Having an oven that heats to the correct temperature is important for properly cooking foods. If your oven runs hot or cold, it can lead to undercooked or overcooked dishes. So how do you know if your oven temperature is accurate? Here are some tips.
Use an oven thermometer
The best way to test your oven’s temperature accuracy is with an oven thermometer. These handy devices are inexpensive (usually $5 to $10) and widely available. To use one:
- Preheat your oven to the desired temperature (350°F, 425°F etc.) according to your oven’s display.
- Place the oven thermometer on the center rack and close the oven door.
- Allow your oven and thermometer to preheat for at least 15-20 minutes before checking the thermometer’s reading.
- Compare the oven thermometer reading to your oven’s set temperature. They should be within 25°F of each other.
If the thermometer and your oven’s displayed temperature vary by more than 25°F, your oven likely needs adjustment. Contact the manufacturer or a technician to properly calibrate it.
Monitor cooking times
You can also test your oven’s accuracy by paying attention to cooking times for recipes you make frequently. If dishes are taking longer to cook than the recipe states, your oven may run cool. If food is ready earlier than expected, your oven could run hot. The general rule of thumb is:
- Food cooking too slowly – Oven runs 25°F cooler than set temperature
- Food cooking too quickly – Oven runs 25°F hotter than set temperature
While useful, this method isn’t as precise as using an oven thermometer. But combined with the thermometer test, it can give you a good idea of your oven’s temperature accuracy.
Watch for hot and cold spots
If you notice that foods bake and brown unevenly in your oven, that’s a sign that you have hot and cold spots. Your oven may heat to the correct overall temperature, but improper air circulation can create these unevenly heated zones.
To find hot and cold spots, do a visual test:
- Heat your empty oven to 350°F.
- Once preheated, quickly sprinkle the racks with an even coating of flour.
- Watch the flour as it bakes for 2-3 minutes. Areas that bake to a darker brown color faster indicate hot spots. Pale sections signal cold zones.
If the flour bakes unevenly, contact the manufacturer about adjusting your oven so it heats properly. Avoid hot spots when baking delicate custards and soufflés. Place frozen pizzas and biscuits near cold spots so they bake through.
Know when to recalibrate
Even new ovens can be off by 25-50°F right out of the box. And every oven’s accuracy will drift over time with normal kitchen use. Recommendations for recalibration include:
- Every 1-2 years for newer ovens
- Every 6 months if you do a lot of baking/cooking
- Immediately if you notice temperature discrepancies
You should also recalibrate immediately after repairing or replacing any oven part like the thermostat, heating element or control board. Contact the manufacturer or look in your owner’s manual for instructions on how to recalibrate your model.
Adjust your cooking as needed
Until you can get your oven professionally calibrated, you may need to adjust your cooking temperature and times to account for inaccuracies. Here are some tips:
- If your oven runs hot, lower the set temp by 25°F. For a cake recipe calling for 350°F, bake at 325°F instead.
- For an oven that runs cool, increase the temp by 25°F. Bake that same cake at 375°F.
- Expect to add 5-15 minutes to the bake time in a slow oven.
- Watch food closely in a fast oven and reduce baking time by 5-10 minutes.
You’ll get to know exactly how much to adjust the more you cook. Taking notes will help you remember what worked for different dishes.
Maintain your oven properly
To keep your oven heating accurately over time:
- Self-clean the oven regularly to burn off residue.
- Visually inspect the oven seal and replace if worn or damaged.
- Don’t line oven bottom with foil; it can block airflow.
- Keep the bake element free of built up grease and food spills.
- Have a technician replace aging oven parts like heating elements.
Replace a malfunctioning oven
If your oven continues to heat improperly even after troubleshooting and recalibration, it may be time to replace it. Warning signs include:
- Temperature swings of 50°F or more from set point
- Burned or undercooked food no matter what you try
- Elements, fans or controls that fail to work at all
- Not heating above a certain temperature, like 350°F
- Technician says parts can’t be fixed or aren’t available
For major malfunctions, repair costs can exceed the price of a new oven. The average lifespan is 10-15 years for a range/oven. Newer ovens also offer improved temperature accuracy and precision cooking options.
An oven that doesn’t heat properly can lead to ruined dishes and frustration in the kitchen. Thankfully, there are easy methods to test your oven’s accuracy yourself using an inexpensive thermometer. Pay attention to cooking times and check for hot and cold spots as well. Recalibrate when needed and adjust your cooking temps and times accordingly. With a little extra care and awareness, you can ensure your oven bakes as perfectly as the recipe intended.
|Oven Issue||Possible Cause||Solution|
|Oven heats 25°F or more above set temp||Faulty thermostat or temperature sensor||Recalibrate oven or replace thermostat|
|Oven heats 25°F or more below set temp||Weak or broken heating element||Replace heating element|
|Uneven baking/hot & cold spots||Poor airflow and circulation||Adjust oven baffles and fans|
|Oven doesn’t heat above a certain temp||Worn out heating element||Replace heating element|