Culinary Arts

What Is a Convection Oven? How to Use Convection Heat With Oven-Baked Sweet Potatoes Recipe

Written by MasterClass

May 24, 2019 • 3 min read

Do you ever find yourself wondering how something so simple–say a roast chicken or dinner roll–can taste unbelievably better at a restaurant? Well, with all credit due to culinary professionals, there’s a manufactured element that should be brought to your attention: meet the convection oven. It’s a kitchen hack that keeps breast meat juicy while the skin crisps perfectly, and pastries pillowy with a slight crunch on the outer layer, but before you start shopping to switch out your conventional oven (confusing, right?), read on to see why this heat source is a staple in the restaurant industry–and how you can get in on the action at home.

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What Is a Convection Oven?

A true convection oven–whether gas or electric–is coveted for one little reason that affects the cooking process almost entirely: a built-in convection fan. Circulating hot air onto food–as opposed to heating around it–decreases time spent in the oven by typically 25 to 30 percent. It’s the direct contact that makes the difference when browning meats and baking doughs, resulting in a more interesting end product for the most part. You can credit the exhaust function with reducing moisture content for a more even bake.

What Is Convection Heat?

Here’s where the physics of it meets technique: “convection” requires motion to move the heat (think of the airflow circulating around a roasting pan) while “conduction” indicates direct contact with the source (such as a saucepan on an electric stove). “Radiation” completes the trio of common heat transfer with electromagnetic waves (like the way a toaster uses red coils to cook the bread). Now you can quiz your friends on the three types of heat transfer at the next cocktail party.

What Is the Difference Between a Conventional and Convection Oven?

The third heating element (blowing hot air) distinguishes a convection from the typical bake bottom rack and broil top rack of a conventional (also known as “thermal”) oven. Some conventional ovens often have a convection feature available to turn on and off. Check your oven’s manufacturing instructions to change the cooking chamber.

Does a Microwave or Toaster Have Convection Settings?

Microwave ovens have fans in addition to other heating elements, but if you want to go mini while maintaining consistency, a convection toaster oven is ideal. The idea of “convection” can also be observed in the action of thawing frozen food under running water instead of sitting it in still water. (You’ll notice it speeds up the process.) Convection heat is common outside of kitchen appliances, too, and can be seen swirling over bodies of water, supporting the ascent of a hot air balloon, and even in the formation of volcanoes.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Convection Cooking

In general, convention cooking is ideal for baking pastries evenly on all sides, caramelizing vegetables and starches, keeping crusts firm during long bakes, ramping up the cooking time on quickbreads, and increasing the energy efficient capabilities of your oven while reducing hot spots. These highlights notwithstanding, it is a different system compared to a conventional oven, so important conversions must be made. It might not be worth it to flip the switch if you have an existing recipe that already gives you the exact result desired.

Step-by-Step Guide: How to Cook With the Convection Oven

  • Depending on the type of oven, switch to the convection setting and allow to fully heat
  • If necessary, reduce the heat noted for a regular oven to the lower temperature differences required for conventional ovens (usually by 25ºF or 15ºC)
  • Use baking and roasting pans with low sides to allow movement of air as the air rises
  • Secure loose parchment paper or foil by weighing it down with metal cutlery on top
  • Check wall ovens using the interior light instead of opening the door so hot air does not escape
  • Don’t overcrowd the convection oven but do check to see if you need to rotate the pans during the bake

Convection Oven Sweet Potato Fries Recipes

Ingredient Checklist

Serves 3

Take advantage of the convection oven’s crisping capabilities to cook restaurant-worthy fries at home. Feel free to increase the seasonings for more spice!

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (or melted coconut oil)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (or paprika)
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  1. Heat the convection oven to 375ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the cut sweet potatoes in oil. Once fully coated, toss with ½ teaspoon salt, the garlic powder, cayenne, and black pepper.
  3. Spread the sweet potatoes onto the baking sheet without overcrowding. Bake for 15 minutes, then use a spatula to flip the fries and rotate the pan. Continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until crisp.
  4. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt over top. Use the spatula to toss the fries in the salt once more. Serve hot.