Almost everybody has the setting on their oven these days. But almost nobody knows what it is or how to use it. So maybe you, too, have wondered—what’s cooking with convection?
Convection cooking uses a fan in addition to the “regular” or conventional radiant heating elements at the top and/or bottom of your oven. The fan makes the heat more effective, because air blowing across food is more efficient at conducting heat.
Here’s why that’s a good thing.
1. Convection cooks faster.
Because it’s more efficient, convection cooking happens faster. These Cumin-Roasted Potatoes, for example, are ready in 20 minutes instead of 30. Yay for less time between prep and eating!
2. Convection cooks more evenly.
If you’ve ever made 3 sheet pans of cookies at the same time, only to end up with one that’s overdone, one that’s underdone, and one that’s just right, you know that your oven doesn’t heat evenly. It has hot and cold spots, which means you have to periodically move your sheet pans around to compensate.
But using convection moves the air around, evening out those spots so you don’t have to.
I’ve saved the best for last. Because even better than the convenience-oriented benefits above, convection cooking has a flavor benefit—browning. And as maybe you’ve heard me say before, browning helps things taste goooood.
Imagine, for example, the flavor of boiled potatoes versus roasted ones. Big roasty toasty difference, right? And convection, with that fan working for you, adds even more of that difference.
Another thing that nicely browned foods have—and convection cooked foods even more so—is texture. Those browned bits add crunch, which adds interest. In Cumin-Roasted Potatoes, for example, crunch on the outside contrasts deliciously with the creamy interior.
Does this mean you should never boil a potato? (Or a chicken breast or a fish fillet or whatever?) Not at all. But if you’re going for yummy browning, convection is the best way to get it.
When to convect with caution
Because of that blowing, foods that rise a lot and/or foods that are delicate aren’t good candidates for convection. A souffle, for example, might not rise well and/or the fan might blow the top into a lopsided shape. The same goes for cakes, especially light and airy ones like angel food.
Custards might also come out lopsided.
Because convection cooks more quickly and is more conducive to browning, be careful using it for something that already has a relatively short cooking time and/or something that already gets plenty brown. Nuts, for example.
Also proceed with caution on some cookies and quickbreads. With some recipes you’ll get great results—including better rising and better texture—but you have to experiment and see what works for your recipes in particular.
How to convert “regular” cooking to convection?
Easy! The rule of thumb is to reduce the temperature by 25°F and the cooking time by 1/4 to 1/3.
So, for example, a recipe that calls for 45 minutes at 450°F would cook at 425°F on convection and you should start checking for doneness at 30 minutes.
And a turkey that cooks for, say, 3 hours at 375°F? On convection at 350°F, that turkey will be ready in as soon as 2 hours. And chances are it’ll be juicier on the inside and crispier on the outside. Big difference all around.
One of my favorite ways to use convection…
…is for roasted vegetables. Cumin-Roasted Potatoes, yes, but also for roasted vegetable medleys.
Because the oven heats faster, by the time I’ve chopped up my first batch of veggies—the most dense ones that’ll take the longest, like carrots or potatoes—it’s time to pop them in the oven. Then by the time I’ve chopped up the next ones—ones that don’t need as much time, like onions or bell peppers—it’s pretty much time to add them to the first batch. And by the time I’ve cleaned up my cutting board and mixing bowl, everything is almost done!
Even better, my roasted vegetables are perfectly tender on the inside and beautifully browned and crisp on the outside. All because of convection.
Bottom line, that convection setting is a very good thing. You just have to get in there and start using it, seeing for yourself what it can do. In the process, you’ll discover a new tool for making better, more delicious things to eat.
And that’s what it’s all about, right?
Some recipes that would be good candidates for convection cooking:
Cumin-Roasted Potatoes, natch
Pizza with Salami, Mozzarella, and Fresh Herbs (pizza is GREAT on convection)