What is a convection oven? Why hot air makes a difference

Cookies in a convection oven.
Convection ovens are best for cookies, pastries, roasted chicken and vegetables, or any dish that’s covered like casseroles or braised beef. Ladislav Kubeš/Getty Images

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Convection ovens have built-in fans and the two heating elements standard for conventional ovens.
  • A convection oven distributes heat more evenly while cooking or baking.
  • Convection ovens are ideal for baking cookies or pastries, or cooking anything in a covered dish.
  • Visit Insider’s Home & Kitchen Reference library for more stories.

While you can find an oven in every kitchen, convection ovens are not necessarily as common. And even if you do have a convection setting on your oven at home, you may have no idea what to do with it. Using a convection oven is not as intimidating as it seems, and cooking with it can enhance a number of dishes.

“A convection oven is basically the oven that tries a little harder with less effort,” says chef, restaurateur, and Fat Pastor Productions owner Shawn Niles. “The biggest difference is that a convection oven relies on a fan to move the heat around the oven, along with an exhaust system to send that old air out.”

A convection oven can assist with cooking and baking dishes quicker and more evenly, enhancing the texture along the way.

How does a convection oven work?

Though they are quite similar, conventional ovens and convection ovens work differently. “A typical oven has two heating elements – one on the top and one on the bottom,” says Niles. “A convection oven introduces a fan.” That fan is built in to circulate air, making sure there is good airflow while the oven is on.

According to Niles, because of the airflow that creates such an even heat distribution, it also provides faster cooking times, as well as a drier environment that can improve texture for some dishes. And another bonus? Items placed on the top rack and the bottom rack will cook or bake at the same even temperature and within the same time, which means no more rotating halfway through.

Types of convection ovens

Inside an oven with a convection mode.
The two main types of convection ovens are European and American. Daniil Dubov/Getty Images

There are two main types of convection ovens. The “traditional” American convection has the two heating elements, plus a fan to distribute heat evenly. A European convection oven, or “true” convection oven, has an additional heating element, for a total of three, along with the fan. This additional heating element blows heated air, which can result in even better heat distribution. Though a European convection oven offers better heat distribution, they are far more expensive due to that extra heating element. Traditional convection ovens are typically more common to find in U.S. kitchens.

What to cook in a convection oven

While convection ovens are great for cooking a huge variety of dishes, they’re not ideal for everything. “Think about your intended outcome,” Niles advises. “Are you looking for something that is crispy, light, or fluffy? Then convection is the way to go.”

A convection oven can produce perfectly roasted chicken and vegetables, or you can put anything in a convection oven that’s covered, such as casseroles or braised beef. If you’re baking, you can use a convection oven for treats such as cookies, pies, and croissants to help them bake more evenly.

But, if you want to keep a dish from losing moisture, skip the convection oven. “Stay away from the convection oven for flan, custard, soufflés, and cakes – anything that should be moist when you bite into it,” says Niles.

How to care for a convection oven

It’s important to clean a convection oven, just as you do a regular oven. But Niles says it’s most important to clean up any grease in a convection oven immediately. “Don’t let it build up, because that grease could get into your fan,” he says. A build-up of grease makes it more difficult to clean an oven, ultimately shortening the life of the appliance.

To clean a convection oven, you can utilize the self-clean function if it has the option. Otherwise, Niles suggests avoiding cleaning with chemicals and using a mixture of water, vinegar, and baking soda instead. Scrub the oven with a sponge, and then use a damp cloth for a second rinse.

Insider’s takeaway

Many modern ovens now have a convection oven setting. The convection oven brings a fan into the mix to increase airflow and create even heat distribution while baking or cooking. Using a convection oven is great for baked goods such as cookies, pastries, and pies rather than cakes, and it can be utilized for many savory dishes such as roasted chicken, vegetables, casseroles, and other covered dishes.

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