A Guide on How Electric Ovens work
Regardless of the type of oven (or cooker) involved, the basic principles are the same.All ovens will use elements to provide the necessary heat. An element is a thin gauge of wire in a spherical shape, or a thicker piece of wire which is then covered by a coating of powder, finished off by a metal outer.
Depending on the model type, an oven is basically made up by:
- Lower base element
- Fan element
- Side elements
- Grill element
Most of these elements are reliable but occasionally you may find that you have a ‘hot spot’ where the insulation is a bit thin or perhaps the inner wire could be too close to the outer sleeve. If this fault is present, you will notice it more or less straightaway and you should contact your manufacturer for a replacement.
You will be pleased to know that if you have a problem with an element and you are out of your Warranty period, as long as you know the make and model of your appliance, you should have no problem sourcing a replacement.
Controlling heat in the oven
In normal domestic ovens, the heat produced by the elements is controlled by a thermostat. As with all things, the quality of the thermostat is really controlled by the cost of the oven itself. It stands to reason, the more you can afford, the better the quality of all parts, but particularly the thermostat. It is considered fairly acceptable if the temperature fluctuates between +/- 10-15%.
There is really only one to understand how accurate your new oven is, and that is by trial and error. Try out a couple of your normal dishes and you should soon be able to tell if your oven is operating as you would like. You may have to either adjust the cooking time or the temperature to get the best results.
If a thermostat is faulty you may have a situation where the oven temperature just continues to rise, but thankfully most modern appliances are equipped with a safety device that will come into operation. You will be aware of this if you are unable to get any heat from the oven or that the heat is switched off earlier than you expected. As with elements, replacement thermostats are wide available, just remember to quote the make and model of your oven.
It is a common misconception that most ovens are more or less the same, and the difference in price is generally driven by the look and fancy shiny finish. Although there could be an element of truth in this, there are some really basic quality issues you should be looking for when you are purchasing an oven.
You should check that there is a good quality of insulation included in the manufacture of the oven. If you only have thin insulation, you are likely to lose heat from your oven during cooking, causing your food to be cooked poorly and probably not cooked all the way through. You also could run the risk of heat escaping and heating the outside of the oven so that you could burn yourself. Extremely dangerous at the best of times, but more especially if you have children or animals who could be harmed.
You should also check that the door closes snugly, that the seal is a good quality and undamaged, and also that the hinges are of a good quality. If the door does not fit properly in the showroom, it will only get worse once you have it fitted into your kitchen. A poor door seal will only make the problems with thin insulation much worse.
Regardless of your budget, you should buy as well as you can. The cost is not always the only criteria for quality, and it is recommended that you carry out as much research as possible before you part with your cash. Always go to a reputable supplier, be it online or on the high street.
If you are considering buying online, it would still be a good idea to have a look round your local showroom when you have narrowed down your search, to actually physically check out the points raised above.
As mentioned earlier, there are a few different options available to choose from with ovens these days. These include:
Conventional (or Static) Cooking
The configurations of this type of oven is that you will have an element in the base plus a further element in the top of the oven, which will commonly act as the grill as well.
When switched on, both elements come on and once the thermostat detects the oven has reached its required temperature, the elements will cool off. During cooking, when the temperature dips below the required level, the elements will come back on. This is designed to ensure an even temperature during cooking.
Even if you have selected a multi-functional oven, conventional cooking is very often available, as it is deemed to be very good for slow roasting etc.
Bear in mind that as heat rises, the hottest part of the cavity will be at the top. You will notice that a lot of recipes recommend that you place your food in the middle part of a pre-heated oven. This is because the temperature in the centre of the oven will be the most constant.
You will note that either in recipes or on pre-packaged foods, they recommend the oven is pre-heated. This is because the timings quoted start from when the oven has reached the optimum temperature.
The most common type of ovens available on the market these days is the Fan oven, either in built-in options or free standing ovens. You should be aware though than not all fan ovens are the same, and there will be wide variances in performances.
The basic principle is there is a fan in the back of the cavity, and is encircled by an element – some of which will glow bright red. The fan runs and cools the element, whilst forcing the hot air around the oven. You may see an alternative name for this type of appliance, which is forced air cooking.
If you have chosen your particular model well, the temperature in the oven will remain steady. However, as with the description of thermostats earlier in this article, the accuracy of temperature control can vary either way by up to 15%. You will need to get to know your oven, and if you find that your cooking is not quite right, try changing the timing and/or the temperature until you find the best way to control the heat and get the best out of your oven.
Some cooking problems, however, can be caused by not selecting the correct cooking function for whatever it is you are cooking. It is probably worthwhile spending some time going through the manufacturer’s handbook and work through the recommendations they provide.
If you still have problems, try going online and checking for further advice and you should soon get the hang of this type of cooking.
One very good option available on most fan ovens, is the defrost mode – generally identified by a picture of a snowflake. This is a better option than defrosting in a microwave as it does not heat the food to defrost, so is a much better result.
Although they have tried to make these ovens sound very futuristic and complicated, all it generally means is that the oven offers you various ways of cooking, including:
- Lower heat only – this is ideal for cooking such thing as flans and pizzas as the base is cooked well but the topping stays moist
- Upper heating only or grill function – if you have purchased a continental oven you may be disappointed with the speed of the grill, as this is not a common practice across Europe. Also, not all grills are infra-red. If grilling is one of your favourite methods of cooking, you should check the quality of the grill before selecting an oven
- Upper heat with fan – if you have this option it will speed up the grilling process but may take a little while to get used to!Fan only – as detailed in the fan oven section
- Fan with upper and lower heat – this is generally a more gentle way of conventional cooking and you may well have to adjust either cooking time or temperature, or both, until you get used to using this method.
- Fan with all elements – this is generally only available on the most expensive ovens. It brings on the rear, upper and lower elements in one go, but will need plenty of practice as it is really quite fierce. It is, however, a very useful way of heating your oven to the correct temperature in the quickest way.