What Is Convection Cooking, and When Should You Use It Over Regular Roasting or Baking?

Try it a few times. You just might become a fan.

roasted chicken cooked in a convection oven
Photo: Getty Images

If you've purchased a new oven or range in the past several decades, chances are you have a convection setting―and chances are you've never used it. As with other special features touted by appliance manufacturers, the feature seems highly appealing until you realize you have no idea if or how you should be using it. Understandably so: Convection cooking is rarely mentioned in recipes or cookbooks. If you've ever wondered what exactly is a convection oven and whether or not using the setting makes a difference in your final product, this should help clear things up.

What is convection?

Activating the convection setting on your oven kicks on an interior fan and exhaust system that circulates hot air around your food. This causes the heat inside the oven to be drier and more evenly distributed, so dishes cooked with convection will cook about 25 percent faster than those on your oven's conventional bake setting. In addition to saving time, this makes convection cooking slightly more energy-efficient. Also, for this reason, most appliance manufacturers recommend reducing a recipe's temperature by 25 F when cooking with convection (check your oven's manual) to avoid burning your food.

Convection cooking also helps promote browning for roasted meats, poultry, baked potatoes, meatballs, sheet pan vegetables, and so on. "Thanks to the delivery of steady heat and even air circulation, 'hot spots' do not exist in the oven in convection cooking," explains Nancy Schneider, a home economist for Miele. "Rotating trays essentially becomes a thing of the past, and the constant flow of air allows for the heat in the cavity of the oven to blanket the food and cook it more quickly than conventional ovens. The exterior of a roast will have perfectly even browning while the interior will remain tender."

Fun fact: Air fryers are actually just mini convection ovens. Just like your full-size oven, the convection fan inside air fryers circulates hot air around the fryer basket, which is what gives your cauliflower or sweet potato fries that fried-like crispness. Now you know!

When shouldn't you use convection?

Though the convection setting is a great option when you're roasting, we're less impressed with the results when baking desserts and other delicate dishes. Because the fan blows air around the inside of the oven, moist foods prone to shifting or splattering (like quick breads, custards, and other baked goods) can come out dry and unevenly baked. Sometimes cookies or cakes will show a "sand drift" pattern from the moving air. Use the regular setting for these types of treats. Their shorter bake times make the time-saving aspect of the convection setting less enticing, anyway.

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