The short answer- Yes. The longer answer- Not Always!
We got our first oven about two decades ago. My mom was excited about grilling, while a teenage me was excited about baking a cake. We were too naive and tried boiling water in a metal mug. Sparks flew. We got terrified and switched off the oven for good. It took us some time and the help of few resourceful aunts to understand that all utensils are not alike for a microwave oven.
How Oven Heats Food?
Understanding the basics of how an oven heats food gives you an idea of which cookware are suitable for ovens.
An oven has heating elements, a magnetron and a fan. The microwave uses the magnetron, while the grill and convection use the heating element.
The magnetron produces microwaves which are reflected by the interior surfaces and absorbed by the food, in turn heating them. Being highly efficient, it helps warm leftover food and boils water in 30 seconds to a minute. Anything that blocks or reflects the microwaves should be avoided as it could cause sparks and will not heat the food.
The heating element as the name suggests generates heat that can toast or grill the food. This function is predominantly used for grilling, toasting and even baking.
The fan is part of a convection oven. In the convection setting, the heating element is ON and the fan blows the hot air on the food. It cooks faster and more evenly. Convection also creates a dry environment that can brown the food better.
Everything other than plastic and wood can be used when grilling and convection functions are used. But microwave radiation is a little bit more sensitive and cannot be used for metals.
Is Stainless Steel Oven Safe?
If you are grilling or using the convection feature of the oven, then yes, you can use stainless steel ovenwares. Many chefs sear the steaks on stainless steel pans and then cook them through in the oven to retain the moisture. But, if you are using a low-quality stainless steel utensil, it could bend or warp.
Once, as I had run out of baking sheets while making 8 large pizzas for a gathering, I used a stainless steel lid. But, after heating it at 180 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes, the steel bent.
Note that, you should never microwave stainless steel utensils. They contain chromium which blocks and reflects the microwaves. So, the food won’t get properly heated. Moreover, if it has dents or if you are placing two stainless steel mugs together, then they could both reflect microwaves continuously and cause sparks or ignite anything inside the oven.
Related reading: How To Use an Oven?
What Can I Put In An Oven?
Generally speaking, oven-safe cookware will have a marking on the bottom. However, here is a general guideline for quick reference-
Plastics can melt and wood could burn. So, they shouldn’t be used in an oven. CPET( Crystallized Polyethylene Terephthalate) however is an exception as they have been crystallized to improve the temperature tolerance up to about 200 degrees Celsius. But whether they leach any harmful chemicals or not is unknown.
Tempered glasses are heat resistant and can be used for microwaving, baking and grilling. However, take care not to take out leftover food from the fridge or freezer and directly pop it into the oven as the drastic temperature change can cause micro-cracks which could over a period of time lead to the glass cracking.
Cast iron cookware is oven safe. They are almost indestructible at the temperature a domestic oven can achieve. But you need to be careful placing the heavy cast iron pan on the glass turntable so that you don’t damage it.
You might have noticed that most of the baking pans available in the market are made of aluminium. Due to their excellent heat conductivity, they can be used in an oven when you use a grill or convection function.
But, you should NEVER microwave aluminium containers or foils. Currents of electricity flows through the aluminium and a high voltage could build up. This could exceed the breakdown voltage of air and cause a spark or even worse a fire.
Being a highly heat resistant material, ceramic is absolutely safe for microwave and convection heating. But ensure that they don’t have any metallic edges.
Melamine, being a type of plastic should never be used in an oven. Some studies even show that melamine and cyanuric acid could leach into the food when it is heated.