Is Preheating the Oven Necessary — or a Myth?

preheating oven
Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – Gaertringen

In many cases, preheating the oven is a waste of energy. But sometimes, it is an important first step you can’t skip. Here’s how to tell the difference between when this is really necessary and when it’s not. 

Preheating the Oven: “But the Recipe Says So” 

Whether it’s bread, cookies, or casseroles, almost every recipe instructs you to preheat the oven. In most cases, however, it’s actually completely pointless. Furthermore, it wastes a ton of energy, driving up your energy costs and unnecessarily burdening the environment. If that’s true, why do so many recipes tell us to preheat the oven?

Recipes must include instructions for exactly how long food should remain in the oven. But, since ovens take different amounts of time to heat up, the only way a recipe writer can give a universal baking time is to be sure that ovens all begin at the same temperature. When ovens are preheated, cooking food takes the same amount of time — no matter the make and model. Once you get to know your own, you can estimate how long it takes to get warm and preheating the oven isn’t needed. 

Preheating the Oven: Skipping This Step Saves Significant Energy

baking
In many instances, preheating the oven is not necessary. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – Free-Photos)

Most dishes can be made without preheating the oven. Things like casseroles, cakes, meat roasts, bread, and frozen foods don’t require the oven temperature to be especially hot from the very beginning. The worst that can happen is that it takes a few minutes longer for food to be finished in a non-preheated vs preheated oven.

The good news is, the energy savings average out to about 10 percent. At first, you may have to check the food a few times to decide when it’s finished, but after you skip preheating a few times, you will develop a feel for how much extra time your food needs.

Exceptions: Some Like It Hot

preheating oven sensitive dough
Some types of dough require a preheated oven. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – LaFontaine)

Certain types of dough are more sensitive than others, and in those cases, failing to preheat the oven will prevent the dough from baking properly. If the oven is not hot enough when the dough is put in, it won’t develop the right consistency. For the following types of dough, you do need to preheat your oven properly:

  • Biscuit dough
  • Pastry dough
  • Soufflée

When it comes to baking bread, there are different opinions about whether or not preheating the oven is necessary. Traditionally, a hot oven is preferable because, without it, it’s not possible for a proper crust to form. If you’re using a baking stone, heat is also necessary to prevent the dough from sticking. But many amateur bakers have also had good experiences without preheating. Use a trial and error method to figure out what works best for your bread recipe, and for your oven. 

Tip: If you do preheat the oven, always make sure that it’s empty while heating up. If there’s a baking sheet in the oven, it will take even more energy for the oven to reach the desired temperature.  

This article has been translated from German to English by Christie Sacco. You can find the original here: Backofen vorheizen: sinnvoll oder nicht?

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