Ovens: Types, Uses, and How They Heat Your Food

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 1, 2022

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An oven is a thermally insulated chamber used for the heating, baking or drying of a substance, and most commonly used for cooking. Kilns and furnaces are special-purpose ovens, used in pottery and metalworking, respectively.

An oven is a kitchen appliance used to cook food by exposing it to heat. There are many types of ovens, including gas, electric, and convection ovens. The word “oven” comes from the Old English word “ovene” which means “warmer”.

Today, ovens come in many different shapes and sizes and can be used for a variety of different tasks. In this article, I’ll take you through everything you need to know about ovens and how to use them properly.

What is an oven

Everything You Need to Know About Ovens

An oven is a cooking tool that utilizes heat to expose materials to a hot environment. It contains a hollow chamber and provides a means of heating the chamber in a controlled way. Ovens have existed since ancient times and have been used to accomplish a wide variety of tasks requiring controlled heating. Today, ovens come in different models, sizes, and fuel types, making them one of the most versatile appliances in any kitchen.

The Different Types of Ovens

Ovens can be standalone or added to a stovetop, and they can be strictly ovens or stoves with added oven cavities. Here are the most familiar types of ovens:

  • Single ovens: These are standalone ovens that contain a single enclosed chamber for baking, roasting, and broiling.
  • Double ovens: These are larger standalone ovens that contain two enclosed chambers, allowing you to cook different dishes at different temperatures.
  • Wall ovens: These are ovens that are installed into a wall, freeing up space in your kitchen.
  • Freestanding ovens: These are ovens that come with a stovetop and can be moved around your kitchen.

How Does an Oven Work?

Ovens contain a hollow chamber that heats the air inside the cavity. The heating element in the oven provides a means of heating the chamber in a controlled way. The oven controls allow you to adjust the temperature and cooking time, giving you complete control over the cooking process.

The Terms “Oven” and “Stove” Used Interchangeably

In American English, the terms “oven” and “stove” are often used interchangeably. However, strictly speaking, an oven is a tool for baking, roasting, and broiling, while a stove is a tool for boiling and frying.

Explore Your Oven Options

Now that you know everything there is to know about ovens, it’s time to explore your options. Whether you’re looking for a classic American gas oven or a modern electric oven, there’s an oven out there that’s perfect for your cooking needs.

The Evolution of Ovens: From Ancient Times to Modern Day

• Ovens have been around for centuries and have served as the primary way to cook food for many cultures.

  • The ancient Greeks are credited with creating the first enclosed oven, which was made of stone and designed to heat food with fire.
  • The Indus Valley settlements had ovens in every mud-brick house by 3200 BC, which were used to cook food and make bricks.
  • Pre-dynastic civilizations in Egypt used kilns around 5000–4000 BC to make pottery.

The Evolution of Ovens

• The Greeks pioneered the use of ovens for baking bread, which was a significant improvement in the culinary world.

  • The Romans developed portable ovens that were used for trade and serving food to soldiers.
  • In Europe, ovens were traditionally made of stone or wood and were used to remove water from food and to cool it down.
  • The colonial Americans used brick ovens to bake bread and cook food, and the stove was developed as a more efficient way to heat homes and cook food.
  • Gas ovens were introduced in the 1800s, and electric ovens came into existence in the early 1900s.

Types of Ovens: Which One is Right for You?

When it comes to ovens, the first decision you’ll need to make is whether you want an electric or gas-powered model. Electric ovens are more popular and widely available, while gas ovens are usually more powerful and deliver a hotter, more evenly distributed heat. Gas ovens are also cheaper to run, but require a professional to install and may not be suitable for smaller kitchens.

Single vs. Double Ovens

Another important factor to consider is whether you need a single or double oven. Single ovens are perfect for smaller households or those with limited space, while double ovens offer the convenience of being able to cook two dishes at once. Double ovens are also equipped with extra features such as a fan or grill, making them perfect for larger families or those who love to entertain.

Conventional vs. Convection Ovens

Under the umbrella of electric and gas ovens, there are two primary varieties- conventional and convection. Conventional ovens consist of two heating elements on the top and bottom of the oven, while convection ovens have a fan that circulates hot air around the oven. Convection ovens are usually more expensive, but they offer faster and more even cooking, making them an excellent choice for busy households.

Standalone vs. Built-in Ovens

When choosing an oven, you’ll also need to decide whether you want a standalone or built-in model. Standalone ovens are designed to be placed anywhere in your kitchen and are usually cheaper, while built-in ovens are combined with other appliances such as a cooktop or microwave and are more convenient for those who want a seamless, integrated look.

Features to Consider

No matter what type of oven you choose, there are a few features you should consider to make sure it meets your needs:

  • Oven size: Knowing the size of your oven is crucial when it comes to putting dishes in and taking them out. Make sure to measure the space where you plan to put your oven and choose a size that fits clearly.
  • Oven controls: Some ovens come equipped with touch controls, while others have dials or buttons. Consider which type of control you’re most familiar with and which one you prefer.
  • Safety features: Look for ovens with safety features such as cool sides, substitutes for elements, and automatic shut-off to ensure that you and your family are safe while using the oven.
  • Power: If you plan to use your oven frequently, you may want to choose a more powerful model that can deliver higher temperatures and cook dishes faster.
  • Extra features: Some ovens offer extra features such as a self-cleaning mode, a built-in water dispenser, or a rotisserie function (these gas grills have great ones as well). Consider which features are important to you and which ones you can do without.

What Can You Do With an Oven?

One of the primary uses of an oven is cooking food. Ovens are able to cook a wide variety of dishes, from dinner to dessert. Depending on the type of oven, you can cook everything from a small pizza to a large turkey. Ovens also allow you to control the temperature and cooking time, ensuring that your food is cooked to your desired level of doneness.

Evenly Heating Foods

Ovens are particularly associated with baking, as they are able to produce even heat that cooks foods evenly. This is achieved through the use of an element that heats up and blows hot air around the oven. Some modern ovens even have a fan that helps to circulate the hot air, enabling even cooking and browning.

Multiple Cooking Methods

Ovens come in a wide variety of types, each with its own features and capabilities. Some ovens have multiple cooking methods built in, such as a double oven that allows you to cook two dishes at once, or an oven with a particular setting for broiling. Depending on the type of oven, you can also switch between natural gas and electricity, or even convert from one form to the other.

Producing Delicious Dishes

Using an oven to cook your food can significantly increase the quality of your dishes. Ovens are able to produce a wide variety of flavors and textures, from crispy and crunchy to soft and tender. They also allow you to store and save food for later, making it easier to prepare meals ahead of time.

Built-in Safety Features

Modern ovens come with a range of safety features to ensure proper use and prevent accidents. For example, some ovens have a wire rack that can be positioned in multiple ways to prevent dishes from falling or tipping over. Others have a safety switch that will cause the oven to shut off if the internal temperature gets too high, preventing damage or fire.

A Brief History of Ovens

Ovens have been around for thousands of years, with some of the earliest forms dating back to ancient civilizations. These early ovens were typically made of clay or stone and were used to cook food over an open fire. Over time, ovens evolved to include metal and steel construction, as well as the use of electricity to power the heating element. Today, ovens are a standard feature in most kitchens and are used for everything from small meals to large-scale production.

Mastering Your Oven Controls: A Handy Guide

When it comes to oven controls, the symbols and settings can be confusing. Here’s a quick guide to help you navigate:

  • Bake: This setting is suitable for cooking most foods, including casseroles, bread, and biscuits. It uses both the top and bottom heating elements to distribute heat evenly throughout the oven.
  • Fan Bake: This feature circulates hot air around the entire oven, making it a fast and efficient way to cook food. It’s especially handy for cooking pizza, giving the base a crisp finish while cooking the toppings evenly.
  • Grill: This setting uses the top heating element to cook food quickly and give it a crispy finish. It’s perfect for toasting bread, grilling meat, and giving casseroles a golden top.
  • Fan Grill: Similar to the grill setting, but with the added advantage of the fan circulating the hot air around the food, ensuring it’s cooked evenly.
  • Defrost: This setting uses a low heat to gently defrost food, making it easier to turn a slice of bread into breakfast or to defrost minced meat for pasta sauce.

Using the Oven Light and Fan

The oven light and fan are two features that can make cooking easier and ensure your food is cooked to perfection:

  • Oven Light: This handy feature allows you to view your food without opening the oven door, which can cause heat to escape. It’s especially useful when baking, as opening the door can cause your baked goods to sink.
  • Fan: The fan in your oven helps to distribute heat evenly, making it a great feature to use when cooking multiple dishes at once. It also works differently than a microwave, as it doesn’t use wattage to cook food, but rather circulates hot air.

Double and Single Ovens

If you’re in the market for a new oven, you might be wondering whether to go for a double or single oven. Here are some things to consider:

  • Double Ovens: These ovens have two separate cooking spots, allowing you to cook multiple dishes at different temperatures. This is especially handy when cooking a big meal, as you can cook the main course and sides at the same time.
  • Single Ovens: These ovens are relatively smaller and take up less space in your kitchen. They’re suitable for smaller households or those who don’t cook large meals often.

Cleaning Your Oven

Cleaning your oven can be a chore, but it’s necessary to ensure it works properly and doesn’t accumulate grime. Here are some tips:

  • Self-Cleaning Ovens: Some ovens come with a self-cleaning feature, which uses high heat to burn off any grime or food residue. This feature is approved by most oven manufacturers and is a quick and easy way to clean your oven.
  • Separate Oven Cleaners: If your oven doesn’t have a self-cleaning feature, you can purchase separate oven cleaners. These work by emerging the grime and moving it away from the oven surface, making it easier to wipe away.
  • Handles and Symbols: When cleaning your oven, be sure to pay attention to the handles and symbols. The symbols on your oven controls should be represented clearly, and the handles should be easy to turn.

Ensuring Even Heating

When cooking in your oven, it’s important to ensure even heating to avoid undercooked or overcooked food. Here are some tips:

  • Preheat Your Oven: Always preheat your oven before cooking. This ensures that the oven is hot enough to cook your food evenly.
  • Use the Right Temperature: Different foods require different temperatures to cook properly. Be sure to select the right temperature for your food to ensure even heating.
  • Use the Right Setting: As mentioned earlier, different settings are suitable for different foods. Be sure to use the right setting for your food to ensure even heating.
  • Use a Fan: Using the fan in your oven can help to distribute heat evenly, ensuring your food is cooked to perfection.

Using Your Oven for Defrosting

Defrosting food in your oven can be a handy feature, especially if you’re in a hurry. Here are some tips:

  • Use the Defrost Setting: Most ovens come with a defrost setting, which uses a low heat to gently defrost your food. This is a handy feature to use when you need to defrost food quickly.
  • Use the Snowflake Symbol: The snowflake symbol on your oven controls represents the defrost setting. Be sure to select this symbol when defrosting your food.
  • Use the Droplet Symbol: The droplet symbol on your oven controls represents the fan setting. Using this setting when defrosting your food can help to distribute heat evenly, ensuring your food defrosts quickly and evenly.

How an Oven Works to Heat Your Food

Once the oven is heated up, it’s time to start cooking your food. There are two main mechanisms by which an oven heats your food:

  • Radiant heating: This is the process by which heat is transferred directly from the heating element to the food. In an electric oven, the heating coils radiate heat, while in a gas oven, the burner radiates heat. This is the primary method of heating in most ovens, and it’s what makes baking and broiling possible.
  • Convection heating: This is the process by which heat is distributed throughout the oven compartment by the movement of hot air. In a convection oven, a fan circulates the hot air around the food, which helps to cook it more evenly and quickly.

The Environment Inside the Oven

The inside of an oven is a carefully controlled environment that is designed to maximize the efficiency of the heating process. Here are some key features of the oven environment:

  • The walls of the oven are usually made of metal, which helps to distribute the heat evenly throughout the compartment.
  • The oven door is insulated to prevent heat from escaping and to keep the temperature inside the oven consistent.
  • The oven may have multiple racks or shelves that can be adjusted to different heights, which allows you to cook multiple dishes at once or to adjust the distance between the food and the heating element.


So, that’s what an oven is- a cooking tool that utilizes heat to expose materials to a hot environment. Ovens have existed since ancient times and today come in different models and sizes, making them a versatile appliance for the kitchen. So, now you know how to use one and what to use one for. You’re ready to go and buy one now, so go ahead!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.