To be a better cook, it’s important to understand the science behind what you’re doing. That’s why we wanted to delve into an oven’s inner workings a little more.
What’s really happening when you bake something? What exactly is convection baking? And how does broiling differ from baking?
Let’s talk it through.
Baking is the cooking method you probably use most often when you’re using your oven, whether you’re baking brownies or roasting a Thanksgiving turkey.
When you’re baking something, you’re using radiant heat, convective heat and conductive heat. Radiant heat is heat that’s transferred to your food through infrared radiation. When this radiation encounters your food, it heats up from the outside in, as moisture is steadily dissipated.
But no need to conjure images of an x-ray machine at the doctor’s office. In this case, radiation is just one way heat energy travels, and doesn’t mean you have to bust out a protective lead vest every time you cook dinner.
Conductive heat is also in play. That’s heat that’s absorbed through physical contact. In this case, we’re talking about the tray that your food is sitting on. The radiant heat is absorbed by that tray, and conducts heat to your food through direct contact with it.
Convective heat relies on the power of fluids or gasses – in this case hot air to transfer heat to your food. That’s really all “convection” means.
In convection baking, a convection fan circulates the hot air inside of your oven, which results in more even heat distribution, and food cooking more evenly and more quickly than it would without a convection fan. That’s why recipes for convection ovens tend to call for a lower temperature and a few minutes off the cook time, compared to recipes for non-convection ovens.
Really, the best time to use convection baking is all the time because it does the job (the job of making food tasty and edible) better and faster.
When you broil, you’re using very powerful radiant heat from your oven’s top heating element. This high heat strikes the top of your food and does all sorts of wonderful Maillard Reactions, like caramelize a glaze or brown the top of a steak.
Another good way to understand this is to think about what happens to you during a day on the beach without sunscreen. The sun beats down on you, and you end up a little crispy. The same thing happens when you broil a chicken breast.
The good news is crispy, browned, caramelized food is a lot better than a sunburn, so keep broiling!
We hope this helps you feel a little savvier next time you cook and helps you enjoy even better food!