Baking Basic 101 Series: Is Your Oven Lying to You? Test to Find Out

I take baking seriously, so when my oven is lying to me, I do not take that lightly and I have to do something about it. It never crossed my mind before that what I am seeing outside the digital oven reading could be not the same as the temperature inside. Yes, call me naive, call me ignorant but that’s what happen when you are just starting to get into baking. Of course that was years ago (almost 10 years now). Luckily, after some failed dry, slightly burnt recipe, I stumble into a post about oven calibration. It clicked to me, that maybe one of the reason why I sometimes ended up with a dry cake or burnt muffin is my oven temperature settings (among other reason). On that day, I bought an oven thermometer, tested my oven and once and for all settled the issue. Incorrect oven calibration is a serious matter that you should not neglect. Whatever method you decide to use, bottom line, have it tested. Face the truth and deal with it. I tested my oven 2x, the first was few years ago, and the 2nd one was just this week which was the perfect timing to share my testing result in this post. I had my oven igniter changed, and I knew I had to do the calibration test again because I feel that my oven was hotter than it should be. Today’s post is about few simple ways to test if your oven temperature reading inside and outside is telling you the correct temperature.

While I had been baking for awhile now, Sometimes, I still feel like a beginner. There is always so much to learn to refresh my memory or just to brush up my skills. I’ve decided to share with you my baking learning journey, and I hope this will benefit you as much as it helped me. I had been meaning to create more baking basics series but I had always been side track with recipe and travel post. I’ll be documenting things that I had learned and will share with you my experiences in baking, baking basics is not just my journey, it is our journey to making ourselves a better baker, especially if you cannot afford to go to a culinary school for whatever reason. I started on my own, learned everything on my own by reading and researching, by watching videos and by listening to advice and feedback. I feel it’s time to give back and share what I’ve learned. Let get started with something that we should first be doing before we go deep in the discussion of baking basics. I feel that anybody who wants to learn baking should know how to check the oven temperature as it could make or break the result of the baked product.

Today’s Lesson: Testing Your Oven Temperature Reading

Is Your Oven Calibrated Properly?

When it comes to baking, even a slightest variation in ingredients measurement and oven temperature could affect the final product. This is why the first thing that you need to check is your oven calibration. Is it calibrated properly? When the reading shows 350F, is it really 350F inside the oven? More often than not, you will be surprised to find out that the oven inside temperature is either off by +/- 25, which is huge difference. Imagine baking a recipe that calls for 350F, and it turned out your oven inside temperature is 325F or 375, that could be a disaster to the bake products. Either you will end up with an underbake or overbaked product. I was surprised myself when I tested my oven, it turned out that my current setting is actually higher by 25F, so when I set it to 350F, it is actually 375 inside. Talking about a recipe failure, sometimes we blame the recipe thinking that we followed the exact measurement and baking time not knowing that our oven temperature could be one culprit (among others). I did not know about oven calibration until I stumble in a post long time ago which made me curious to test my oven. I had done this once before, and I just recently did it again after I had my oven igniter changed. I urge you to do the same, test your oven. There is no harm but more benefit in doing it.

Oven reading outside says 375F, inside it was 400F

How to Check If Your Oven Is Not Calibrated Properly

Common Simple Method: Use Oven Thermometer

This for me is the simplest easy way for me to check if my oven temperature inside is the same as what shows in the digital oven clock outside. This is how you do it.

  • Place thermometer in the center of the oven – This is most often the position occupied by the pan, but it is not unusual that the oven will have a more hot shot and not so hot area.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (or 180 Celsius). – I find that a lot of post also recommend this temperature, I think because most baked products are baked at this temperature. When the oven alarm sound, give it another 3 minutes before comparing the inside and outside reading.
  • Compare: Compare the inside temperature (without opening the door) to the reading outside the digital clock of the oven. If the thermometer isn’t at 350F, you’ll know how far off it is in which direction. Some people recommended getting a reading at 20 – 30 minutes interval for at least 1 – 2 hours and getting the average. You can do that too, but I prefer the simple one reading.
    • This worked well if the oven glass window is clear without stain, this way you can see through the reading without opening the oven door. Opening the oven door to check the temperature is not recommended as it will drop the temperature reading.
    • I read that some oven doesn’t have a glass window, which definitely makes this method not applicable.

My Result: I recently changed my oven igniter, after the change my oven pre-heat in just 3 minutes now. But with this changed, I noticed that it became hotter than before which makes sense. I test my oven using this method, my oven shows it was high by 25F! That is a huge variance.

Sugar and Aluminum Foil Method

If you do not have an oven thermometer, or you have the same issues mentioned above then you can try a more interesting method. I actually did this and I was surprised with the result. In fact, although this is more time consuming, I find it entertaining and amusing.

  1. Preheat oven to 356F degrees.
  2. Make two small cups out of aluminum foil and place a spoonful of granulated white sugar in each.
  3. Sample 1 at 365F: When the oven is ready, put one packet of sugar in for 15 minutes, then remove.
  4. Sample 2 at 374F: Increase the oven temperature to 374F degrees. Once the oven has reached 374 degrees, place the second packet of sugar in the oven for 15 minutes, then remove.
  5. Results: If the first sample stays white and the second melts and turns brown, congratulations, your oven is properly calibrated.
    • Oven Too Cool: If both samples stay white, you’re oven is running too cool.
    • Oven Too Hot: If both are brown, then it’s running too hot.

My Result: As expected, it matched with the result of the thermometer test. The both my samples turned brown which confirmed that my oven was too hot. For me this means relying more in my oven thermometer more than the digital reading outside. I tried to find my oven manual, unfortunately I cannot find it. I am on the process of checking the online manual for my oven model to find out how to calibrate it properly.

Two samples of sugar melted and turned brown.

The Science Behind This Method

Regular sugar is extracted from either sugar cane or sugar beets. Sugar when heated will breakdown and decompose and will undergo cameralization. The melting point os sugar is at 367F/186C which is in between the initial test temperature (356F/180F) and second test 374F. If your oven is below 350F when it says 350F outside, the sugar will not melt and even after increasing it, it might not melt it enough to caramelize it if it doesn’t reach at least 367F.

How to Calibrated Oven Properly

If you do not have a problem with the calibration, Congratulations, no extra work needed and you can happily start baking. If you do have oven calibration problem, I suggest check the manual of your oven. I do not want to give a step by step guide here because the details will vary a bit depending on the type and model of oven you have. Check the owner’s manual that will give you a step-by-step guide for your particular oven, or search online if you do not have it anymore. If you still have the warranty, you could probably call for someone to do it for you.

Bottom Line

Checking if your oven was calibrated properly is not a nice to have, it is a MUST that you should do, however you choose to do it. Incorrect oven calibration could affect the outcome of your bake products. Too hot and it can easily dry out or burn the baked products, and not enough heat can make the baked products dense and under baked. If you have other method to test your oven calibration, then feel free to do that. Do not be restricted to what I mentioned here, this is not something written on the stone. What works for me may not work for you. Take this post as a motivation to test your oven calibration and make it a priority in your to do list.


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