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How your oven could be ruining your food — and how to fix it

If you’ve ever prepared a dish perfectly, put it in the oven, and opened the stove anticipating a delicious meal, but were ultimately disappointed by the results, this article is for you. There are specific yet preventable and fixable things that happen to ovens that will make them malfunction. The end result of a range that is not working correctly is food that is cooked unevenly. If you continually find your oven-baked food is burnt or undercooked, it may be the oven to blame rather than the operator. Read on to find out if your oven is ruining your food.

woman with burnt baked goods and oven

Some simple causes and solutions

There are many reasons your oven may be underperforming, but starting with the most manageable problems is the best way to figure it out. The first thing to check is if your stove is level by using a carpenter’s level or app on your cellphone. If the oven is not level, adjust the legs until it is straight again. Something as simple as an uneven oven can cause uneven baking.

If you’ve placed a baking sheet or aluminum foil on the bottom of the oven to act as a drip catch, you could’ve created a problem. Putting anything on the bottom of the oven can disrupt the oven’s airflow and create uneven baking. The same applies to overcrowding your oven. Stuffing it with pans will disrupt airflow, and dishes won’t heat properly.

This may seem self-explanatory, but cleaning your oven regularly is an essential part of keeping it in top running condition. Cleaning your oven is not a fun thing to do, but if you keep up on it rather than putting it off for months, it becomes maintenance more than cleaning. If you allow it to get too dirty, not only is cleaning the oven going to be a huge and messy task, but the dirt buildup can prevent the oven from warming thoroughly. The built-up grime will cause the oven to work harder than it needs to and lead to undercooked food. Incorporate oven cleaning in your regular kitchen cleaning routine to avoid this mess.

You can use the self-cleaning function on your oven in-between regular cleanings, but don’t rely on this method alone. The self-cleaning feature is also not meant to be used on heavily-soiled ovens since doing so can cause your house to fill with smoke or cause a fire to start. Also, the self-cleaning process heats your oven as high as it can go for around two hours, which puts a ton of stress on the appliance. Every manufacturer has different recommendations for self-cleaning, but as a general rule, it shouldn’t be used more than once or twice a year.

Problems and solutions

If you’ve given the oven a once-over with both a level and scrub brush and your food is still not cooking correctly, you will have to work a bit harder to remedy the situation. Check out the following list of common problems and their solutions before you go appliance shopping.

Over- or under-cooked food

If your food is coming out under-cooked, you can either increase the heat or raise the bake time. If your food ends up over-cooked, the opposite is necessary; decrease the heat or decrease the bake time. Regardless of the approach you choose, it is best to make adjustments on a case-by-case basis. For example, if you are baking a cake and it looks brown and firm before the bake time is up, take it out. If your cookies look flat and soupy when the oven timer goes off, leave them in longer. Take note of the adjustment for the items you bake, and you’ll be good to go next time you bake.

Food is burnt on the bottom

This is one of the most common oven issues since most oven-heating elements are located on the bottom. If your foods are coming out underdone on top and overdone on the bottom, you can decrease the bake time or lower the temperature. You can also place your food on a higher rack to put more space between the bottom of the food and the heating element. Lining your baking pans with parchment paper will produce lighter food, as will using glass or silicon rather than metal.

Food is burnt on one side

This problem is the trickiest to combat, even though it boils down to the same core issue — poor temperature regulation. There is no way to fix this oven issue permanently, but you can reduce its effects. If your oven has a convection fan, turn it on and see if that helps. Increasing airflow could improve the uneven temperatures in your range. If your oven is still baking unevenly, you’re going to have to rotate your baking pan halfway through cooking. This will require that you pay close attention since spinning too early or too late can worsen your problem.

Once you suss out the source of your oven’s uneven or botched cooking, it should be easy for you to rectify the error. If the issues persist, you might need to bring a professional repair person in, but we’re confident most cooking issues can be solved with a few simple adjustments.

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