Why Every Home Cook Needs an Oven Thermometer—and How to Use One the Right Way


Bread underbaked? Pizza burned to a crisp? If only determining the temperature in your oven was as easy as pie—then actually baking a pie might be a piece of cake. But getting the oven to the temperature your recipe needs is not as simple as turning it on. The reason? By design, ovens do not maintain constant temperatures—they fluctuate. And speaking of fluctuation: Opening the door to the oven almost instantly causes the temperature to drop and every appliance has hot and cool spots.

So, how can you accurately determine the temperature of your oven? An oven thermometer, a standalone reader that sits in the appliance’s cavity, can help. First, however, you need to understand how ovens work—then decide which thermometer is right for you.

How Ovens Work 

An oven is a tool that exposes materials to a hot environment. The oven contains a hollow chamber and provides a means of heating the chamber in a controlled way. Ovens have been in use since ancient times in different forms and techniques.

Ovens have been used to achieve a wide variety of tasks requiring controlled heating. Ovens are of many different types like toasters, electric, and microwave ovens and are used for various purposes. Ovens differ depending on their use and based upon how they generate heat.

Cooking is a basic need of humans, and it can be achieved using various ways. Cooking requires heat to cook the food. The heat is generated from open fire cooking, gas stove, and heating elements in ovens.

Ovens’ internal thermostats turn the heating element on and off, which is why their temperature fluctuates up and down in cycles—quite like a sine wave, explains Tim Robinson, vice president of marketing at thermometer makers Thermoworks. Suppose you set your oven to 350 degrees: It will maintain that temperature by heating the oven beyond that point (say, to 370 degrees) and then turning off the heating element and letting the oven cool—to around 330 degrees—before turning on the heating element again to re-start the cycle, he says.

Why You Need an Oven Thermometer

When you cook a roast, the most efficient way to tell if it has reached the required temperature is to insert a probe thermometer into the meat. Baking (or cooking anything besidesmeat, for that matter) is different. You need to know the precise temperature of the oven, not the internal temperature of the bread, pie, or cake you are baking. Using an oven thermometer to understand the actual performance of your oven allows you to bake more precisely and consistently.

Types of Oven Thermometers—Including Which Are Best

Now that you understand why an oven thermometer is an essential tool in your baking arsenal, we’re here to tell you that not all oven thermometers are the same. Some are much easier to use and more accurate (and know how to get that “average” temperature!) to boot.

The Square DOT oven alarm thermometer, released last year, the ThermoWorks Square DOT; borrowing part of its name from its popular DOT Simple Alarm Thermometer.

1. Most Accurate: Square Dot Oven Alarm Thermometer

Most Accurate: Square Dot Oven Alarm Thermometer

The ThermoWorks Square DOT has two separate channels for two different probes, with one of the channels featuring an air temperature average function.

The first channel of the Square DOT acts as a regular alarm thermometer. The second channel of the Square DOT can act the same as the first one, but it’s got an interesting new feature called “average mode”.

In the Square DOT’s average mode, an average air temperature over the past 15 minutes is displayed once a set target temperature is reached. It is a revolving measure, so the Square DOT should give you real time updates if temperature fluctuations are causing changes in the average, but it should be much easier to interpret than just a single real time measurement that constantly fluctuates in most home ovens.

2. Less Accurate: Digital Thermometer

Any digital thermometer that records a minimum and a maximum reading will also allow you to determine the average temperature—but you’ll need to do the calculations yourself. Leave the oven on for several cycles; then, average the recorded high and low temperatures and compare that to your set temperature to see your offset.

3. Least Accurate: Dial Thermometer

Old-fashioned dial thermometers, such as the CDN oven thermometer or the CDN High Heat oven thermometer are inexpensive, but require you to peer through the oven’s glass door to read the dial. And if you open the oven door? That lets the hot air out and changes the oven’s performance even more. These tools can also be difficult to read, with the reading changing by as much as 5 degrees depending on how you look at it. They are also very slow and significantly less accurate than digital thermometers—and, even worse, fall out of calibration all the time, Robinson says.

If you’re going to use a non-digital dial oven thermometer, you should place it in the center of the oven in clear line of sight from the oven window and do your best to watch and capture the highest and lowest temperatures of the cycle to take your average.

4. Cooper Stainless Steel Bi-Metal Oven Thermometer

The Cooper-Atkins is a mighty giant when it comes to oven thermometers. It includes both Celsius and Fahrenheit readings and FDA HACCP references for cooking guidelines right on the face. The range is 50 to 300 degrees Celsius and 100 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit, which is clearly marked on the bright white background, dark numbers, and red graduated color wheel.

This affordable option does present a slightly cluttered interface with all that information in such a small package, but with the built-in hanger and stable base, it is a versatile model that offers lots of bang for your buck.

Is Your Oven Miscalibrated?

If your oven is taking too long to reach the set temperature (or runs too hot or too cold) assume it is miscalibrated. However, when users complain about uneven oven temperatures, Taboryski actually doesn’t point to an oven thermometer as the first fix—instead, she tells them to bake a packaged cornbread mix and follow the directions precisely.

“This is a simple, but effective test to determine consistent oven temperature. If you follow the directions precisely and get bad results, then you can take a picture to provide to the manufacturer, which will help them determine the cause of the uneven cooking,” Taboryski says, noting to set your timer five minutes ahead of the suggested bake time if your oven is smaller or gas (rather than electric).

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