New cooking techniques for the oven you already have. From the Home Cook World editorial team.
On the stovetop, gas ranges are known for providing instant heat and precise control of the cooking temperature. Alas, the same is not true for the oven.
Gas ovens don’t heat all that evenly and, because a lot of moisture is released into the air during combustion, they don’t dry out doughs as well or puff them up as much as their electric counterparts do. (So much so that seasoned bakers run from gas ovens like the devil from the swamp.)
To cook evenly in a gas oven, preheat the oven for at least 30 minutes, cook one rack at a time, and turn the trays once or twice to allow even browning of your food.
When you turn on a gas oven, two things happen: First, the gas supply is opened to allow propane or natural gas to flow to the burner. Second, the igniter produces a flame, which heats the air in your oven.
A sensor or thermostat inside the oven monitors the temperature. When the oven reaches the desired temperature, it temporarily turns off the igniter. The temperature drops within a certain range until it drops enough for the sensor or thermostat to turn the igniter back on.
This cycle repeats itself throughout the bake, roast, or broil (in a gas oven, broiling is done in the drawer underneath the oven). Although many of us think that these ovens operate at a constant temperature, in reality their temperature keeps fluctuating by several degrees.
This, of course, can cause your food to not cook evenly in a gas oven. Convection ovens do compensate for these variations with their fan, but this is one feature that gas ovens are not equipped with.
Which begs the question: “How can you cook evenly in a gas oven?”
Preheat the Oven for Long Enough
If you’ve equipped your kitchen with a gas range and you’re having a hard time cooking your food evenly in the oven, you’re probably not preheating it long enough. Preheat for at least 30 minutes and see if that solves your problem.
This works because a well-preheated oven has two sources of heat: the gas flame and the walls. The flame heats the air and creates a continuous flow where the warm air rises and the cool air sinks. The metal floor, walls, and ceiling hold the heat and transfer it to the food through infrared radiation.
Most of us preheat our ovens to the temperature prescribed in the recipe. This is a legitimate technique, no doubt about it, but there is a problem with it: When you open the door to load the oven, heat is inevitably lost—and lots of it!
This will cook your food unevenly in two ways. First, you start at a lower temperature, so doughs won’t puff up as much in the first few minutes, nor will meats brown as well. Second, your oven needs to compensate for heat loss, so it will turn on the ignition and fluctuate the cooking temperature.
Through trial, error, and plenty of stubbornness, I’ve found it better to preheat the oven 25 degrees Fahrenheit higher than what the recipe specifies, and to set the thermostat to the proper setting immediately after loading the food in.
Use One Rack at a Time
It may be tempting to throw all the trays in and cook on several racks at once, especially if you’re preparing food for a gathering of family and friends, but this will only exacerbate the drawbacks of your gas oven.
Bake your doughs and roast your meats and veg in batches so that you can increase or decrease the temperature as needed—or even move the tray to a higher or lower rack. (Hot air rises to the top and cold air sinks to the bottom, so the higher racks will always be hotter than their lower counterparts.)
If your breads and roasts are burning on the surface and you’re worried that they won’t have the time to cook through in the middle, turn the heat down 25 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s better to wait longer for your food to cook than to have it come out with a charred crust and tasting acrid.
Turn the Trays Once or Twice
Gas ovens are notorious for having hot and cold spots. While there is no remedy for this, a good workaround is to turn the trays 90 degrees after a half or a third of the cooking time. It will not improve the heat distribution in the oven, that’s for sure, but at least the food will brown on all sides.
If your baking sheet is too large to turn (for example, a rectangular sheet of a certain size turned 90 degrees may not allow you to close the oven door), or if you’re baking a pizza on a heavy and scorching-hot baking stone, turn the food item itself as long as its consistency allows.
Oil, Wrap, or Score the Food
Simple alterations to your food can compensate for the poor performance of your gas oven.
If the recipe allows, rub cooking oil on meats, vegetables, and baked goods that you prepare in your oven. The oil acts as a protective layer between the surface of the food and the heat of the oven, helping to distribute the heat evenly.
Consider wrapping tender, delicate cuts of meat with lettuce or cabbage leaves. Or cover the meat with a sheet of aluminum foil to protect it from the hot, circulating air when the igniter is on (it’s best to pierce the foil to prevent moisture buildup).
Consider cutting fish fillets into equally-sized pieces, or cutting slashes in the thickest areas an inch apart. Another technique, as described by Serious Eats’ Daniel Gritzer, is to score the thin belly flaps and fold them under the thicker fillets.
Get a Baking Steel
A baking steel is a thick sheet of metal that you put in the oven and preheat for 1 to 1½ hour. The steel holds the heat and evens out the temperature fluctuations, even as the thermostat keeps turning the igniter on and off.
You can bake breads, pizzas, and cookies directly on the steel surface. The high heat will draw out moisture from the dough and cause the gas bubbles in it to expand, making it puffier. Or you can place your baking sheet, casserole dish, cast iron skillet, or Dutch oven on top of it; it will act as a heat diffuser that promotes even cooking.
This is probably one of the most worthwhile investments that owners of gas ranges who bake frequently can make. (Our test kitchen favorite, and the one that we recommend to you, our readers, is the Misen Oven Steel.)