Friday, August 1, 2008

The Crazy World of Appliance Shopping: About Convection Ovens

I'm building a new house, and it's really baffling trying to choose kitchen appliances. There are so many to choose from, it is hard to figure out what makes one better than another. I'm shopping for quality and performance without extreme cost. Unfortunately, the market is focused primarily on the "look", or on performance that millionaires might be willing to buy.

For example, refrigerators. GE has the "Profile" line, with a certain styling (and pricing). The high-end of that line has dual evaporators, which is good. But, if you look at their models that have no "look" name, you can get one with dual evaporators that is less expensive than the cheapest "Profile" fridge. But didn't you really really want all your appliances to be "Profiles"? I don't think so.

Another example: Thermadore, Wolf, Sub-Zero, $$$$$$$$$. End of discussion.

Ovens are confusing too. If you stick a fan in the oven, you get to call it "convection". If there is a third (hidden) heating element that the fan blows past, it is called "European" convection, and you get to invent a trademarked nick-name for it. If it lacks the third element, having only the upper and lower heating elements, it is called "American Convection" or simply "Convection".

My parents have an "American" convection oven. They tried baking pizza, and still had to turn it for it to cook evenly. It also "auto-converts" the baking time and temperature by keeping the full time, and lowering the temperature. How useless! They don't use convection at all now. Not all convection ovens are created equally.

Convection is only useful if it heats the oven evenly, and if your food is in a shallow pan exposed to the air. The real power of a convection oven is if you have multiple trays that you want to cook at once, like cookies or rolls. From what I can gather, it doesn't help for casseroles, or especially not for covered pans.

I really wanted to try a Trivection oven, but I couldn't find many reviews on it, and it is expensive. Also the controls seem a bit gimmicky. I found some super expensive convection ovens that sound amazing. Finally, I found an Electrolux and a Bosch that were more reasonably priced, rate well at Consumer Reports, and sound really great. I've chosen the Bosch because it is deeper; the Electrolux cannot hold my pizza stone. Ok, so I took a pizza box to the showroom (it was the same size as my stone), ignored the curious glances, and actually stuck it inside the oven. It was the only way to know for sure. Beware! There is a Bosch that lacks the third heating element; make sure to get one that has it.

The Bosch convection ovens have a "proof" mode, and a "warm" mode. So, with double wall ovens, I can use them as an oven and a warming drawer, or an oven and a proofing box. Twice a year, I may use them as two ovens.

My house won't be done for another 2-3 months, so for now I just get to imagine cooking in my new oven. That has me thinking; I don't know how to use one. Can I make toast in it? I'm not having much luck finding cooking tips online. Sounds like I'll be writing more entries to document what I figure out. I have used a portable convection oven for the pretzels, and it does make them rise better, brown nicer, and cook faster than at home, so I'm hoping for some great results.