If you own a newer oven or a higher-end oven model, it’s more than likely that there’s a button labeled “convection” or “convection mode” on there. And there’s also a high likelihood that you’ve never used the button. Because a lot of folks don’t know what convection is.
But the convection setting is awesome, especially with the right recipe or dish. Here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about convection baking and roasting.
What Is a Convection Oven?
Convection ovens are the original air fryers. If you own an air fryer, you know that it’s a direct heat source with a fan behind it, blowing hot air at the food. Convection ovens have a similar principle, where there is a fan in the oven that circulates the heat, albeit at a less powerful speed than an air fryer.
Most ovens have a heating element on the top of the oven, and a heating element on the bottom. The top heating element is used for broiling, while the bottom element is what usually heats the entire oven when you use it for anything other than broiling. With convection ovens, there’s a fan in the back of the oven that turns on, which circulates the air around the inside of the oven cavity. This air circulation eliminates hot and cold spots in the oven. Consistent heating and hot air circulating throughout the oven means food is cooked faster and more evenly. No more overcooking one part of the dish while you wait for the other part to finish reaching temperature.
How Convection Works
Convection tends to cook food faster and more efficiently. This is because placing a cold or room temperature item in a hot oven takes a while for the heat of the oven to penetrate into the food. As the heat hits the food, the colder food actually cools the immediate surrounding air around it. Still air is not a great conductor of heat, and the oven has to work longer to heat up the air that has cooled to cook the food.
But convection speeds up this process by blowing heated air at the food. The surrounding air might have cooled down by the food, but it’s immediately replaced by heated air with the convection fan. This continual blowing of heated air means food cooks quicker and more evenly.
European Vs. True Convection
But hold up! There are actually more types of convection out there than just “convection.” If you are shopping around for a new oven, you might see phrases like “convection” or “European convection” or “true convection” as a feature. These aren’t just marketing terms. They mean something.
Typically, if the oven is labeled as just a “convection” oven, it is an American-style or traditional-style convection. The heat is radiating from the bottom (and sometimes the top) with a fan in the back blowing air, just as I described above.
With “European convection” or “True convection,” a third heating element behind the fan in the back is added into the mix. This third element of heat ensures an even, more consistent heating throughout the oven. With actual heat blowing in from the back, as opposed to just air being moved around, ovens preheat faster and stay at a more reliably consistent temperature while cooking the food, even more consistent than an American-style convection oven. Of course, this third heating element usually also means more money which is why you usually only find European/True convection in higher-end models.
Convection Baking Vs. Convection Roasting
Finally, some ovens have the option for “convection baking” and “convection roasting” on their control panel. There’s no industry standard for what these buttons mean. But convection baking usually means the bottom heating element is primarily used to heat up the oven, though the top heating element is also used occasionally to regulate the heat. Often the fan is also slower, creating a more gentle air flow than if you use the convection roasting option. Convection baking, as the name implies, is a more suitable option for baked goods like cookies, cakes and brownies. If you regular bake batches of cookies without convection but are tired of rotating your pans halfway through because the cookies aren’t baking consistently on the pans, try using the convection baking option and see if that makes a difference.
The convection roasting option uses both the top and the bottom heating element, usually in equal amounts, and frequently a faster fan to help circulate the heat throughout the oven. It’s a great option for roasting vegetables or proteins like whole chicken or beef roasts. The top element heat ensures the food will caramelize beautifully, giving you that Instagram-worthy roast chicken or golden-brown potato wedges. It is not suitable for most baked goods, as they’ll dry out faster due to the more consistent heat from the top element and the air circulation.
How to Use Convection Settings
When you use convection settings, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Because convection is more efficient at cooking food, it’s usually recommended to reduce the oven temperature by 25°F when you use the convection setting. Know that some oven models actually do this automatically. So, if you press the convection button and set it to 350°F (about 180°C), the oven will preheat the oven to 325°F (162°C). Other models don’t automatically adjust and expect the user to do the adjustment themselves. With those models, 350°F is always 350°F regardless of the mode you select. Check your oven manual to see if your oven auto-adjusts or use an oven thermometer to see what the temperature is when you use the convection setting.
- Convection also cooks up to 25 percent faster, so make sure to check your food earlier than the recommended cook time, even if you reduce the temperature. For example, if the recommended time to roast a chicken is 1 hour, start checking the chicken at 45 minutes, then adjust the cook time accordingly.
- Finally, convection works best if you use a pan that has lower rims. Baking sheets and cast-iron skillets are great because they have low rims, and the hot air can easily flow around the food. Elevating the food on a wire rack (like a roast chicken or a prime rib) is even better, as the hot air can potentially flow under the protein as well browning all sides at once.
Disadvantages of Convection Ovens
Convection ovens sound great, but they do have their drawbacks.
- Adjustments to recipes: The vast majority of recipes are not designed for convection ovens. And because convection works faster, food might cook on the outside faster than the inside, which is why you need to adjust the temperature and cooking time.
- Drier baked goods: Food also dries out faster in a convection oven, which is often not ideal for baked goods. With all these adjustments, the first time you make the dish with convection might require more active time and constant checking of the food.
- Noise: Convection ovens do require a fan, which can make noise, though more modern and higher end ovens have insulated doors that muffle the sounds.
- Cost: Most convections ovens tend to cost more than traditional ovens.
What Foods Are Best Cooked in a Convection Oven
The convection option is awesome, but it’s not for everything. It excels in browning food, cooking quickly, and is great for food that do better in a drier environment, as the hot air evaporates moisture faster. Use the convection mode for things like:
- Roasting vegetables or meats. Because convection evaporates moisture, dishes like roast chicken, turkey or roasted potatoes are great with convection as it will help promote the golden crispy skin and surface. Roast vegetables and large hunks of meat like prime rib also benefit from the convection as well.
- Sheet pan meals: The low-profile sheet pan allows the hot air to flow over it, cooking the food faster. However, be wary of fast-cooking proteins like fish or lean meats like pork, as convection can dry them out quickly. But sheet pan chicken with asparagus and potatoes or sheet pan sausage with roasted pepper and onions would be great with convection cooking.
- Multiple pans of cookies: The circulated air and heat in the oven makes baking multiple pans easier, as you don’t need to rotate the pans. That said, keep in mind your cookies might be more crisp and dry if you use the convection option. This might be great for crispy biscotti cookies, but less ideal for chewy chocolate chip cookies. And avoid baking delicate cookies like macarons in convection, as the blowing air can damage the macaron shell before it sets.
- Toasting nuts and drying out bread: The hot air will help dry and crisp nuts and bread slices to make breadcrumbs or stuffing cubes. Just be aware that lightweight items like coconut flakes might blow around with the hot air, depending on the power of the fan.
- Reheating food: Much like an air fryer, reheating fried chicken, French fries or onion rings is great in convection. Even leftover pizza is a great reheated in convection.
- Casseroles with lids: Using convection will cook the food faster and the lid will prevent the moisture from escaping, getting your meal from oven to table faster.
When Not to Use Convection
Though convection sounds awesome, there are time when I don’t use convection. It dries out food because the hot air evaporates the moisture in the food. I try to avoid using convection for things like:
- Most baked goods. Even with convection baking, I find that baked goods like chewy cookies, brownies and cakes tend to dry out quickly. But I also tend to bake on one rack with one sheet pan at a time. If I were baking double batches of items, on multiple racks, maybe I’d use the convection baking option more.
- Delicate dishes: Anything that needs gentle heat, like a souffle or batch of macaron shells, shouldn’t be used in a convection as the air might ruin the persnickety dish.
- Lean and quick cook proteins: I avoid fish, pork and other quick-cook or lean proteins in the convection oven. The blowing air will dry out the meat and fish too quickly.
- Moisture-dependent dishes: Anything that might dry out, from casseroles (without a lid) to custards like cheesecake and flan, shouldn’t be cooked with convection.
- New recipes: Finally, because most recipes are developed and designed for regular oven temperatures, when I’m trying out a new recipe, I usually try to make it as intended. Once I’m familiar with the recipe, I’ll maybe play around with it, and if it’s one that I think is suitable for convection I’ll try it out. But I always hesitate to try out a brand new recipe with convection (unless it’s specifically designed for it) because if the recipe comes out horrible, I won’t know if it’s the recipe’s fault, or because I tried to make it using the convection.
Though it can sound daunting at first, I highly recommend trying out the convection option. A great place to start is to peruse our sheet pan meals or roast chicken recipes. Who knows, maybe you’ll find a new favorite meal that can be cooked faster and tastier, all with a simple push of the button.