What Is Convection Cooking and When Should You Use It?

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

Convection ovens are similar to conventional ovens—but they have an extra fan to distribute hot air throughout the oven. If you've purchased a new oven or range, chances are you have a convection setting―and chances are you've never used it. (Many newer oven models have this added function, and most allow for turning it on and off when you choose—check your oven's manual.)

As with various features touted by appliance manufacturers, the convection feature seems highly appealing until you realize you have no idea how to use it. Since convection cooking is rarely mentioned in recipes or cookbooks, let us help clear things up. Below, we define convection cooking, what a convection oven is, and whether this setting makes a difference in your final product.

What Is Convection Cooking?

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 food cooked with convection will cook about 25 percent faster than food cooked on your oven's conventional bake setting.

In addition to saving time, this makes convection cooking slightly more energy-efficient. For this reason, most appliance manufacturers recommend reducing a recipe's temperature by 25 degrees when cooking with convection (check your oven's manual) to avoid burning your food.

Convection vs. Conventional Ovens

The main difference between convection and conventional ovens is that convection ovens have an added fan and exhaust system, while traditional ovens do not. Conventional ovens have top and bottom heating elements to cook food. The fan in convection ovens allows air to be evenly distributed in the oven and around your food.

Benefits of Convection Ovens

Convection cooking helps promote browning for roasted meat, poultry, baked potatoes, meatballs, sheet-pan vegetables, and more.

"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," Schneider adds. "The exterior of a roast will have perfectly even browning while the interior will remain tender."

Fun fact: Air fryers are actually mini convection ovens. Like a full-size convection oven, the fan inside air fryers circulates hot air around the fryer basket, giving your cauliflower or sweet potato fries that deep-fried-like crispness we love.

When to Skip the Convection Setting

Though the convection setting is a great option when 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 loaves of bread, custards, and other baked goods) can come out dry and unevenly baked. Sometimes cookies or cakes 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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