How-To & Diy

Mastering Your Oven

March 12, 2013

Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today, we're giving you the rundown on ovens.

A valuable friend.

Shop the Story

It’s nothing to be ashamed about; you don’t know how to use your oven. Maybe you make a batch of cookies when you want to feel accomplished (and full of cookies). Sometimes you burn them, and sometimes they fill the whole pan and you have a "cookie cake."

But maybe you want more from your oven. You deserve more from your oven.

All those new kale chip recipes don’t use a microwave. Slow braised lamb shanks aren’t going to impress your friends if they come out of a box. Your oven has roasting and baking potential; you can braise, broil and dehydrate. You can crisp things and make things tender! Just give it a chance -- get to know your oven.

Rainy weather (coming soon: April showers!) is the perfect time to start a lasting relationship with one of the best workhorses in the kitchen. Everybody loves an apartment that smells like chocolatey brownies or freshly-roasted chicken.

Here are the basic principles to a healthy relationship with your oven.

Move racks before you preheat

• The racks in your oven move around. Most ovens come with more than one rack. Think about this before you preheat -- moving a 400-degree metal rack is not fun. And make sure there is nothing in your oven when you start -- many people keep other pots and pans in the oven because of space constraints. (Some people keep shoes and bags in there. Cooked shoes pose a lot of problems besides just finding some new kicks.) 

Temperature knobs

• Temperature is important. If you open your oven, you will lose heat and your oven will need time to recover. Try not to open it more than necessary. As you use your oven more, you will need to check things less as you get a feel for the recipes.

Front and center

• Heat rises. The top of your oven is hotter than the bottom. If you want something to cook slow and low -- think awesome pulled pork -- put it at the bottom of the oven. If you want something to crisp quickly, put it at the top of your oven and keep an eye on it (think sweet potato fries for your pulled pork sandwiches). Most standard roasting and baking recipes are just fine sitting on the middle rack, where heat is the most consistent.

• Ovens have a vent. It's usually in the middle of the oven, towards the back. It only takes one misplaced hand towel to start a fire. 

• Your food needs space. Just like when you cook on the stovetop, the food in your oven needs to have enough room to cook. If food is packed too close together, some parts will be crispy and delicious and some will be soggy and pathetic. This is also known as “don’t crowd the pan.” It will help your chicken get crispy skin, and your cookies bake evenly without sticking together. 

• Arm yourself with the right tools. One good sheet pan goes a long way. An oven mitt or pot holder will keep your hands free of burns. Also, cast iron pans are fantastic for oven use. Cast iron pans can be used instead of baking dishes -- who says your lasagna or meatloaf needs to be rectangular? How are you going to make skillet cornbread if you don’t have some rockin’ cast iron? 

All in all, ovens are not hard to use -- you just need little basic knowledge and a can-do attitude. Before you know it, you'll be roasting and broiling like a champ.

What are your tips for using your oven? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Audrey Schlesinger
    Audrey Schlesinger
  • pierino
  • Marj Bernstein
    Marj Bernstein
  • aroset
You can find me delicately poaching eggs for cheddar grits, or elbow deep in a bag of Cheetos and Utz Crab Chips, but most of all, you can find me eating.


Audrey S. November 14, 2013
I need to replace my 27" double electric ovens (both have regular and convection power). Which brand do you prefer? I bake a lot and cook as well. I see there is a Viking in the photo -- is that your oven of choice?
pierino March 13, 2013
My advice to oven users? Don't believe the dial. No two ovens are calibrated exactly alike. Get to know how your own works. It's also handy to have a little laser gun that will check the actual heat. Believe it or not two ovens set to the same setting could differ by 25 degrees (or more).
Marj B. March 12, 2013
Good job, Will!
Marj Bernstein
aroset March 12, 2013
Dress rehearsal for large meals when you have more than one thing going in the oven at a time. Make sure the desired pans/baking dishes fit BEFORE trying to cram them in the oven at the same time.