The Mighty Oven Thermometer

How many of you can say you have the time or the money to think about calibrating your oven? It’s one of those things TV chefs we love toss out there like it’s a thing of nothing—a must do for any cook. Sort of like the suggestion one chef made that every home cook should have an entire drawer dedicated to different types of parchment paper. We’ll let them stay in the mists of anonymity along with their suggestion.

Even if you think it’s a good idea, just how do you go about calibrating a possibly faulty oven? Just run on down to the… to the what? The where? What is the exact title given to an oven calibrator? I’m sure when you buy a very expensive appliance this information comes along with it, built into the warranty, but for those of us whose ovens came with the space, it’s a more nebulous world. With the Internet at my fingertips I’m not even going to look this up, because I know I won’t do anything about it. Actually I did look it up and the answers made me sleepy.

Basically, if what you’re making is going into the oven, then oven temperature is the most important factor when it comes to recipe success. Until I bought an oven thermometer and understood exactly what was going on in that dark space after the door closed; I had no idea why some recipes failed. For years I put it down to untested recipes. Sometimes that is the case, but… when my mother bought a thermometer and the mystery of why everything that went into her oven came out burnt to a crisp was solved I had a revelation. Her oven ran fifty degrees hot. That’s a lot. Within five minutes of entering the oven things would start to smoke if not catch fire. Everything was burnt on the outside and raw in the middle. And though the oven hasn’t been fixed we now know to dial everything down to accommodate the situation, and things cook just fine (sort of).

Buying a thermometer for my oven revealed that in spite of a door that has never shut properly, the temperature on the dial is exactly the temperature inside the oven. Lucky me. Or lucky you, because if my oven is wrong then I’m giving other people the wrong cooking temperatures and times, and since this isn’t a site dedicated to April Fool’s gags…

So, at this expensive time of year it’s nice to be able to say that something is cheap, and they are—less than five dollars at most grocery stores. As we head deeper into the holidays, a time when ovens are burning bright around the world, buy one. Save yourself some stress, disappointed party guests and a trash full of ruined food.

And hey, if the recipe still fails, at the very least you’ll know it wasn’t the oven. That’s something…?