What Oven Symbols Mean
We get asked constantly for oven instruction manuals when, to be honest, once you understand the basics of an electric oven there really isn't usually that much to know about. The biggest cause of confusion is where you move into a house with an oven or cooker fitted and you can't work out what it all does. Hopefully this article will remove a lot of confusion for you and allow you to start using the oven better.
All the symbols below are pretty much generic and are used on any number of ovens and free-standing cookers. The appearance of them may differ and many of the functions shown may not be available except on top end ovens but you should be able to work out the ones that you need
However if it's a basic oven do read the "defrosting function" and the fan cooking one as well as the grilling ones as, quite often, even if the symbols are worn it's easy to suss what position carries out what function. On the basic ovens normally the first position from "Off" will be defrost, followed by fanned or if it is not a fan oven then it will go straight to static cooking.
You would think that 200˚C is 200˚C wouldn't you? Well, it's not.
There is a variance in the thermostats and, on later machines thermistors, used to detect the temperature of the oven cavity and this varies wildly. It depends on the quality and accuracy of the thermostat, where in the cavity it is positioned, the quality of the elements and placement, the heat retention of the oven in entirety, but especially the door and door seal integrity.
As you can see there's a few variables here.
Due to all this and the commonly accepted temperature variance of approximately 10-15% oven temperatures and how "harsh" they are can vary and cooking results can be a case of pure trial and error. This variance is the range at which the element being used to heat the oven is switched on and off.
For example, if set to 200˚C, with a 10% variance this means that the oven actually cycles the temperature between 180˚C and 220˚C giving an average temperature of 200˚C. They are not precise and this is especially true of cheaper units which suffer from this inaccuracy far worse.
Now, add to this the thermostat probe being normally mounted at the top of the oven cavity. This means that the lower section of the oven can be considerably cooler than the top (heat rises after all) and so you can get poor results on the bottom with food poorly cooked and, at the top, burnt.
There are a host of other reasons for this sort of poor performance but, usually, it comes down to the fact that the cooker or oven was cheap and not so cheerful.
Oven Functions & What They Mean
|Quick Defrost Function
This is a function where the main fan for the oven is on and the interior bulb but there is no heat.
The reason for this function is to defrost food gently using the forced air of the fan. This defrosts food very well and much quicker that sitting it out but, unlike a microwave, the food is not cooked or heated in doing so. This is very much preferable to many people especially with more delicate foods.
|Fan Oven Cooking
Probably, for most owners of a fan oven or cooker with a fan oven, this will be the most commonly used method of cooking most foods.
As you can see from the airflow picture the hot air is blown evenly around the oven cavity. Of course, as stated earlier, how accurate this is depends on the quality of the oven but for most ovens this will probably be the most efficient setting.
Different food can usually be cooked at the same time without cross transfer of smells and flavours although in poorer models this will often not work as it should.
Manufacturers will use all sorts of different terms for this, for example Smeg call it "Circulaire" but in effect is that they all mean pretty much the same thing, forced air or fanned cooking.
If you are new to fan oven cooking a general tip is to reduce your time and temperature by 10% and work from there in finding out how good or bad the oven is and also if it is a harsh or gentle heating one. Some can be very fierce and, if food is left even five minutes too long, it can become ruined.
Fan cooking is a bit of an acquired taste. It works very well for most things, but some especially baking, requires a good static oven for the best results. But for everyday cooking and ready meals it's fine. Not so good with pizza and flans, especially on cheaper ovens, where you can get the top burnt and the base close to raw.
It is also important to remember that this type of cooking relies heavily on the air being free to move around the oven cavity so wrapping the wire shelves with tin foil or leaving large baking sheets in there, not such a good plan and can lead to poor results.
|Upper & Lower Heat Or A Static Oven
This is a function found on multi-function ovens and is also known as a "static oven" or a "conventional oven". Many low-cost machines use this only and have no fan function to reduce the price.
It is worth noting that some older Creda and Tricity cookers have the elements mounted at the side and not top and bottom as is the norm.
Static cooking isn't really a fair description in some ways as what happens is that the heat is distributed using the natural convection of the heat from the oven elements and the natural airflow that it generates. What this does is give a very gentle, but in poor ovens especially, uneven heat with the top being warmer than the lower shelves.
This is why on may recipes you read you will find comments like, "place on middle shelf in the oven" or upper shelf etc.
This type of heat is a favourite for baking cakes and bread as it tends to be more even top to bottom and pastries, breads and sponges tend not to suffer the fan cooking phenomena of the back (close to the fan) being cooked and the front being merely browned. Of course better quality fan ovens do not suffer this problem as badly, but it can still be an issue especially if you are used to cooking with a static oven and use recipes based on this type of cooking.
This type of cooking is superb for baking as discussed above but also for open roasts, you can't beat it as the meat cooks slowly and the moisture is locked in.
|Lower Heat Only
Normally this function will only be found in a multi-function oven (one with many cooking modes) and not on a normal run of the mill cooker or oven.
Lower heat only is a superb function for cooking flans and pizza etc., basically anything where you want the base crisp but the top moist. It is also used for slow cooking the likes of stews and casseroles where you wish a gentle heat from below only and, again, it is superb for this often negating the need for a slow cooker.
|Lower Heat With Fan
Like "Lower Heat Only" (above) this function will normally only be found on a good multi-function fan oven.
Arguably this function offers better temperature stability along with the benefits of having the lower heat only. Once again for flans and pizzas it is good but, depending on your taste it may not be as important as the function without the fan assistance. Having said that it does cook faster that without the fan assistance and can brown the top of a pizza (for example) very well and very evenly whilst still allowing the base to crisp.
Many grill elements will not glow red, especially the outer section which, while still heating and actually cooking to a degree, will very likely still be functioning perfectly.
|Half Grill or Economy Grilling
Again, on many cheaper cookers and ovens this function can be nothing short of a waste of space sadly.
The norm is that the inner section of the grill element will be energised and the outer not. In the field we find that not many people tend to use this function citing that it cooks inadequately for their needs.
Fanned grilling will usually only be found on a good quality cooker or oven that has a multi-function capability and it can be extremely useful indeed.
What happens is that the grill is used on full power and the fan is used to assist this. What this does is produce a jet of hot air across the top of the food and it grills very, very quickly indeed. It is best used with the grill or shelf that food is on about half way down the oven cavity.
The effect (in a good oven) is that the food is cooked very quickly locking in the moisture of it whilst crisping the outer edges, cracking for bacon and things of that ilk. However great care is required and a lot of experimentation to get the best from this function but it can be immensely rewarding when it works