Most retail stores are packed to the brim with handy countertop kitchen appliances, designed to make your life simpler. Some offer the promise of easy cooking, others emphasize small portions, while low power consumption and faster meals are selling points for others. For example tabletop convection ovens can cook casseroles, pizzas, small roasts or even a chicken quickly and efficiently, but you'll need to make a few adjustments in your usual cooking techniques.
Test your existing pans and casserole dishes to see which ones fit comfortably inside the convection oven. You'll need at least one to two inches of clearance on all sides for the air to circulate, otherwise the convection function won't work. Buy new pans if necessary.
Place a rack in the convection oven's lowest position, and measure from the rack to the heating element at the top. Your foods should come no closer than one inch from the element, and ideally two inches or more. This determines how large a bird or roast you can cook.
Reduce your cooking temperature by 20 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, then check the browning and internal temperature of your foods a few minutes before you normally would. Increase or decrease the temperature as needed until your roasts or casseroles cook in the correct length of time.
Tent the surface of a roast or chicken with foil, if you find that it browns too rapidly in your convection oven. The convection fan blows the foil around if it's unsecured, so pin it in place with a pair of toothpicks. For casseroles, cover the whole dish with foil and crimp it over the handles to keep the foil in place.
Monitor the cooking pattern of your specific oven. Some cook more quickly at the back than the front, and many have a noticeable "hot spot" directly in front of the fan. Plan to turn your baking dish, or protect the food with a well-placed piece of foil, if necessary.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- Fine Cooking: Better Cooking Through Convection
- Good-quality countertop ovens often come with a temperature probe and can cook your roast until the probe reaches the internal temperature you set. This is more convenient than using an instant-read thermometer, because you won't need to open the oven to test your roast. Small countertop ovens lose most of their heat when the door is opened, prolonging your cooking time.
- The rapid browning caused by convection cooking can make it difficult to judge doneness by appearance. Until you become accustomed to your new oven, use a meat thermometer or instant-read thermometer to ensure that your foods come the recommended food safe temperature.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. In previous careers, he sold insurance and mutual funds, and was a longtime retailer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.