The decision to buy an oven often brings with it a load of questions like what type of oven to go for. What is the ideal size to suit your family’s needs? What are the pragmatic uses of this kitchen appliance and so on? Well, we help you understand the various versions of ovens available in the modern markets and what factors to consider before opting for one and how to use them.
Though ovens have been around for quite some years, their transformation and popularity over the years have increased because of their versatile nature and functions. Before we proceed to unveil the functions of an oven, let us first discover the various forms of ovens and how they differ from each other.
What is a Convection Oven?
In its simplest form, a convection oven cooks food by heating the element placed within it and circulating the heat evenly throughout the compartment using a fan that is placed on the back wall. The heating elements are placed on top, side, or bottom of the cooking chamber. When switched on, the heating element radiates heat and the fan circulates this heat. This type of oven works well for baking cookies, pizza, toasting, and grilling.
Most convection ovens also have a grill function. Here, the fan is switched off and the heat from the heating elements directly cooks the food.
What is a Microwave Oven?
A microwave oven is a modern kitchen appliance that uses electromagnetic radiation from microwaves to heat and cooks the food placed within it. Microwaves are generated using a specific component called ‘magnetron’. They are highly effective in cooking and reheating food because they channelize heat directly into the food particles. The food is placed on a turntable that spins slowly as the microwaves cook food evenly from all sides.
A microwave oven is ideal for reheating food, preparing hot beverages like tea and coffee, puffing popcorn, and defrosting.
In India, mostly, you find solo microwave ovens and grill microwave ovens. A grill microwave has a heating element and a magnetron for microwaving. But, no fan or exhaust to circulate the air. They are less expensive than convection microwave ovens.
Convection Microwave-A combination of the Two
A convection microwave has both convection and microwave technology. It consists of three main modes-a microwave mode, convection mode and grill.
The microwave mode helps you reheat and cook food. The second mode is the convection mode that uses a heating element and a fan to evenly distribute the heat throughout the cooking chamber. This allows you to not only heat food but also bake, roast and grill. It helps in better browning of the food and even makes it crispier. In grill function, the top and bottom heating elements can be switched on individually and together. But, the fan won’t be switched on to circulate the heat generated.
A convection microwave certainly has an edge over other forms of ovens as it helps in varied cooking that too faster and better as compared to its counterparts.
Read more: Can I Use Stainless Steel In Oven?
Understanding temperature controls and time settings
Ovens use different temperature controls to cook and heat food.
A convection oven generally offers a temperature setting between 45⁰C and 250⁰C in about eight preset levels. The maximum cooking time is about 60 minutes.
Most microwave ovens have similar temperature control settings where you need to set the power levels at low, medium, and high levels.
Wattage and Temperature-Decoding the Co-relation
Most microwaves come with a power rating and it is important to understand the correlation between wattage and temperature settings. Standard microwave ovens are marked with a power rating ranging between 600 to 1500 watts. Higher watts indicate more heat and lower power means longer cooking time. The power consumption of a microwave oven is directly proportional to the temperature settings.
A microwave oven that is set at 50⁰C shall consume less power as compared to one that is set at 100⁰C. Therefore the temperature settings rule the power consumption of an oven. If an oven runs at a high temperature, the wattage consumption will be higher and the cooking time shall be less.
However, if the oven is running at a low-temperature setting then the wattage consumption shall also be less. But the cooking time will increase significantly requiring you to run the oven for a longer time.
Read more: Are Glass Top Gas Stoves Safe?
Grill- And Its Many Uses
Using the grill mode allows you to grill food within the oven capacity. Grilling food helps to cook and sear the food and give it a golden-brown crust and a crispy taste.
Grilling food in an oven means applying dry heat on the surface of the food, either from the top, bottom, or sides. Heat radiates on its own from the heating element and as there is no fan to aid, grilling takes a longer time to cook than convection.
A grill microwave oven is essentially a combination of a microwave with a grill feature. This means that you can carry out all the microwave features, in addition to the grill function. Grill temperature settings in an oven range from low (150-165⁰C), medium (175⁰C) to high (190⁰C or more) depending upon the food that you are cooking. Thick-skinned and heavy food items like chicken and meat need to be grilled longer at a medium temperature, while vegetables need to be grilled quicker at high temperature.
A combination mode of Micro + Grill may also be used with different combination settings of the two features. It allows you to get a brown crispy crust on the outer surface of food like chicken tikkas and roasted meat while keeping the inner flesh juicy and moist by cooking through the micro mode.
Understanding the Nuances of Baking
Baking food, especially cakes, pastries, and pies are indeed a stress buster only if you know how to bake it right and which mode to use. While ideally baking is best done in an OTG ( Oven Toaster Grill), modern-day Convection Microwaves help you perform the same function quite seamlessly. However, the one big question that often comes to mind is can baking be done in a microwave (as in a solo microwave)? Here are the answers…
Which Settings To Choose For Baking?
A question often asked is whether to use the convection mode for baking cakes or not.
We asked a group of home bakers and the unanimous answer was not to use the convection mode for baking cakes. But, many other cooking experts beg to differ too.
Anita, a home baker who regularly conducts baking classes is of the opinion that baking cakes in convection mode will give uneven results because the hot air won’t circulate uniformly around the cake. Further, the cake could dry out as the moisture leaves the oven along with the hot air through the exhaust.
She suggests using the convection mode for baking cookies, pizza, and delicacies that start off as dough. But if you are baking a cake or custard that starts as a batter, then, it is better to switch off the fan.
Baking in microwave mode is not recommended. Technically they are not designed for baking and may not give you the best results. Your food may not be cooked from the core or your cakes and cookies may not rise and become lighter as they should. Achieving a crispy brown crust on cakes and pizzas is also not possible using only microwave mode. Ann Reardon, a certified dietician and food scientist tells in her videos not to trust recipes and hacks that call for microwaving for more than 3-5 minutes.
Temperature and Time Settings for Baking in a Convection Microwave Oven
The recipe, temperature settings, and timings for baking in a convection microwave are slightly lesser than in an OTG oven. If the recipe calls for baking at 200 degrees Celsius in OTG, then 180 degree in convection would suffice.
That being said, most ovens differ in their heating capacity. Though the panel may say 180 degrees, the actual temperature may be less or more. So, if you are serious about baking, invest in an oven thermometer so that you have better control over the temperature.
Should Baking be done in Convection or Micro + Convection Mode?
You can accomplish your baking needs on both the Convection Mode and the Micro + Convection mode. The results obtained would be the same. In the convection mode, the entire cooking is done using only the convection mode, whereas in the Micro + Convection mode, the appliance runs on micro mode for some time and on the convection mode for the remaining time. For example, if the total time of the recipe is 40 minutes, then it runs on the micro mode for about 30% of the time, and the remaining 70% of the time it runs on convection mode.
Different models of convection microwaves have different combo settings and you need to read the user manual thoroughly before opting for the combo modes.
The Science Behind Pre-heating
You must have seen that most of the recipes using the oven calls for pre-heating.
Pre-heating essentially means preparing the oven or warming it up before baking. Most modern-day microwave ovens and simple ovens have an in-built pre-heating option where you can preheat the appliance by selecting the desired temperature setting as required by your recipe.
If the oven does not have a pre-heat option then the simplest way to pre-heat it is by selecting the temperature and starting the appliance while the cooking chamber is empty.
Pre-heating is like warming up before a race. It is an important step before baking. Baking involves the use of leavenings like yeast, baking soda, and baking powder all of which react well in a warm or hot climate. If you place food in a cold oven it cooks unevenly as it has to first face a cold oven, then a warm phase, and finally a hot phase. Whereas, in a pre-heated oven the food cooks evenly and much faster because it gets an even temperature throughout.
While we have tried to discuss the various aspects of an oven and bring you closer to the art and science of baking, using any form of oven requires a bit of prudence and lots of practice to understand your appliance. Learning from your experiences while using your oven is perhaps the finest teaching guide that can help you get the best out of this wonder appliance.