You may set your oven to 350F, but is it really 350F inside? This is really important to know because ovens can vary a lot, even new ones! If it is +/- 25F or more it is going to have a big impact on your baking. You don’t want to end up with burnt baked goods when you have followed the recipe exactly! That is frustrating, I have been there. Some of my previous apartment rentals have had ovens that were older than I was or were just way off, by about 50F! I of course realized this after setting off the fire alarm one time while baking something. Yes, even I have set off fire alarms while baking. It happens. The best way to prevent that is to check your oven temperature!
The easiest way to check is to get an oven thermometer. They are under $10 and can be found almost anywhere (Amazon, Walmart, Target, etc.). You could potentially get away with a meat thermometer for grilling that you leave in the meat attached to a thermocouple, but might be a bit tricky. The best way would be to get actual thermocouples that are used for oven temperature profiles, but that would be expensive. Below is a good procedure to follow to check your oven temperature:
- Place the oven thermometer in the middle of the rack that is in the middle position
- Check that the thermometer is reading close to your room temperature to make sure it is working properly.
- Close your oven and set to 350F.
- Once the oven beeps indicating that it has preheated, check the temperature. The best way would be to turn the oven light on and read the temperature without opening the oven. Once you open the oven you are going to drop the oven temperature.
- If the temperature has still not reached 350F, wait 10 minutes and check again. Repeat 2 more times if necessary
- If you have waited 30 minutes past the preheat point and it is +/- more than 25F you should contact someone to have your oven calibrated, or just account for it when you are baking. For example, if you set your oven to 350F and it is only heating up to 325F, then try to set it to 375F and see if it heats up to 350F. This should be tested with the thermometer before baking anything, because ovens can be off at lower temperatures but more accurate at higher temperatures. Or you can adjust your baking times accordingly by increasing or decreasing the time it is in the oven.
If you would like, you can repeat these steps at 250F and 400F to make sure those temperatures are accurate as well. Again, sometimes an oven can be accurate at 400F but not 350F. Another thing to test would be the different rack positions. If it is not heating up to 350F in the middle position, try to lower the rack to see if you can get to 350F. If you can, then consider doing your baking on that lower rack position.
The last thing you can test for is uniformity across the rack. You can do this by moving the oven thermometer to each of the 4 corners and checking the temperature of each spot after the oven heats up to 350, but that is a little time consuming. Another way would be to get an Infrared Thermometer Gun and test different spots on your baking sheet. Place a baking sheet in the oven on the middle rack and set the oven to 350F. After the oven has preheated, wait an additional 10 minutes. Then open the oven and quickly test the temperature of the middle and 4 corners of the baking sheet to see if you find any variation. If you don’t have any thermometers, you can do an old school test with cheap slices of bread.
Bread Slice Test:
- Place 6 pieces of bread directly on the oven rack. Spread them out evenly so they cover the area where a baking sheet would typically be
- Turn the oven on to 350F
- Once the oven has preheated, check the bread and see if it has started to brown.
- If the bread has browned a lot, take them out and place on a baking sheet in the same order that they were in the oven. If not, bake an additional 10 minutes and check again
- Once the slices are out of the oven, observe if there are spots that have browned more than others. Take note of this, and you can take a picture for reference.
As you can see, when I did the test in my oven there is a small hot spot in the back center of my rack. If you do have any hot spots, you can address this by rotating your baked goods while they are cooking, or consider investing in quality baking sheets/pans that will bake more evenly. You can also make sure the oven is level. Place a level on the racks and see if you need to adjust the feet to make the oven level. A level oven can help improve uniformity. If there are still major hot spots consider having your oven calibrated.
It is a good idea to check your oven temperature every year to make sure it is still working properly! If it has any issues, get it calibrated!