It is the phrase stated on nearly every if not every food item that is meant to be shoved into an oven. They say this to prevent people from expecting their pasta or pizza to be done at a specific time when it isn’t finished cooking. The main reason that a pizza or lasagna wouldn’t be done by that time is that the oven that the person is cooking with may run hotter or colder than what it states. Meaning, you may set the oven to 350 (Fahrenheit) but the oven is actually at 340 or 375. Stoves can vary just as much. This can have a strong affect on what you are trying to cook. Like pancakes. Yes this is a sort of part two to the pancake post. Moving on.
The first time I experienced and understood what that phrase meant, was when I was trying to bake something in an oven with parchment paper. The paper if I remember correctly was rated to 400 degrees. We managed to burn the parchment paper. Seriously, if it wasn’t burned, I don’t know what else to call blackened paper. We set the oven below the burning point. Once we put in an oven thermometer, we realized that the oven could be off by 30 degrees or so depending on the set temperature. The lower the temperature we set the oven, the more accurate it was. The higher we set it, the hotter it was than the necessary temperature. After this, I understood that an oven isn’t going to necessarily be the temperature it says it is. A word of advice: stay within smelling range of your oven, your nose may know better than the oven.
What I didn’t realize was that a stove top (cook top, hob, etc.) can act the exact same way. I thought that there was a more reliable way of heating a burner (hob) than heating an oven. Apparently I was naive or ignorant. After discussing making pancakes with someone, they mentioned to use a medium heat. I said that is what I used but also that I can get food to boil on number 6 (which is a notch above medium for those with different stoves). The response basically told me that being able to boil on 6 is not normal and a fair bit hotter than other stoves. Therefore, I basically found out that you not only have to be careful trying to cook food in an oven for a specific temperature but also for a stove top. This is probably why I had pancakes that were nearing burnt status.
So what can you do? With ovens, it is pretty simple. Get an oven thermometer. They usually have a way to hang from a rack and are not electronic. When trying to cook something at 350 or 375, check the thermometer to find out the real temperature. Use that temp difference to readjust what you tell the oven next time. You are probably going to have to check the thermometer each time for a while to see if there are more quirks than just heating higher or lower than the stated temperature. For stove tops, well this is going to be more difficult. You can’t really stick a thermometer onto the burner and while you can use an instant read thermometer in certain situations, you can’t use it all the time. For pancakes and other such things, you and I are just going to have to use trial and error. If something looks like it is getting to hot, turn the dial down. If it looks like nothing is happening, first check to make sure that you have the right burner on and if it is on, then turn up the dial a bit. Seriously, check to make sure that you have the right burner so you don’t end up burning yourself. I have done this before and now I just use my tea kettle to block a hot burner that I no longer need. Were you aware that “temperatures may vary” with cook tops? If so, what are your tips for managing the heat differences? Please answer below with your comments and thanks for reading.