How to cook with a crappy oven

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Considering hosting Christmas at the cottage? Your oven may not be in the condition it once was (or maybe it was always a bit temperamental), but there are still ways to cook a delicious holiday meal with it. Here’s how to work around its quirks and hold out before you have to go shopping for a new one.

Keep it clean

A clean oven is a better-working oven. If you have a build-up of burnt food, those crusted bits will absorb some of the heat, so that it’s not all directed at what you’re cooking. If your oven is sparkling, it’ll take less time to reach your desired temperature, and your food will taste better, too, since it won’t be absorbing other odours. Plus, no matter how good your oven is, grease residue can always pose a fire hazard.

Adjust your cooking times

Don’t be afraid to veer away from the cooking times that recipes call for. Instead of just watching the clock, pay close attention to how quickly the food is cooking—you may need to pull it out sooner or leave it in longer. It’ll take some experimenting, and you may even need to adjust the temperature as well as the timer as you go.

Rotate your food

If your food is coming out charred on one side and undercooked on the other, you’ll need to do some rotating while it’s cooking to balance it out. And don’t forget that rotating doesn’t just mean flipping. In addition to ensuring both sides of your food are cooked, you should also note whether one side of your oven is hotter than the other. If the food on one side of your baking tray or roasting pan is cooking faster, don’t be afraid to reposition it.

Limit your cooking to one thing at a time

If your oven is struggling to cook evenly, you’re best to limit it to one dish at a time. Otherwise, your oven is going to have to work even harder—and might end up not working at all. As well, you could risk the heat being blocked from circulating by whatever’s on the top or bottom tray (depending on which side of the oven has a stronger heat source).

Keep the door closed

Every time you open that door, you’re letting out heaps of heat and altering the temperature—a temperature that may have taken some time to work up to if your oven is weak. Of course, if you have to rotate items, you’re going to need to open the oven, but limit how often you do it. If you can, just rotate once or twice rather than multiple times, and keep an eye on your food through the window rather than opening the door.

Use the right dishes

Metal trays and pans may be the most traditional, but they’re not necessarily the most efficient. Glass or ceramic baking dishes actually hold the heat better, so your food will cook more thoroughly, even if the temperature is lower than it should be.

Use a cooking stone or baking stone

While baking stones are most commonly used for making pizzas, you could use them for other items—or to just maintain your oven’s temperature. The stones absorb and retain heat extremely well, and just keeping one in the bottom of your oven will help compensate for heat lost due to a poor door seal, heating system, or frequent opening of the door.

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