Published: January 3, 2015
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Cooking 101: Testing Your Oven’s Accuracy
If you’ve had trouble getting your baked goods or roasted meats to turn out according to the recipe, it could be that your oven accuracy is off. A good cook should know their oven well. Are the settings accurate? How stable is the oven after it gets to your setting?
The experts at America’s Test Kitchen say, “Ovens are inaccurate. Since all ovens cycle on and off to maintain temperature, even the best models will periodically deviate from the desired target by at least a few degrees throughout cooking.” “On top of this,” they say, “we’ve found that ovens set to the same temperature can vary by as much as 90 degrees.”
Kitchen ovens use a very simple on/off temperature control scheme. For example, if you set the oven to 350°F, once it gets there (or several degrees past it), the internal thermostat turns the heat off. When the temperature falls somewhere below the 350°F set point, the heat will switch on again. The actual temperature in the oven will “oscillate” or bounce up and down around your setting over the course of several minutes per cycle. The variance between the high and low peaks can be quite large. At a setting of 350°F, the actual peaks might be as high as 400°F and as low as 300°F.
You can monitor this oscillation with the right thermometer and use your knowledge of the oven’s performance to adjust your settings. The highs and lows are important but so is the average. If you set the oven to 350°F, but the center of your oscillation is 330°F, your baked goods will take longer to brown. If the center is higher, say 370°F, the external surfaces will brown more quickly than the insides.
Even expensive ovens with microprocessor controls and digital displays will oscillate and need to be checked for accuracy. Older dial-set ovens may, or may not be accurate, too. Be aware that even an advanced oven that can be switched between convection and traditional heat will actually perform differently between the two methods.
The ChefAlarm from ThermoWorks has a built-in Max/Min feature that can be used to track the high and low peaks in your oven’s oscillation and the information can be used to find the accuracy of the average actual control temperature vs. your setting. Pair the ChefAlarm with the optional Pro-Series High Temp Air Probe which comes with an oven grate clip to easily affix the probe in the center of the oven. Alternatively, you could position the included meat penetration probe with the tip in the oven’s center by using an aluminum foil ball as a stand to hold the probe about an inch above the grate. Make sure the cable avoids touching burners.
Also of Interest:
- Review and Rating of the Thermoworks DOT
- BBQ Pitmasters Tips on how to Make Perfect BBQ Pork Ribs
- Don’t forget to become a Fan of Grilling with Rich on Facebook!
Don’t forget to purchase your Thermapen for you and your barbecue team mates by clicking here
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