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Convection Oven vs. Conventional Oven: Electric Ovens Explained

So I hear you ask, “What’s the difference between a Convection Oven vs Conventional Oven”.  I’ve seen the same question asked with slightly different terminology – Convection Oven vs. Regular Oven.  In the last several years, convection ovens have become more popular and affordable.  And although the terms “convection” and “conventional” look a lot alike in print, in application they couldn’t be more different.  Let’s take a look at the two…

Since there are two different fuel types in ovens – electric and gas – we will discuss the differences in both, as both fuel types function differently in both modes.

Conventional Ovens Explained

An Electric Conventional or Thermal oven is the standard oven most people have used for years.  (Unless you grew up in New York City or L.A. where gas ovens were more prevalent.)  They consist of having a bake and broil element.  In the past these ovens could exhibit a noticeably wide temperature swing while baking cookies because of the mechanical thermostat they used.  The temperature variance could be more than 50 degrees F.  For example, if you had set your oven temperature to 350 degrees F, the temperature would typically go between 325 and 375.  If you put your cookies in at the low end of the swing, your cookies would burn on the bottom.  Most modern ovens available today, from entry level models to premium brands, have electronic thermistors.  These will keep temperature swings to a minimum – some brands will boast a 1 degree F swing!  Pretty impressive!  Beside the temperature management improvement, the only real significant improvement over the years is the development of a hidden bake element.  Although this makes for a clean oven floor, it does add to the preheat time because it takes longer for the heat to transfer through the metal.

The Magic of a Convection Oven

An Electric Convection oven is an entirely different beast.  A typical misconception is that convection ovens will cook food evenly.  This is both true and not true.  Some foods you may want more done on the bottom than the top.  But have no fear!  Most convection ovens offer modes to help accomplish a myriad of baking, broiling, and roasting needs.

As of this writing, I’m not aware of any convection oven that does not also offer Conventional bake and broil oven modes.  So you aren’t sacrificing anything by choosing convection – you’re simply getting convection in addition to regular oven modes.

Convection has everything to do with air movement, so all convection ovens will have a fan located in the back oven wall surrounded by a baffle.  There are TWO things that will distinguish convection ovens when you are comparing.  The first is how many elements there are in the oven.  Entry level models will have the bake and broil element.  If this is the case, you won’t get the benefit of multi-level cooking.  In other words, you won’t get optimal results with two cookie sheets in at the same time on different levels.  You can still use do multi-level cooking, but you will have to move positions of your cookie sheets halfway through to produce an even result.  And you’ll still have the benefit of reduced cooking times and a better result.  Most convection ovens will offer a third element that is usually un-noticeable that surrounds the convection fan and is hidden behind the back baffle.

The second difference hardly ever mentioned by a salesperson is which way is the air flowing?  The best way to direct the air is to pull it back through the center of the baffle and redirect it to the top, bottom, and sides of the oven to the front of the door, and then back again.  This prevents having a “hot spot” directly in front of the convection fan.  I had been selling convection ovens for a few years without ever seeing a demo of one.  I had always told people how even ALL convection ovens were.  Then one night at a sales meeting, I found out how wrong that was!  We baked a Papa Murphy’s pizza on the center rack in convection mode.  (We just got the oven installed and hooked up to power, so we were really excited to use the oven!)  We had the oven light on and the halogen lights showed us easily when the pizza was cooked.  As we pulled the pizza out, we could see the back third of the pizza which was closest to the convection fan was burned.  Uh oh!  I realized then that not all convection ovens were created equal!  If you are in the market for a new convection oven, don’t make the mistake of not knowing which direction the air moves in the oven interior.

Typical Convection oven will offer these modes:

  • Bake
  • Broil
  • Convection
  • Convection Bake
  • Convection Broil

Bake and broil speak for themselves.  Here are standard definitions for the other modes.

Convection – The most common Convection mode in ovens today among premium brands like Miele, Wolf, Dacor, Thermador, etc. is a European-style convection mode.  The oven will operate with the convection fan and an element wrapped around the fan.  It will pull the air in toward the center of the baffle and push it around the walls of the oven.  In this mode you’ll be able to bake up to six racks of cookies at a time!  (Provided you have enough racks.)  In some of the brands, you’ll also be able to bake salmon and brownies at the same time because there will be no flavor transference in THIS MODE ONLY.  Flavors transfer from item to item via the vehicle of moisture.  When the air is circulated as it is in this mode, the moisture is evaporated when it hits the convection element located around the convection fan.

A European style convection mode as described above is the best oven mode for most things and will be used by most people (who understand how it works) 80% or more of the time.

Convection Bake – This oven mode is particularly good when you want a nice crust on your food.  Items like a berry pie, quiche, or pizza with medium or thick crust will benefit from convection bake as the heat source is generally from the bake element ONLY.  As the heat rises, the convection fan moves the air around.  This sets up a nicely done crust on the items mentioned and a browning effect on the top.  NOTE:  Miele calls their European convection mode “Convection Bake”.  This is a reminder that you should always consult your USE & CARE manual before you use your oven to prevent compromised results.

Convection Broil – This mode is great for doing thin cuts of meat that won’t require turning in the broil process.  Examples might be chicken breast, salmon, etc.  Make sure to use a rack in your broil pan to lift the meat off the bottom of the pan to provide for proper air movement.

Some ovens will offer a Convection Roast mode, as well.  This is a single rack mode that will use the broil and bake elements only.  It is for those who want more of a browning effect when doing a turkey or roast.

Knowing how to use the different modes in your oven will produce the best results in the convection vs conventional oven.  And if you can fit the price of a good convection oven into your budget, you will be rewarded nicely!  In our next article we’ll discuss the differences in Convection Oven vs Conventional Oven for gas ovens.

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