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Oven Settings...posted in by Kathy Maister
posted in...by Jerry Drew
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Have you ever tried to cook frozen French fries in the oven without preheating the
oven? The directions often say preheat to 425 degrees.

That can take 15 to 20 minutes. So, after 10 minutes, you lose your patience and
in the oven they go. Big mistake! Your French fries take forever to get crispy!
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Today I’m going to talk about “conventional” oven settings. (Look out for
“convection” and “microwaving” in future posts.)

There are many recipes for making fish, chicken, nachos, etc., that will say bake
and others that say broil as a method of cooking. Do not confuse them. These are
two very different ways to prepare food. With “baking” you always have to start with
preheating the oven.

Preheating
Preheating an oven is essential or you will throw off the cooking times. All cooking
times are based on a preheated oven unless otherwise stated in the recipe.
Luckily, when most (modern) ovens reach their desired temperature, they beep at
you, or a light goes on or off. You then know it is OK to put food in the oven and
start the timer.

Conventional ovens all have several settings. In addition to preheat, there is bake,
broil, self-clean (if you are lucky!) and some ovens even have a ‘warming drawer.’

Before turning the oven on, make sure the oven racks are in the desired position. It’
s easier to move the racks in a cold oven; you are less likely to get burned that
way! Baking is usually done in the middle of the oven. Broiling (see below) is
usually done closer to the top of the oven.

Bake
Baking is used to cook things like chicken, potatoes, fish, stews, cookies and
cakes. Food gets cooked from the outside in. (Unlike a microwave which causes
food molecules to vibrate, creating friction that heats and cooks the food in all
directions at once.) You check for “done-ness” by examining the internal
temperatures, for example by sticking an oven thermometer into the food. (Look
out for additional posts on how to check for “done-ness” of various foods.)

Broil
Broiling means to cook food (like steaks, hamburgers, chicken breasts) under very
direct heat. With a gas oven, you actually see a flame. An electric oven has coils
directly above the food. My oven insists the door be closed for the broil to work.
Some ovens you have to leave the door open. The oven manual should tell you
what works with your oven.

Obviously, the closer you are to the heat source - the higher the heat. If you have
positioned the racks too close to the broiler, your steak may get burned on the
outside and still be raw on the inside. Many recipes will tell you how far away from
the broiler you should be.

You can also broil things on an outdoor grill over charcoal or some other heat
source. I have been to many barbeques but I have never actually done any
outdoor grilling myself! We live in a condominium and don’t do outdoors very well!
(I’ll get a friend to do a guest post on outdoor cooking.)

Warming Drawer
As noted above, your oven may have a warming drawer. If you are having a dinner
party, this is a great place to keep the food warm while waiting for your guests to
arrive. The food is kept warm at a very low temperature. As I don’t actually use it
very often, I store cooking equipment in my warming drawer.

I hope this brief introduction to conventional oven settings was helpful. Let me
know if you have other questions.

Cheers!
"Gourmet 101" - Tips & Techniques
JANUARY 2010 EDITION - Updated Weekly