Ovens buying guide

Ovens aren't simple anymore – our buying guide takes you through the choices.
 
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02.What to look for

Door

  • An oven door that's light and easy to open, and stays open in any position (without falling fully open or slamming shut).
  • A large enough window for a clear view inside.
  • With a side-opening door you don't have to reach the food over a hot oven door. They're a particularly good option for wheelchair users, but there are only a few on the market.

Inside

  • Capacity - check the usable space rather than going by the stated capacity. In CHOICE testing we calculate the internal baking volume from measurements of the lowest shelf of the oven or baking tray (if supplied with one) to the grill element, side wall to side wall, and the rear wall to the door.
  • An interior light - check when buying that the bulb is easy to access and replace.
  • Shelves should have safety stops to prevent them being pulled out accidentally.
  • A good range of shelf positions and three or more shelves may be handy, especially if you often cook several items at the same time.
  • Shelves that don't slope down when pulled out with the weight of a casserole or baking dish on them. If you find the shelves do slope, a guard at the front will help stop dishes falling off, but may make it harder to slide heavy baking dishes in and out.

Grill

  • A smokeless grill tray that traps fat and grease below it, rather than a wire rack. This is a useful feature for ovens with an internal grill, as spattering and smoking fat can be messy.
  • A grill tray that's easy to slide in and out and comes out far enough to let you easily manipulate food at the back of the tray. Look for a safety stop mechanism to stop it pulling right out.
  • A grill tray that doesn't slope down when pulled out.
  • A grill element that's set high into the ceiling or has a shield in front, so that it can't easily come into contact with your fingers.
  • At least two grill tray heights.
An external grill is more versatile, as you can grill one item while you roast or bake another at the same time. It also isolates the mess, so the main oven cavity stays cleaner. Open-door grilling tends to give a better result than closed-door grilling, which can steam food, making the skin of meat tough. However, an internal grill is more common, takes up less space and can give more direct heat for certain types of cooking, such as au gratins.

Oven and grill function

Unlike with a gas oven, there are many variations and combinations of heating methods with an electric oven that make an oven multifunction. You’re unlikely to use many of these functions, but our Home Economist, Fiona Mair, says the following functions are the most useful:

  • Classic or base bake: this is where heat comes from the bottom element only. It's particularly recommended for foods like pizzas and quiches, to get crispy, rather than soggy, dough and pastry bases.
  • Top and bottom elements (also called 'conventional bake'). This is standard convection baking. It provides reasonably even heating, but the temperature tends to be slightly hotter towards the top, allowing food to brown on top. It's good for cooking scones, muffins, cakes, fruit cakes, baked custards, pastry, meringues, roasts and casseroles.
  • Fan-forced bake: heat comes from an element at the back of the oven and is circulated by a fan surrounded by the element. The oven heats relatively quickly and efficiently, and heat is distributed evenly throughout. It’s ideal for multi-shelf cooking especially for roasts, cakes, casseroles and baked foods.
  • Grill element is useful for grilling foods that require short cooking times such as melting cheese on toast or browning the top of au gratin. You don’t need to preheat the oven but use the top shelf and maximum temperature
Other ovens functions include:
  • Quick preheat: A setting that reduces the oven preheat time.
  • Fan-assisted: The top and bottom elements of the oven are used, while a fan circulates heat. This can be useful for cooking on more than one shelf at once as it helps to distribute the hot air evenly. This function is good for foods that require crisp cooked bases like pastries and pizza.
  • Rear and bottom elements plus fan: This gives a very even heat and can be useful for roasts. It’s also good for cooking pizza with a crispy base.
  • Grill with fan: Can be used to cook chicken and other roasts or larger cuts of meat.
  • Defrost: The fan operates without or on low heat, moving air around to help defrost food. However, to reduce the chance of bacteria growing on food at unsafe temperatures, we’d recommend defrosting food in the fridge or microwave.
Some ovens have a selection of pre-programmed (or automatic cooking) functions for a multitude of food types, ranging from biscuits to roast chicken. 

Self-cleaning ovens

True self-cleaning ovens are pyrolytic. Set on the cleaning mode, the oven locks itself and heats up to around 500°C, converting food residues into ash, which you just wipe away when it cools. The easy cleaning comes at a price though.

Often referred to as ‘self-cleaning’ surfaces, catalytic liners work by absorbing fat splatters. For the liners to work well, you need to regularly heat the oven to 250°C for an hour to burn off the splatters and, when cool, wipe them with a damp cloth. Properly cared for, they should last a long time, but may eventually need replacing – at an additional cost.
 

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