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Built-in oven features and functions

What to consider when you're choosing a new built-in oven.

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The oven

  • Make sure the bulbs for the interior lights are easy to replace (some require a service call).
  • Check that the shelves have safety stops to prevent them being pulled out accidentally. And make sure the shelves don't slope down when pulled out – especially with the weight of a heavy dish. Sloping down can make food spill; the container may even go sailing off.
  • Aim for moulded runners rather than detachable ones – they're easier to clean.
  • Look for a good range of shelf positions. 3 or more shelves may be handy, especially if you often cook several items at the same time.

The grill

  • Look for a "smokeless" grill tray that traps fat and oil below it (this reduces the amount of burning and spattering from the fat or oil). Also make sure that the tray slides easily, with a safety mechanism that stops it from pulling right out – but that it comes out far enough to let you deal with food at the back of it.
  • Aim for an element that's set high into the ceiling or has a shield in front, so that it can't easily come into contact with your fingers (this is particularly important if the oven's under the bench).
  • Check there are at least 2 grill-tray heights.

Functions

  • Fan baking distributes heat evenly, so is good when cooking on several racks. Using the fan should allow food to cook faster and at a lower temperature setting. But some dishes will not necessarily cook better in fan mode. Foods like baked puddings are sensitive to the air movement caused by the fan.
  • Fan-forced is “pure” fan cooking. The heat’s generated by an element around the fan, which then pushes the heat into the oven. This gives even heat throughout the oven compartment, and often means you need to slightly reduce temperatures and cooking times.
  • Fan-assisted uses both the bottom and top elements plus the fan. Most of the heat comes from the bottom element.
  • Fan grilling is where the top grill element does the heating and a fan in the back of the oven helps move the heat around. You leave the oven door shut when fan grilling and usually put the grilling tray a level or 2 lower than for normal grilling.
  • Defrosting uses the fan without any heat, or at a low temperature. However, defrosting food slowly at a low heat is not recommended for food safety reasons – you're better to use a microwave or defrost food overnight in the fridge.
  • Part grill is an option on some built-in ovens. This allows you to use only a small section of the grill for small servings.

Usable space

If this is important, measure the usable internal dimensions yourself – don't rely on the stated capacity. Take along your largest baking dish with you to the store and check whether it will fit.

Many manufacturers use an international standard to measure usable capacity, but differing interpretations means claimed usable volumes between manufacturers are not comparable.

We measure from the lowest shelf of the oven or baking tray (if supplied with one) to the grill element, side-wall to side-wall, and the rear wall to the door. In many cases you can slide a wide dish in between the shelf supports, and provided the bottom element isn’t on you can use the oven floor for warming or proving dough. However, please note that some manufacturers recommend you don’t use the oven floor on any function.

Accessories

We think a smokeless grill tray plus at least 2 oven shelves and 1 baking tray should be standard accessories. Telescopic runners are a nice bonus and help the oven shelves slide in and out smoothly.

Some of the less expensive ovens come with all these bits and pieces. But some brands have them only in their top-of-the-range models – otherwise they’re extras that you have to buy separately.

Tip: When an oven has telescopic runners, make sure you use them. Otherwise the shelves won’t roll out smoothly – and in some cases can be accidentally pulled all the way out.

Hassle-free cleaning?

For easy cleaning, a pyrolytic self-cleaning function is best – although catalytic liners also make cleaning easier.

Think about how often you use your oven and what you like to cook in it: an oven with pyrolytic self-cleaning will make life easier for those who often cook dishes that splatter oils or fats around the oven.

Pyrolytic cleaning

Ovens with pyrolytic cleaning have a special setting: the oven heats up to around 500°C, converting food residues into ash that you then wipe away. Most of the ovens have a light soil-clean (1.5 to 2 hours) and a heavy soil-clean (2.5 to 3 hours).

For safety reasons, the door automatically locks during the pyrolytic clean and is released only when the oven gets down to about 280°C. The outside of the oven is much hotter than usual while cleaning, so keep children out of the kitchen.

While pyrolytic cleaning sounds great, not all the hard work is done for you. All runners, shelves and other accessories need to be removed beforehand and cleaned separately – which can be difficult in some models. It's also worth cleaning off any coarse dirt first, and thoroughly cleaning the inside glass. And of course afterwards you have to remove the ash from the oven.

But while you still have to get your hands dirty, the pyrolytic function is chemical-free and it does thoroughly clean your oven – particularly in hard-to-reach places. We'd recommend it to anyone who can afford these types of ovens.

Catalytic liners

Some ovens have a self-cleaning surface known as a catalytic liner. This microporous coating absorbs fat splatters while the oven is cooking. While the liners protect the walls from fat splashes you still have to clean the doors, shelf supports, racks, and floor – but liners certainly make the job easier.

To get the best out of catalytic liners, regularly heat the empty oven for between 30 minutes to an hour (depending on the manufacturer's instructions).

If they're properly cared for, the liners should last a long time – but they may eventually need replacing.

Foil liners

It used to be common practice to line the base of your oven with aluminium foil or an aluminium-foil liner to save it from messy spills. Most manufacturers now warn against this because it can cause overheating and damage to the enamel interior.

You also can’t put baking dishes on the bottom of your oven to cook, which is why our useable (measured) dimensions usually vary from what’s in the manufacturers’ specs. We always measure from the bottom shelf up.

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