Preheat or Not

Dear Home Ec 101:

Please solve an argument between my husband and myself! When heating up the oven, I don’t wait for the required temp to reached before putting the food in, but do give extra time in case the oven wasn’t quite hot enough. My husband says that you have to wait until the proper temperature has been reached or the food won’t cook right. Who’s right?

~Consternated in Concord

Heather says:

I have the feeling that neither of you will be happy with the answer.

You’re both right.

When preheating matters:

Oven temperature is very important with baked goods such as bread and cakes. A lot of the final outcome is decided in the first few minutes of baking. Take bread for example, if the oven isn’t hot enough the crust may not form properly.

If you do a lot of baking, I highly recommend investing in an oven thermometer. Often the thermostat may not be calibrated accurately, and that can affect some recipes.

Temperature is also important when trying to achieve certain effects when roasting. Some cooks swear by “blasting” roasts and whole chickens and turkeys.

When preheating doesn’t matter as much:

With many items, it doesn’t matter, things like baked chicken, casseroles, or the kid’s fish sticks. In those cases check at the end of the prescribed time. Usually, the cooking times are generalities and not exact as ovens, altitudes, and other factors may vary (temperature of the item when it enters your oven, for example.

Did you know that your oven may not even cook food evenly? Check out how to find the hot and cool spots in your oven

I hope this information helps and I hope it didn’t take all the wind out of your sails. I know I get far too much enjoyment out of a big “I told you so!”

Good luck!

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Do you have to preheat the oven?


  1. Microwave Rundown | Home Ec 101 on October 20, 2009 at 8:04 am

    […] heat is transferred before. With conventional ovens, you have indirect heat, the heating element heats up the air which then heats up whatever your’re cooking. Your stove is an example of direct heat, your […]

  2. Lucy on September 26, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Our success rate went up a bunch when we started using an oven thermometer. We haven't ever had an oven with an accurate thermostat, and we had a lot of different ovens as we moved 17 times in 23 years!

    • Heather Solos on September 26, 2009 at 1:13 pm

      Excellent tip. I should probably do a post in the future about placement of items in the oven itself. Since, that can definitely have an impact on some items. Thank you!

  3. CarolinaDreamz on September 26, 2009 at 1:59 am

    Something I read, in Alton Brown's book, "I'm Just Here for the Food," that I had not considered before..

    I, usually, wait for the oven to click off (the light to go off) to know the oven is hot enough.. but Alton says that is only the air temperature, and that recovery is long.. he suggests waiting 5 minutes, in one section, and 20 minutes, in another.. so the recovery, to the right temperature, after you open the door, is faster..

    In my opinion, this could make or break a recipe.. and with bread.. it makes a difference, I'm learning. My buns cooked 3 minutes faster when I waited longer for the oven to pre-heat, today. 🙂

    • Heather Solos on September 26, 2009 at 1:11 pm

      Absolutely. This is an excellent tip for very touchy items like pies and souffles. Now that I think of it, I have never actually made a soufle. Have you?

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