Every cook needs an accurate oven to get the job done right, especially when it comes to the holidays. In the Test Kitchen, we routinely check our ovens for accuracy, looking for flattened gaskets and loose hinges, double-checking calibration and making sure our baking racks are in the center of each oven.
Here are some tips for determining, maintaining and making the most of your oven's accuracy:
CHECKING FOR ACCURACY
Most oven problems can be traced to calibration. If this is off, your oven won't work at the right temperature; a difference of as little as 25 degrees can make or break a fragile recipe such as custard. If you think the temperature gauge is inaccurate, test it against a little oven thermometer; these handy items are available at many supermarkets and most cooking supply stores. If your oven is off, you can often fix this yourself; many ovens can easily be recalibrated but check the owner's manual to be sure. Otherwise, call a service professional.
Always be gentle when opening and closing the door. Slamming the door will almost always throw off your oven's calibration.
Check the gasket around the door to make sure that it's attached and properly fitted. A loose gasket will allow heat to escape.
Make sure any vents are unobstructed.
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR OVEN
Unless the recipe states otherwise, place your items in the center of the oven, preferably on the center rack where the heat is most consistent.
If baking multiple racks of items, such as cookies, rotate the trays (top to bottom, front to back) for more even baking.
Remember that various materials — glass, metal (light and dark) and ceramic — react differently to heat and will produce varying results.
Avoid opening the oven door unless necessary. It may be tempting, but an open door allows heat to escape.
Cooking is fun -- at least it should be! No matter how long you've been in the kitchen, there is always something new to learn, whether it's a simple twist on an old technique, or a handy tip to save time and energy. In this series of short videos, I demonstrate a variety of kitchen tips, including how to hold a chef's knife for maximum control and using a spoon to peel fresh ginger. If you have any gadgets, kitchen tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment or shoot me an email at noelle.carter@latimes.