Pulling what should be a perfectly baked cake out of the oven only to find it’s still raw on the inside or dried out completely happens to everyone. When it happens consistently, and your bakes aren’t right no matter how closely you follow the recipe, there may be a problem with your oven.
Ovens are all different, and all heat up differently. What this means is that when you think your oven is at 350° it may actually be another temperature. This can result in under baking, over baking, or simply having to wait ages for your oven to heat up. Luckily, this can be fixed. An oven calibration is quick and simple to do. It might just ensure you never have to eat burnt cookies again.
How do I calibrate my oven?
To calibrate an oven you need an accurate oven thermometer. These are cheap and easy to buy, and ensure future accuracy. For an oven with analog controls, you’ll also need a Phillips head screwdriver.
- Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Put your oven thermometer on the rack, and close the door.
- Set the temperature of the oven to 350°.
- Wait for the oven to finish preheating and reach the desired temperature. Leave the oven door closed throughout, or it can disturb the reading and slow down the process.
- Once the oven has heated up, check the temperature on the thermometer. If you can, read it through the oven door. If you need to open the oven, do so as quickly as possible.
- If the temperature is off by at least 15° in either direction, you need to calibrate your oven.
- For a more accurate reading, let the oven cycle through the heating process a few more times. Check the temperature every 15-20 minutes, and create an average.
- For analog heat control, remove the oven temperature knob and flip it over. On the back, you should see one or two screws. Carefully and slowly adjust the screws. Turn clockwise if the oven is too hot, and counter-clockwise if the oven is too cold. Reattach the knob.
- For a digital control, see the instruction manual of your oven. Many digital controls allow you to access a ‘calibration’ setting for easy changes. Adjust up or down, depending on your results.
- Repeat the heating process again, to ensure the calibration was accurate. You may need to adjust several times.
If your oven temperature is very off, contact a technician for help.
Finding oven hot spots
If you find your food is cooking unevenly, it might be because your oven has hot spots. These are areas of the oven that heat up faster, or stay hotter for longer. To check for hot spots in your oven, place an oven thermometer in one part of the oven, and heat the oven to 350°. When the oven has reached the temperature, check the thermometer. Then, move the thermometer and repeat the process. Try placing it in all four corners, and on each shelf. In the end, you should have an accurate idea of where the hot spots are.
Another funner method is to evenly space balls of cookie dough across a baking sheet. Put the cookies in the oven and bake without touching, or opening the oven door. When you remove the cookies, you’ll see that some have cooked faster, some have cooked better, and some have started to burn. This will show you where the hot spots are (although it’s slightly less accurate than a thermometer).
You can buy baking stones that help to even out hotspots, but the best way to deal with them is to learn about them. Rotate baking sheets when cooking, and avoid the hotspots if you can.
Do ovens overheat?
Ovens come with a thermostat to control the temperature, but they can still be caused to overheat. You can generally tell if your oven is overheating because food is burning quicker, and won’t cook through evenly. Overheating is often due to a problem with the thermostat. To check if your oven is overheating, place an oven thermometer in the center of the oven and heat to 350°. When the oven has finished heating, check the temperature on the thermometer. If it’s too high, then you can adjust the temperature knob on the oven to more accurately reflect how it heats.
Other reasons why an oven overheats can be because of a build-up of grime, appliances coming loose, or a problem with the fan. If your oven has a regular problem with overheating, it may be something wrong with the heating elements themselves. These should be replaced as soon as possible, as they affect the entire function of the oven. For any serious issues, contact a technician.