A baking recipe is never complete without the line “preheat your oven to 350°F - 400°F”. Preheating is always the first thing you have to do, regardless of what you want to bake.
If you’re new to baking and aren't quite sure on how long to preheat the oven, this short guide has all of the info you need.
What Is Preheating?
Preheating is simply powering on an oven and letting it warm to the proper temperature before using it for baking. The process is done with an empty cooking chamber.
Most recipes will tell you to preheat your oven to anywhere between 350°F and 400°F before you begin.
Why Is Preheating Important?
Two important variables that you have to take into account when using the oven are temperature and time. A proper balance between both is crucial if you want your recipe to come out nicely. If you start baking while the oven is still cold, both of these variables are thrown into disarray.
Let’s say you’re baking a batch of peanut butter cookies.
In a cold oven, cookie dough will need extra time to go from room temperature to baking temperature. All that extra time in the oven will make the cookies very dry and produce a rock-solid texture. They also won’t brown properly, resulting in a very disappointing flavor.
The same will apply to all baking recipes if you attempt them in a cold oven.
However, it’s not just pastries and desserts made in the oven that require preheating. Certain main courses baked in the oven (such as oven-baked pork chops) also require preheating. The reason is pretty much the same: spending extra time to heat up in a cold oven will ruin the taste and texture of the ingredients.
But preheating is not always necessary. Although rare, there exist a few recipes that will tell you to start with a cold oven. Nevertheless, unless it specifically tells you to skip the preheating step, always start with a warmed-up oven.
How Long to Preheat the Oven?
The time it takes for your oven to preheat will depend on its power and heating efficiency. Therefore, we can’t give you a specific time. What we can give you, though, are approximates.
Usually, it will take an electric oven around 15 minutes to reach 350°F.
If the recipe calls for a higher starting temperature, wait for a few extra minutes. 375°F will take around 17 minutes. You can expect a 20-minute wait time for preheating to 400°F.
Most electric ovens will display their internal temperature on the control panel. When the number hits the mark that you set, slip in whatever you’re planning to bake. Modern electric ovens will give an audible chime to remind you that it’s ready to be used. If you have an old electric oven, it will have an indicator light that flashes when the temperature is right.
For those with a traditional gas oven, take note that the preheating time is much shorter. A gas oven packs a lot more heating power than an electric oven. The internal temperature can reach a toasty 400°F in only 10 minutes.
Gas ovens are built to automatically shut down once it has reached the proper preheating temperature. You only need to wait until the oven’s hum falls silent to start piling the ingredients in.
Is It Possible to “Overtly Preheat”?
Fortunately, if you were to “overdo” the preheating phase, the worst that can happen is that you waste electricity or gas. As there’s nothing in the cooking chamber, nothing is going to burn.
Both types of ovens — electric and gas — have safety mechanisms in place to let off the heat when the set temperature is reached.
There’s one thing you have to keep note of, however. Ovens are designed to maintain an average temperature. If you wait too long to use it after it has finished preheating and the internal temperature drops underneath the set limit, your oven will turn itself on again. While not dangerous, it’s quite wasteful.
Why You Should Get an Oven Thermometer
Although most ovens do come with built-in temperature sensors, they usually aren’t very accurate. There could be a 25-degree difference between the sensor’s reading and the true temperature. It’s better to get yourself an oven thermometer to get a more accurate reading. This option isn’t too expensive, either.
How to Preheat an Oven?
Preheating is simple no matter what kind of oven you have. This short step-by-step guide will show you how to preheat both electric and gas ovens.
How to Preheat an Electric Oven
Step 1: Clear Up the Cooking Chamber
Open the oven door and check the interior to see if there’s anything inside, such as a baking sheet. Nothing — aside from the oven rack — should be inside the cooking chamber.
Step 2: Set the Oven Rack to the Right Level
Usually, the oven rack has to be preheated alongside the oven, too. A hot rack has the same benefit as a hot cooking chamber when the baking process begins. It will ensure that your food cooks efficiently and evenly throughout.
Most recipes will tell you exactly what level the rack should be on. However, if there’s no specific instruction, here’s what to do:
- Top rack: this is where foods that you want to have a crispy and brown top should be. They’re usually main course dishes such as lasagna or roasted meat.
- Middle rack: here is where you should place all your desserts and pastries. Unless the recipe tells you to use a different one, the middle rack is always the default option for baking this food group.
- Bottom rack: use it if you’re going to bake anything that has to be crispy at the bottom. Pizza is a good example.
Step 3: Set the Temperature and Wait
Power on the oven and tune the temperature dial to the desired temperature. After that, wait out the preheating time (10 - 15 minutes).
If your oven has a digital display that tells you the internal temperature, watch it to know when it is ready. Depending on the model, the oven may beep when it comes to the right temperature.
When everything’s ready and in place, slip whatever you wish to bake inside and hit the power again.
How to Preheat a Gas Oven
Step 1: Ensure Proper Ventilation and Check Gas Leak
A gas oven — you guessed it — uses gas to produce heat, which can release a lot of noxious fumes. Open the windows or turn on your ventilation system so that all of the fumes can escape and don’t accumulate in your kitchen.
If you smell gas, immediately shut down the oven. There could be a gas leak. Do not turn on any electrical device. Open up the window and get out of the house. Call emergency services so that they can come and check it out once you’ve gotten out. Do not use your phone while you’re still in the building.
Step 2: Clear the Cooking Chamber and Set the Oven Rack
Check the inside of the oven to see if you have left anything inside, such as an errant baking tray. The inside is saved for the oven rack.
Speaking of the oven rack, set it to the desired height. For more information, refer to the second step in the segment for preheating electric ovens.
Step 3: Ignite the Oven
A gas oven can be ignited using one of two methods: with a pilot light or with an electric starter. Finding out which one applies to your oven is important as it decides how you can set the temperature.
Older ovens will use a pilot light for ignition. If the ignition is pilot-based, you will notice a small flame constantly burning inside the oven while it is on. When you rotate the temperature dial, the flame will increase and decrease in size, too.
For this type of oven, after turning it on, press against the temperature dial and turn. Surrounding the dial will be several notches. Beside each one is the corresponding temperature. Rotate the dial and align it with your desired temperature.
Many pilot-started ovens will require that you manually ignite the pilot before you can use it.
In that case, turn the temperature dial all the way to the OFF position. Then, spark a match and hold it close to the pilot. If a flame appears, take the match off and proceed as normal. If it doesn’t, turn the temperature dial slightly upward and try again.
In more modern gas ovens that use an electric starter, the flame will only appear when you power on the oven and set the temperature.
It is significantly less complicated than a pilot-started oven. Just use the control panel to set the mode (“Bake” or “Broil” will do) and the temperature.
Step 4: Wait, then Use
Once the oven is ignited and heating up, wait for the allotted time. Once the temperature has reached the setpoint, start baking.
Preheating is a simple process that every baker needs to know. Now that you have learned how long to preheat the oven (as well as how to preheat), put your mitts on and do some baking!
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A writer and entrepreneur, Luna’s day doesn’t start at the computer keyboard, but in the kitchen.
Half of her working hours are spent on mixing ingredients for her recipes. The other half involve working with the tech team to research and test the tools and appliances that promise to make kitchen work effortless and mess-free. From a kitchen knife or water filter to the Instant Pot, if it can help save time and effort for the home cook, Luna and her team are on it.
Luna’s extracurricular pastimes include camping, travel, and photography.