm is usually about 200F.

Good Luck!
Kathy

aparna said:

Hi!
I am planning to buy a new oven . i heard that we can even make tea or coffee in this. can you explain how and the usage of oven for different types of food.

thank you

Sandra said:

Hi,

I’m having a dinner party and I would like to cook some things about 3 hours ahead one is steaks. .. How do you think I should handle keeping them like they were just cooked when the guest arrive. I don’t have a warmer draw. Thanks!

SG

KGWagner said:

Sandra – Even with a warming drawer, you don’t want to hold steaks that long. They’ll continue cooking, albeit slowly, and when you go to serve them they’ll be seriously overdone. Your best bet might be to just brown them, then let them sit until just before serving time. When that gets to be close, you finish them. That’s chancy business, though. If you haven’t done that before a few times, a dinner party is no time to start experimenting with new techniques. Any kind of decent steak only takes minutes to cook. Perhaps something else could be made ahead?

startcooking said:

Hi KGW – welcome back!
Sandra, KGW offers great advice. I agree completely that you may want to re-thing holding steaks in a warming drawer for 3 hours!
Have a great party!

Chelle said:

Hi Kathy,

I just found your site searching how to use the “start time” feature on my Kenmore oven. I was wondering how this works, because I was thinking how does it “preheat”? I would like to use it, but I don’t want to ruin my food. Have you ever used this feature before?

startcooking said:

Hi Chelle,
Some ovens have internal clocks which you can set set for automatic start and stop for oven cleaning.

Generally you would not need to use this for preheating an oven. Preheating an oven usually takes about 15-20 minutes. Once the oven is preheated, in goes the food.

Look on the top or side of the oven door to see what your model number is. Then you can Google Kenmore oven manual and find the specific manual for operating your oven.

I hope this helps!
Cheers,
Kathy

Claudia Myles said:

Hello, we have a convention oven, I DON’T KNOW HOW TO USE IT, I want to bake chicken, meatloaf, fish, lasagne, chicken parmigan & etc., please tell me what temperature I should set it at, I usually use a regular oven & bake everything @ 350% for whatever time I need.

Please help me, please tell me what temperature & how long it will take.

Thank you.

KGWagner said:

Are you sure you don’t mean a “convection” oven? If so, then what you need to know is a little bit about how they work.

Convection ovens are actually mis-named, because they don’t rely on convection at all. They use a fan force the air to circulate in the oven, which can speed up cooking. Regular ovens use convection, which relies on hot air rising and cooler air sinking to circulate the air in the oven. It doesn’t need any help for that – it happens naturally. But, it’s a slow(er) process.

To make a long story short, you need a good oven thermometer. You’ll need to learn to cook to an internal temperature, rather than by time. In other words, you don’t put a roast or chicken in for 2.5 hours at 350 degrees, you put it in a 350 degree oven until it reaches a certain number of degrees internally. What those values are for internal temperatures vary by what it is you’re cooking, and how you like it done. You don’t keep track of time, you keep track of temperature.

The other thing you have to consider is that things will brown (and possibly dry out) much more quickly, so sometimes you do cook at a lower temperature.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy conversion you can do. You have to sorta dare to wreck things until you get a feel for it. I suspect that’s the reason so many people don’t use the feature.

But, for example, you know you don’t want a pork roast to get any hotter than about 140-145 degrees internally. So, poke a thermometer in there, and watch it. When it hits that point, take it out and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. It’ll climb to 150-155 degrees on its own outside the oven.

Sharon said:

When baking a cake, should the oven be preheated? Some recipes specifically say “cold oven” but most simply state “bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees”. Should the oven be preheated unless otherwise directed? Thanks.

KGWagner said:

Unless otherwise directed, ovens should always be pre-heated. It takes a bit of time, too. You can’t turn it on and expect it to be up to temp in 5 minutes. Figure 15, easy.

That’s probably in the top 3 on the list of reasons things don’t turn out: improper starting heat. With baked goods especially, it changes when different fats liquify, which changes rise times and texture, it changes when your leavening does its thing, and it alters the timing (sometimes dramatically). Cookies in particular will punish you for improper heat and timing.

gemma said:

sometimes recipes do not indicate temperature settings for broling, i suppose because they are using outdoor grilling. but what if you wil use the oven/broil settings? what temperature goes with it- for meat? poultry? veggies/

KGWagner said:

Gemma –

There is no temperature setting when broiling. In an oven, it means two things:

  • The flame is above the food, and
  • The flame is always on

Usually, if the recipe says anything at all about the broiler, it’s how far away from the flame you cook the food. Most broilers will allow you to move the pan up or down.

Think of it as an “upside-down barbecue” [grin]

Gemma said:

so i will just turn the dial to broil/grill but will not touch the temp setting dial?

KGWagner said:

Yup! That’s all you have to do! [grin]

With many ovens, the broiler is sort of a drawer with a pan under the oven, so it uses the same burner to broil with that is used to heat the oven above. All setting the dial to “Broil” does is disable the thermostat so the burner runs continuously.

With other ovens, the broiler is actually inside the oven at the top, so there’s a separate control. Then, the drawer underneath the oven (if there is one) is used as a warmer or for storage. This feature costs more to build, so you usually only see it on more expensive gas stoves, although it’s quite common on electrics.

startcooking said:

The only thing I would add is that gas ovens have a “flame” for broiling and electric ovens usually have heated coils and not an actual “flame”.

norma gobey said:

someone asked me if during the preheat period does the broiler works to help preheat the oven and then turns off when the temperature is reached? or is it just the botton oven heating up the oven to the exact temperature?

KGWagner said:

Norma –

No, the broiler burner doesn’t lend a helping hand. I’ve sometimes wondered why it doesn’t, because I suspect a lot of people’s timing errors come from not preheating the oven long enough. If they both ran, the thing would heat up quicker and more likely be up to temp before someone tried cooking something. But, as it is, even modern ovens can take 5-10 minutes to get up to temp.

It’s possible that with electric ovens it would take too much power, or with gas ovens it would take too much gas to run both burners at the same time, as they’re heavy loads.

lauren said:

Can a microwaveable dish also be used in a converntional oven?

L

KGWagner said:

Lauren –

“Microwaveable” means two things. One, it doesn’t have any metal in it, and two, it can take high temperatures without melting/deforming. So, the answer to your question is generally ‘yes’. But, “high temperatures” in a microwave are different than they are in an oven because it’s the food that gets hot rather than the environment, so be aware that there are a lot of things that are “microwave safe” that should never go in an oven. Paper or plastic dishes/plates/bowls/cups/etc. come immediately to mind.