Need to know
- A dirty oven can affect its overall performance.
- Cleaning your oven regularly is easier in the long run.
- Harness the power of steam after every cook as part of your oven maintenance.
Life can be hectic, so when it comes to smarter ways to use our household appliances, we're all for a good kitchen hack. We've already tackled how to get more from your microwave. Now we're setting our sights on our hard-working ovens.
From grilling and baking to roasting and steaming, today's ovens can do it all – some even offer self-cleaning (pyrolitic) modes!
"A multi-function oven is a valuable and versatile appliance," says Martha Psiroukis from CHOICE's test kitchen lab. "It's a must-have for the cook's kitchen."
Whatever model you're working with, we're here to show you how to get the most from your oven. Whether it's ditching the heavy-duty chemicals, to getting dinner on the table faster, these handy tips and tricks will help you conquer cleaning and find smarter ways to cook your family's favourites.
1. Preheat your oven, quicksmart
If you've ever drummed your fingers, waiting for your oven to heat, try popping your multifunction oven on 'grill' for a few minutes, before switching over to conventional oven mode. The theory is that the grill 'headstart' will slash your preheat time.
When we gave this hack a whirl, the grill heated the oven interior to 190°C in just under four minutes – half the usual time. Models do vary, so it's worth experimenting (after all, every little helps during the midweek rush!).
2. Give your oven a steam clean
Not many people look forward to oven-cleaning time. But Martha suggests a little ongoing maintenance goes a long way... and can help you ditch chemicals, too.
"Getting into the habit of wiping down your oven surfaces after it's cooled will keep the grease and grime at bay, so there'll be no need for toxic, highly caustic cleaning solutions," she says.
"Placing a bowl of steamy hot water in the oven while it's still warm after cooking will loosen the soil and do most of the cleaning for you. A good-quality, fibre-tech cloth designed to remove grease does the rest."
If there are crumbs in your oven's nooks post-cook, or lots of ash after a pyrolytic clean, try using your vacuum cleaner with a crevice tool (but only once your oven has thoroughly cooled down, of course).
3. De-grease those grills
Next up: those grubby racks. For a minimal-fuss solution, Martha suggests soaking them in a laundry tub with an enzyme-based detergent for a few hours, or even overnight.
"The enzymes 'eat away' the built-up grease and food burnt onto the grills," she says. "It almost just wipes off with a sponge. Visit our laundry detergent review and choose one of our Recommended products that has enzymes in it."
If your racks don't fit in your laundry tub, use your bath instead.
4. Make stacks of snacks
For a bigger cooking yield when making homemade chips, Martha suggests stacking oven-safe cooling racks on top of your oven trays to create more surface area.
"Stack cooling racks, each layered with food," she says. "You'll get bowlfuls for the whole family and not just a handful to fight over."
We sliced sweet potato with a mandolin for even, thin rounds, then coated them with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Once we'd layered everything up (baking paper will prevent sticking), we baked our chips at 100°C fan-forced for two hours, turning once.
5. Bring stale bread back to life
If you've got a loaf that's past its best, here's how to revive it in a flash.
Lightly dampen it, then pop it into a warm oven (about 150°C) – straight on the rack – for roughly five minutes. The water will turn to steam and help rehydrate the bread, while also firming up the crust.
We tried this on a rather sad sourdough, and found it dough-tally awesome.
6. Get your glass door gleaming
Using a dishwasher tablet to cut through your oven door's baked-on grease is one of the latest viral cleaning hacks. But does it work?
"Technically yes," says Ashley Iredale, who tests dishwashing detergents in our labs. "Dishwashing tablets are incredibly alkaline – which is what eats through grease – but they're the wrong tool for the job. They're not quite as alkaline as oven cleaner and if there's grit on the glass you risk scratching it.
"But a dishwashing tablet does have the advantage of not being an aerosol, which means you won't inhale any oven-cleaning fumes. So provided people wear gloves and don't eat the dishwasher tablet after it probably won't hurt, but it will almost certainly be less effective than a proper oven cleaner."
Still, we wanted to give this hack a try – and were pleasantly surprised by the results.
First, snap on some rubber gloves. Then, dip a powder-based tablet into warm water and rub it across the interior pane. Keep dipping and rubbing until the tablet has fully dissolved (don't be alarmed by the brown sludge that forms). Once it has, use kitchen paper or a microfibre cloth to remove the residue. Rinse and repeat until your glass is sparkling.
7. Crisp up your crumbed food
Love crispy fried foods but hate all the oil? Our in-house home economist Fiona Mair suggests turning your oven into a supersized airfryer – as long as it has a fan-forced setting.
"Use a cake rack or place food directly on the oven shelf to cook crumbed foods – just use an oil spray first for golden browning," she says. "This method reduces the amount of oil used and allows heat to circulate the food, so there's no need to turn it during cooking."
8. Use your loaf to prove your dough
As any bread baker will tell you, 'proving' – when the fermentation action of yeast causes the dough to rise – is a vital part of the baking process.
For a successful prove, yeast needs a warm, humid environment – experts suggest 24–32°C.
If your oven doesn't offer this temperature, try Fiona's workaround for stand-alone ovens or wall ovens that sit below a benchtop: "Turn your oven on the lowest possible temperature, leave the door ajar and place the bowl of covered dough above the door," she says.
You could also try popping your container of dough on the middle rack of your (cold) oven, then putting a half-filled loaf tin of boiling water at the bottom. Keep the door closed – and let the warmth and steam work their magic.