Whether you're remodeling your kitchen or just replacing a worn-out range, the next time you go stove shopping, you'll probably notice there are a lot more convection ovens on the market—and not just in the Wolf and Viking price range.
"It's almost assumed you're going to get convection in a higher-end appliance," says Steve Sheinkopf, CEO of Yale Appliance and Lighting in Boston. But even at the low end, a convection oven might now only cost $100 more than a traditional one, he adds. "There are companies out there that have made it much more affordable, like Samsung and Frigidaire."
So, should you consider a convection oven for your kitchen?
Wait, what's a convection oven again? I mean, I totally know what it is, I just want to make sure that YOU know.
Ok, let's back up: Convection just means there's a fan or blower inside the oven that distributes the heat more consistently. So instead of heat just rising from a flame or element at the bottom, it circulates around the food, eliminating heat pockets.
This helps food cook faster and brown more evenly, says Christie Morrison, senior editor of special projects at America's Test Kitchen, which produces cooking shows and publishes Cook's Illustrated magazine.
"The fans circulate the heat around so it enables more even browning on all sides and more even cooking," Morrison says. It also means you can cook more items at once — handy for a big dinner party — without worrying about rack placement, since the heat is evenly distributed. "If you're baking cookies, you can put them on two different racks and they'll still cook evenly, whereas in a regular oven, whatever's on the bottom will get cooked through and the top won't get browned as well."
A nice side effect is that convection ovens use less energy, and preheat and cook faster, too. "The general rule across all convection ovens is to bake 25 degrees lower for about 25% less time," Morrison says. "If you're working on cookies or something that's done in 10 minutes, you're not going to see a big time difference. But if you're cooking a Thanksgiving turkey that weighs 22 pounds, then you will see a difference in the amount of time."
Morrison says some ovens are better at circulating air than others, so until you get used to your particular model, keep an eye on what you're baking so as not to overcook it.
Many convection ovens offer the feature as a setting you can turn on or off - which is handy, because convection heat can be super useful in some situations... and not so helpful in others.
"It's a nice method of cooking, but it doesn't work for everything," Morrison says. "There are times you don't want to have circulating air, and some fans are more disruptive than others. So you generally don't want to do a souffle or delicate cakes like an angel food cake in a convection oven. Or a quick bread, like banana bread — it doesn't have enough structure, so it can get lopsided because of the fan blowing air around."
While the fan adds another moving part to the mix, Sheinkopf says convection ovens are generally just as reliable as conventional ovens. "Fans have been in hoods forever. That's not the part that's going to break in a range," he says.
The one big drawback to a convection oven, it seems to me (besides the cost), is that you're forced to run all your favorite recipes through the 25/25 conversion process. "You're going to have to do a little mental gymnastics," Morrison says, until you get a feel for your oven. As an ounce-based American who's prepared recipes measured in grams and milliliters, I can tell you that making on-the-fly kitchen conversions can be frustrating and stressful. (And yes, I know the metric system is far more sensible — it's just not what we use here, so please don't yell at me in the comments.)
It's hard to argue with any appliance that does a better job on most tasks, faster, while using less energy. But if you're content with your traditional oven, you're in pretty good company. Morrison says that while they have convection ovens at America's Test Kitchen, "We don't regularly use them in our testing, because the bulk of our readership uses conventional ovens."