A convection oven works to cook foods faster and more evenly than a standard radiant oven. In a radiant oven, hot air moves around the oven box randomly, creating hot and cold spots; that’s why cookies on one side of the pan are getting crispy when those on the other side are barely done. But a convection oven uses a fan to circulate hot air evenly throughout the oven box, eliminating hot and cold spots and cooking food quicker while using lower temperatures to do so.
Think of your oven as a furnace. A furnace produces plenty of heat, but without vents and fans, that heat would meander through your home inefficiently. It could take hours or even days to warm a cold house this way. With a fan and proper venting, the heat is sent throughout the house to warm every room quickly. The fan inside a convection oven is like the fan on your furnace. It increases the speed of heat transfer between the oven and the food. A convection oven heats your food the way a properly connected heater warms your home.
Using a convection oven can save on your utility bills. In fact, you can reduce the temperature and the cooking time for most recipes up to 25 percent. For example, a 14 pound turkey that would normally require 3 and ¾ hours of roasting at 325 degrees Fahrenheit in a radiant oven can be cooked in 2 and ½ hours at 300 degrees Fahrenheit in an average convection oven.
Another way a convection oven can save you time is by allowing more items to be cooked at once. For instance, you would not usually put a sheet of cookies on all three racks in a radiant oven. The sheet on the bottom rack would burn, the cookies on the top wouldn’t be cooked through and the poor cookies on the center rack would suffer from all of the disturbance and uneven heat distribution caused by the cooking sheets above and below them. But the efficient air circulation in a convection oven lets you place food on every rack inside the oven with the confidence to know it will cook evenly.
There are two types of convection ovens, “regular” and “true.” True convection ovens are also referred to as “European” convections or “third-element” convections. The other two heating elements are at the top and bottom of the oven. While all convection ovens have a circulating fan, true convections include a heating element near the fan that pre-heats the air before it’s circulated. Because of this third heating element, true convection ovens are considered to be more efficient than regular convection ovens.
The best convection ovens offer the option to turn off the circulating fan when needed. Radiant heat may be desired when slow-cooking is preferable.
If you have aspirations to be a gourmet or professional cook, or if you regularly cook for large groups of people, the speed and energy efficiency of a convection oven may appeal to you. In addition to energy savings, a convection oven may slightly reduce your food bill. Since food shrinks less in a convection oven you may find you have larger completed portions without actually buying more food. Because there is no flavor transference, you can save time by cooking a peach pie and a filet of salmon at the same time without either item taking on unwanted flavors or smells. If you have a tendency to burn food while cooking, a convection oven may mean fewer wasted efforts and more delicious meals on your table.
Convection ovens are more expensive than radiant ovens, sometimes by several hundreds or even thousands of dollars. They don’t come with cook tops, which means you will need a kitchen large enough to accommodate both an oven and a separate cook top. Expect a learning curve if you switch to convection cooking. Temperatures and cooking times vary and it may take some experimentation before you can cook familiar recipes with confidence. Pans with high sides aren’t recommended for convection cooking because they interfere with the air circulation. You may need to invest in new cookware when switching to a convection oven. You can continue to use parchment paper or foil in a convection oven, but it must be weighted down with a utensil to prevent it from blowing up and around the food and interfering with even cooking.