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Everything You Need to Know about Convection Ovens & Air Fryers

Everything You Need to Know about Convection Ovens & Air Fryers

In 1945, the W.L. Maxson Corporation released the Maxson Whirlwind Oven. Unlike conventional ovens, the Maxson's oven used fans to evenly heat the entire cooking space. Maxson sold the oven as a complement to their line of frozen foods, the Maxson Sky Plate. The food never caught on, but the technology behind it continued to expand. Convection ovens became a common feature in restaurants, bakeries, and other commercial kitchens. Cooks loved them because they cooked food faster and more evenly than conventional ovens. Now convection technology has begun to spread into the home market as well. You can find it in convection ovens and air fryers all over the country. Why are they suddenly so popular? Why are convection ovens so much better than conventional ones?

Convection Ovens vs. Conventional Ovens

Convection ovens cook food by rapidly circulating hot air. Conventional ovens, or thermal ovens, are heated by a gas burner or electrical coil at the bottom of the oven that releases infrared heat radiation. The radiation heats the air and the air transfers that heat into your food through the process of natural convection. As the air nearest the heating element is warmed by the infrared radiation, it expands and rises, forcing the cooler, denser air above it to sink down and take it's place. The draw back of this technique is that it creates pockets of cool air inside the oven. Because warm air rises, it accumulates at the top of the oven. It also remains warm near the bottom, close to the heating elements. In between is a layer of cool air, sometimes as much 30 degrees cooler than the air around it. This layer of cold air make it difficult to cook food on multiple trays in your oven. The food nearest the top and bottom tends to cook faster than the food in the middle, which means it will either be overdone or it will have to be moved from one layer to another during the cooking process. This is also why meat dishes such as roasts or turkeys are brown on the top but not the bottom when you cook them.

Why People Love Convection Ovens

A convection oven works along similar principles as a conventional thermal oven, except it augments the burners or electric coils with a fan that blows the hot air around the oven to make sure it cooks evenly. This is known as "assisted convection" or "forced convection."

Forced convection prevents layers of cool air from forming inside the cooking space. It creates a uniform heat that cooks food evenly from all sides. This means foods cooked on multiple trays - cookies, biscuits, pizzas - don't have to be flipped or rotated or moved from a higher to a lower shelf in order to create an even texture. It means meat dishes brown faster, which seals in their moisture and juices, and eliminates the need for constant basting.

Air movement also increases the heat transfer rate between the air and your food. Heat transfer occurs whenever a hot medium encounters a cool medium and continues until both mediums are in equilibrium. This is precisely what happens in your oven. The hot air from the burners comes into contact with your food and transfers heat to it. Circulating the air speeds up this process. By forcing the air to move over the surface of your food, it creates a continuous transfer of heat and prevent cool air from hanging around your food as it cooks, reducing cooking times by approximately 25 percent. Butter releases steam faster, fatty meats render faster, and vegetables caramelize faster, sealing in moisture and creating deep flavors.

True Convection

Not all convection ovens are created equal. In order to get the best air flow, the fan should be mounted on a baffle connected to the rear wall of the oven. A baffle is a panel that redirects air flow. Instead of blowing air into the oven, fans work best when they pull air in and force it back out through the baffle wall. This distributes the air evenly throughout the oven rather than blowing it out in one place and creating a warm zone in the center of your oven.

The best convection ovens have an additional heating element built into the fan or located behind it in order to heat the air as it passes through the baffle and back out into the oven. Ovens with this feature are referred to a "true convection ovens," "third-element convection ovens," or "European convection ovens." They ensure all the air in the oven is heated evenly before its distributed. They're the most efficient and powerful convection ovens on the market.

Tips for Cooking With Convection Ovens

If you're using a convection oven to cook traditional recipes, ones formulated for a conventional thermal oven, you'll need to reduce the cooking time by 25 percent or reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent overcooking your food. Always remember to use shallow baking pans. Large pans with high edges obstruct air flow and prevent food from cooking evenly. If you're cooking meat, keep in mind that it will brown faster in a convection oven, which may make it harder to determine when the food has cooked all the way through, so have a meat thermometer handy so you can periodically check the food's internal temperature to see when it's done. If you're using parchment paper on your pans or cooking trays, secure the corners with pie weights to prevent the fan from blowing the paper up over your food.

Everything You Need to Know about Convection Ovens & Air Fryers

Not all recipes are improved by forced convection. Recipes that require you to cover your food won't cook any faster in a convection oven than they will in a conventional oven. Air movement may also damage rising foods like souffle, cupcakes, muffins, or angel food cake. For these foods, you'll have to shut off the fan and cook them conventionally.

Air Fryers: Countertop Convection Ovens

Air fryers are countertop convection ovens. Food is placed into a food basket and slid into the air fryer. Activated the fryer sends power to a stainlesssteel heating coil above the basket. As it heats up, a fan up above it starts pushing air down through the basket and over the heating coil. The newly heated air passed over your food then gets forced back up the sides of the basket when it hits the bottom of the pan. The air follows the contours of the food inside, transferring heat to the food just as efficiently as a convection oven. Air fryers are compact enough to fit on your kitchen counter and their small size means the heat inside is more concentrated. They cook food as effectively as true convection ovens and can cook as wide a range of foods as a full sized oven.

Foods You Can Cook With An Air Fryer

MeatballsFrench FriesGreen Curry NoodlesRoast Potatoes
CalamariWantonsFried ChickenTwice Baked Potatoes
MeatloafPost StickersPot StickersPotato Risotto
Salmon Pigs in a BlanketSpring RollsPotato Chips
HamburgersZucchini FrittersOnion RingsApple Chips

Hot air fryers are particular popular for their ability to fry foods without oil. The intensity of the heat crisps the outside of the food, while the rapid air movement pulls oil away from food as its released during the cooking process. The oil gets pulled away from the food and drawn down into the bottom of the pan by the downward forced of the fan. The result is crispy, delicious food without any of the additional calories that come from oil frying. 

Air fryers are even gentle enough to make desserts, such as souffles, cakes, cupcakes, and muffins.

Final Thoughts

The Maxson Whirlwind Oven was the start of a new wave of cooking technology that's vastly improved the way we make food. It whisked away all the problems with conventional ovens. Everyone's wants a convection over and air fryer in their kitchen because they make it possible to cook food faster and more efficiently than ever before.


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