Are you considering upgrading to a convection oven? Understanding how different settings cook your food is essential to getting the most out of these amazing ovens. Today we’ll be covering the main differences between convection roast vs. bake.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the following:
- What is a convection oven?
- How it works compared to a traditional oven
- The different settings you’ll find on your oven
- “True” convection cooking and how this is used to roast food
- The best foods to use the “bake” setting for
- The best foods to use the “roast” setting for
Sound like an appetizing menu? Let’s open the door and get started.
What is a Convection Oven?
Most homes come equipped with ovens, but not all ovens are created equal. Convection cooking has become increasingly popular over the last 20-30 years due to its versatility and improved results.
A convection oven offers more options than a traditional model – we’ll cover these in detail below. The main benefits of convection cooking are:
- Better roasting capabilities. Browning food in these ovens is extremely easy. This is perfect for cooking large pieces of meat and root vegetables.
- More even distribution of heat. This reduces the risk of hotspots. These are the bane of any home baker’s cookies.
- Faster cooking times. These ovens warm up more quickly than conventional models, and the improved heat distribution allows for all-around faster cooking.
- Versatility. These ovens come with different modes for convection roast vs. bake. This makes it easier for home chefs to achieve the desired results with a huge variety of dishes.
Convection Oven vs. Traditional Oven
So how does convection cooking achieve different results from cooking in a traditional oven? First, let’s cover how traditional ovens cook food.
The conventional model uses heating elements at the top and bottom of the oven. There are 3 options for cooking:
- Using both elements. This tends to produce the evenest results. It cooks the top and bottom of the food simultaneously and is often preferred for baking.
- Using only the top element. This cooks the top of the dish faster than the bottom. It’s preferred for roasting and dishes where you want to obtain a well-cooked, browned surface on the top without overcooking the rest of the dish.
- Using only the bottom element. This is also sometimes used for baking but is most often used for slow-cooking stews and hotpots.
Traditional ovens are great, but one of the main problems they encounter is hotspots. Hotspots occur when one area of the heating element (top or bottom) reaches a higher temperature than the rest. This is usually because of deterioration over time – elements may start heating unevenly.
This is a problem because it causes part of a dish to cook faster than the rest. In cases like cooking meat, this can lead to part of the dish being dried out while the rest is undercooked. This can be dangerous, especially when cooking poultry! On a more pedestrian level, it can also just produce unwanted results, like half the oven’s cookies being slightly overdone while the rest are fine.
So what makes a convection oven different? There are three crucial elements.
Convection ovens use a fan to circulate heat. Heat is provided by upper and lower elements, much like a traditional oven – but the fan reduces the risk of hotspots by ensuring this heat reaches every part of the oven.
Fans typically increase the ambient temperature of an oven, which is why you’ll often see recipes calling for a lower temperature if you’re using a fan oven than if you’re using a traditional model. However, this is easy to adjust to once you get used to it!
Convection ovens also feature an exhaust system. This works in conjunction with the fan to remove cool air from the oven. This is why fan-assisted ovens warm up faster than traditional models; the cool air is quickly replaced by hot air from the heating elements. This is then circulated by the fan.
Additional Heating Element
Some convection ovens feature a third central heating element that contributes to the equal distribution of heat around the oven’s interior. We’ll cover how this element affects convection roast vs. bake below in our section on “true” convection cooking.
Now that we’ve covered the internal makeup of convection ovens, let’s find out more about the settings.
Convection Oven Settings
The most modern, cutting-edge ovens often come with a baffling number of settings. We’d recommend double-checking the manufacturer’s instruction manual and finding out what they say about each setting before using it!
That said, here’s a guide to the most common settings and what they do.
The “roast” setting will typically set the oven to a higher temperature. 400F is a standard roast temperature, although you can alter this manually depending on your roast. Some roasts, such as a prime rib, benefit from starting in a much hotter oven – as high as 550F – before having the temperature reduced significantly or even turned down to zero.
The “roast” setting is typically used for meals that require a substantial amount of browning. This most commonly applies to meat but can apply to almost everything.
Browning is the common term for the Maillard reaction. It describes a change in taste and texture when food reaches a certain temperature and enters a delicate space between “cooked” and “burned.” This space is where many foods taste best, especially meat and root vegetables.
Many convection ovens will apply greater heat from the top when you use the “roast” setting. Heat from above typically causes better browning because it’s where the food is exposed; heat from below is dispersed by the roasting tray. Furthermore, the roasting tray may contain liquids, and it’s impossible to brown ingredients sitting in any non-fatty liquid.
The “bake” setting typically indicates a temperature of around 350F. This is ideal for baking cakes, bread, and pastries. It allows for a more gentle cooking process and doesn’t focus on intensive browning.
Baking isn’t just a setting for pastry chefs, though. Dishes such as lasagna and even some whole oven-baked fish dishes benefit from this gentler setting. It prevents the top from getting too crispy, and it’s also the most appropriate setting for cooking covered stews and hotpots in the oven.
Of course, some baked foods (including lasagna) can benefit from a little browning on the top once they’re cooked through. This is done using the broiler.
Most people will be familiar with the broiler setting, as this is also a feature of most conventional ovens. It produces intense heat from the upper element, resulting in considerable browning to the top of a dish while barely heating the bottom at all.
Broiling is a great way to finish oven-baked dishes and get them to that perfectly desired level of crispiness. We’ll discuss baking and broiling in more detail later.
Non-Convection Cooking in a Convection Oven
Many convection ovens include an option to cook as if using a traditional oven. This means that the fan and exhaust aren’t used at all.
Why does this exist when convection cooking typically produces better results? Well – because sometimes change is hard. Grandmothers know that if you’ve spent 50 years baking cookies a certain way using certain equipment, you can trust what you know.
If you’ve always experienced perfect results cooking a dish using a traditional oven, you might want to stick to the old way for that one dish. You can experiment with new recipes using the convection settings.
Also, some people dislike the extra noise the fan makes. If you have an open-plan kitchen and lounge and you’re entertaining guests or watching TV, you may want to forego the fan-assisted setting for the evening.
The Real Difference Between Convection Roast vs. Bake – “True” Convection Cooking
Some modern convection ovens use an additional element to speed up cooking times and further improve heat distribution. Ovens that heat food using this element are referred to as “true” convection ovens.
This element is typically at the back of the oven near the fan. This allows the fan to circulate very hot air directly from the third element, increasing the oven’s ambient temperature. Along with the exhaust system removing cold air, convection ovens can reach high temperatures very quickly and maintain a very consistent temperature.
This is advantageous for home bakers because it means that when you open the door to check on a dish or adjust it, any heat loss is swiftly recovered once the door is closed. Traditional ovens lose a tremendous amount of heat (and take in cold air) when the door is opened.
True convection cooking is especially helpful for roasting. The high temperatures required to brown food consistently can be achieved and maintained more easily. The improved circulation also means that dishes are browned all over.
The third element may not be required for baking, as the oven’s ambient temperature doesn’t have to be so high.
What to Bake in a Convection Oven
Now that we’ve covered the main differences between convection roast vs. bake, let’s get to the good stuff! Here’s a guide to the best types of food for each setting.
Cakes benefit enormously from even heat distribution. Uneven cooking can lead to one side of a cake being slightly burned on the outside, while the inside may remain soft and gooey on the other.
Better heat distribution also helps the cake cook faster without drying out. Nobody wants a dry sponge – this method cooks the cake through fully without you having to leave it in the oven for so long that it dries out.
One of the joys of homebaked cookies is that, unlike store-bought cookies, they’re slightly irregular. While we love this rustic charm, it should apply only to small variations in the size and shape of the cookies. It shouldn’t apply to how well-cooked they are!
Avoiding hotspots means that you won’t end up with half a tray of well-cooked cookies and a few undercooked cookies on the other side. Another big advantage of convection baking is that it helps cakes and cookies to rise more efficiently as the air circulation helps activate the baking powder.
Lasagna & Pasta Bakes
Lasagna is slightly divisive when it comes to convection roast vs. bake. On the one hand, a bit of browning on top of a lasagna is a wonderful thing. As lasagna is traditionally finished with a liberal coating of Parmigiano Reggiano, you want that to melt and brown to intensify the flavor. However, you don’t want to apply too much heat to the layer of pasta just beneath, as it may become hard and dry.
This is even more true of pasta bakes. Lasagna sheets are flat and support the top layer of béchamel sauce and cheese. Other pasta shapes may let the saucy topping seep through, exposing the top layer of pasta to direct heat and making it unpleasantly crispy.
Baking is typically the best method for heating lasagna and pasta bakes. It cooks the dish thoroughly without making the top layer of pasta crispy. You can then switch the broiler on to rapidly brown the top once the dish is cooked through – this gives you much greater control.
Most bread suits the convection bake vs. roast setting. This is another interesting case – for crunchy loaves, you may prefer the higher heat of roasting. Many bread recipes call for initial high heat and then backing the temperature down. It depends on what you’re making!
As a general rule, the “bake” setting is best for loaves with a softer crust. You can always adjust the heat manually as the recipe demands!
Many stews are finished in the oven. This is often preferable to cooking them for a long time on the stovetop because it reduces the risk of a charred ring on the bottom of the pot where the flame is applied. Using the convection bake setting helps you cook your stew to perfection without charring the base.
While most large cuts of meat are more suited to convection roast vs. bake, some recipes like pulled pork call for wrapping the meat in parchment and cooking it low and slow. The “bake” setting is much better for this.
Baked fish may suit this setting. This helps it reach the desired temperature without drying out or charring. This is especially true for whole fish with the skin on.
What to Roast in a Convection Oven
Large cuts of meat suit the convection roast vs. bake setting, but it has other uses, too! Here are some of the best.
Chicken & Turkey
When roasting a whole chicken or turkey, there’s nothing better than seeing that crispy brown skin on top when you take it out. The convection roast setting lets you brown the top of the bird thoroughly and evenly – you’ll also get crispy skin on the thighs and drumsticks due to the better heat distribution.
Large cuts of beef, such as a prime rib, are made for the convection roast setting. You may even wish to crank the temperature higher than the conventional 400F to roast beef – this caramelizes the fat quickly and creates glorious beef dripping. You can then turn the temperature down once the meat is thoroughly browned to ensure a beautiful, tender, pink interior.
Cooking pork with the skin on requires high heat. The skin should be thoroughly crisped, and the fat beneath rendered before the temperature is lowered to keep the pork succulent. Even skinless pork joints are best roasted; melting the fat helps keep the meat moist.
Potatoes, Parsnips & Carrots
Everyone’s favorite seasonal roasted vegetables are perfect for the convection roast option. Preheating the roasting dish and fat is a great tip – this means your veg will be caramelizing from the moment it enters the oven.
The higher temperatures you can reach with a convection oven ensure that the outside of your roast vegetables will become brown and crispy while the insides remain fluffy and tender. As convection ovens heat faster than regular ovens, this makes it easier to roast vegetables after you take the meat (e.g. a chicken or beef joint) out of the oven to rest.
Roasted brussels sprouts with bacon are a vast improvement over boiled or steamed sprouts. Other green vegetables can also be deliciously browned using the convection roast setting – broccoli is a great option, and charred cauliflower is wonderful.
Convection Roast vs. Bake – The Lowdown
Convection cooking simply makes your oven more versatile. It makes it easier to use, too. The standard roast and bake settings are great for amateur chefs learning the best temperatures for cooking different dishes, and you can always adjust the heat up or down manually.
Convection ovens make hotspots a thing of the past and can improve your results for roasted and baked goods across the board. For specifics, check the manufacturer’s instructions to understand exactly what temperatures your oven cooks at. After that, it’s time to open your recipe book and get creative!