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Home on the Range

The most commonly misunderstood aspect of oven operation that we encounter in the field is oven temperature regulation. We find that many of our customers mistakenly believe that when they set their oven to cook at, say, 350ºF, that the oven will bake at exactly 350ºF for the duration of the cook. In fact, this is rarely the case.

The actual sequence of operation is this:

When the oven is initially turned on and set at the target bake temperature, again say 350ºF for illustrative purposes, the oven will fire the bake burner or energize the bake element until the thermostat senses that the oven temperature has overshot the target temperature by as much as 80ºF in some models. At this point, the thermostat will turn off the bake burner or de-energize the bake element until the oven cools to a temperature below the target temperature, again by as much as 80ºF in some models. The end result is that the oven cooks at an average temperature of 350ºF (again, in this example).

The better, higher-end ovens will have tighter deviations from the target temperature but the basic operation is the same: all ovens achieve the target temperature by and average of the temperature fluctuations above and below the target.

"But," you may ask, "if that's true, why does that cheap oven thermometer I bought at the hardware store read 350ºF when I set the oven to 350ºF?" Or, "How come it now says it's 425ºF in the oven when I set it to 350ºF?" The answer is that the oven thermometers that you place in the oven are, by design, slow to react to temperature variations in the oven so you are, in effect, reading an average temperature on your hardware-store thermometer. The other possibilities are that your thermometer is showing you an erroneous reading or that your oven thermostat calibration has actually changed. Many people don't realize that it requires a sophisticated thermocouple instrument to measure temperature accurately and precisely. If your oven thermostat seems to be out of calibration, don't despair--most thermostats can be recalibrated and adjusted.

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