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Heatin' Up Your Gol-Darned Oven

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

Once upon a time, in a kitchen far, far, away . . .

DATELINE: New Orleans.

Folks, I've had a revelation over the past week: all ovens are not created equal. "Duh," you say? Well, here's the deal. I have two other ovens besides my gas/electric KitchenAid oven here in the Big Easy. One of them is a GE electric oven that is older than Methuselah, the second is a ten-year-old gas oven by Wolf. I tested most of my cookbook recipes on either the GE or the Wolf.

Last week, for TV, I made about five batches of cookies here with my New Orleans KitchenAid. They all seemed a little off and/or underdone, compared to the way my same cookie recipes work in my other two ovens. I had to cook each batch longer than usual. Then, two days ago I made my cornbread. Again, it took longer—an extra seven minutes—to finish baking to its usual golden perfection.

I said to myself: what is wrong with this gol-darned oven? (My language was actually a bit more colorful than that.) So, I called up the service folks and they sent a guy out the next day.

Now for the payoff: my New Orleans oven, according to the tech, is similar to the majority of ovens across America. The indicator affirming you are now at the desired setpoint (whatever your indicator might be—a red light that goes off, etc.), is, on average, telling you your oven is heated properly anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes BEFORE it actually reaches the temperature you want it to be.

SO, I was putting my 12 minute cookie recipes (or 25 minute cornbread recipe) in an oven that was at 275°F at the beginning of the bake, not 350°F as intended. So of course everything took longer than the recipe calls for to reach completion.

Why do my other two ovens seem to work more reliably, one might ask? My unproven theories: the GE is just so old that it works the right way, (file under "they don't make 'em like that anymore"), and my Wolf is actually more "honest" about when it actually gets to the setpoint—meaning it takes longer to heat up than my New Orleans KitchenAid but the red light on the Wolf goes off when it really IS at setpoint, rather than trying to fake you out ahead of time.

The tech actually said ovens work this way (faking the setpoint) because manufacturers figure people are too impatient to wait for the real temperature to be reached. Plus, if you're cooking something forgiving like an hour-long casserole or a multiple hour piece of meat, it all works out in the end anyway. Well guess what, that means one's shorter, more sensitive recipes like my epic cookies and my luscious cornbread are going to be all fracked up! Sometimes life's just not fair.

SOLUTION: Get yourself a reliable oven thermometer and keep an eye on it. Failing that, let your oven heat up a full 10 to 15 minutes more after the indicator light goes off before you even think about putting those sensitive shorter-bake recipes into it. I've tested my KitchenAid, and, in reality, it takes an additional 12 minutes longer than it says to get to 350°F!

Of course, there ARE other technical or mechanical reasons your oven might be on the fritz, so this advice is not the beginning and end all for every situation. But that's all for now from my gol-darned New Orleans kitchen. So let the good times roll, and let's "BAKE!"

To kick off your oven pre-heating playlist here's Linda, whose indicator light is already a-flashin'.

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