Why Does My Cornbread Burn on the Bottom?

Dear Home-Ec 101,

How do you keep the bottom of the cornbread from burning? I use an electric oven and I’ve tried putting my muffin pan on the higher rack but that didn’t help. The bottom burns but the top stays light.

Signed,

I Would Prefer Cajun Style Blackening

Heather says:

It’s fairly common for household ovens to not heat to an accurate temperature. This is an incredibly frustrating experience, especially for new cooks who may think, “I followed the directions! I’m a complete failure at cooking.”  How would a novice know that it was mechanical failure and not their fault? Heck, I get frustrated on their behalf and please don’t even get me started on flimsy cookware.

Cooking food is a balance of applying enough heat to cook the inside of food in a reasonable amount of time and not so much that the outside burns before the interior has cooked. This is true regardless of the cooking method. When baking or roasting, the temperature of the air in the oven is responsible for the majority of the heat transfer (indirect heating). However, the baking sheet (or muffin tin or pan) gets heated by the air, too. Metal is a great conductor of heat, in fact it is far better at heat transference than air. Once the pan reaches the temperature of the oven, it also cooks your food through direct heating. This is why the bottom of your cornbread gets done before the top (and quite possibly the middle)

The first thing I suggest is getting an oven thermometer, this will give you an accurate indication of whether or not your oven is heating to the proper temperature. To test your oven, place one of the racks in the middle position, hang the thermometer from the rack, set the oven to 350F and wait for 20 minutes. Now check the temperature on the thermometer, this should be a much more accurate indication of the actual cooking temperature your oven is maintaining.

If your oven’s temperature is off, it may need calibrating, check your owner’s manual of your oven. If you can’t find it, use Google and perform a quick search of the make and model of your appliance. Many manufacturers have the pdf of  the owner’s manuals available online.

If your oven’s temperature is off by 20 degrees or more, the thermostat -the part that controls the temperature- may need to be replaced. If it’s only off by five or ten degrees it won’t matter for all but the most delicate of baked goods. Just make a note and set your oven’s temperature accordingly.

As a stopgap measure to try to keep the bottom of your cornbread from burning, place the pan on a room temperature baking sheet or pizza stone in the oven. This may delay the direct heating long enough that the top of your cornbread has a chance to finish cooking.

 

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

This question came from a comment on the post: Sweet Cornbread Recipe.

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Comments

  1. Cookware always was the culprit for me in situations like this. I’ve slowly been replacing baking pans and baking sheets with plain old sturdy aluminum… No more overcooked/burning bottoms. Thinner, non-stick coated pans always fail me. I haven’t yet replaced my bread pans so I just line those with slips of parchment which also helps tremendously.

  2. Bobbie Laughman says:

    One apartment we lived in years ago had an oven that always got about 25 degrees hotter than it was set for, which is why it always burned any baked goods (casseroles and roasts seemed to come out okay) Once I got an oven thermometer and figured out the problem, I was able to compensate by setting the dial 25 degrees lower than the recipe called for.

    In another home, I had only countertop oven for baking. For foods that tended to get done too quickly on the bottom, I’d put the dish on the rack in center position, but also put an empty cookie sheet or pizza pan on a rack in the lowest position. It deflected the heat from hitting the bottom of the pan directly while allowing the overall oven temperature to be where it should.

  3. spiderburps says:

    Maybe you’ve had better luck than I, but putting a room temperature baking stone into a hot oven led to mine eventually cracking into pieces! Many baking stones’ direction sheets say to only ever put the baking stone into a cold oven and then allow it to warm as the oven heats to temperature. Of course, if you were to try to get around that by heating the baking stone and then putting the room temperature cornbread pan onto it, that could make the stone or the cornbread pan (if glass) crack or shatter, too… Eek! Just wanted to put that out there!

  4. dark baking pans will usually brown food faster than lighter coloured or glass pans.

    you can also try setting the pan in a water bath to moderate and spread the heat out

  5. I was going to say about heavy, dark baking pans too. I have Chicago Metallic non-stick pans and they always seem to brown more on the bottom – I think they say about reducing oven temperature when you’re using them. But I don’t, and I only seem to burn things when I’m making a batch of muffins to give someone who’s just had a baby or something.

    About oven thermometers: I bought one and it seemed to say that the oven was too hot. But then when I turned the oven down to suit the thermometer temperature it seemed way too cool and took forever to bake. Is that the “A man with two clocks trusts neither” thing? I’ve just gone with the temperature on the oven dial!

  6. BTW I glanced over at your tag cloud and read “Vegetarian Waxing” and wondered what that was all about. Reading comprehension fail.

  7. KeterMagick says:

    Call me “old school” but I like to cook my cornbread in cast iron. The even heat distribution helps a lot, and I think it tastes better. I second Bobbie’s suggestion to put a cookie sheet or even a piece of aluminum foil on the shelf below the dish if things tend to scorch on the bottom. I move the second shelf up, directly below the shelf holding the pan, as this seems to give the best shielding.

    Water bath is ok for some things, but remember it will make steam, and this could prevent the drying and crisping some foods require to come out as expected…texture will be much more tender and perhaps even a bit sticky.

  8. Bobbie Laughman says:

    @spiderburps I used to put my pizza stone into an already hot oven and it never broke.

    The way I managed to break it was when I decided to store it in the under-oven broiler in a gas oven. I preheated the broiler without removing it — cracked in half. As if that wasn’t bad enough, someone gave me one to replace it, and I did the same thing again.

    No more pizza stones for me. I don’t deserve them.

  9. Bobbie Laughman says:

    @KeterMagick Old school!

  10. @KeterMagick cast iron makes awesome corn bread. my preferred way of making it (especially after cooking some bacon in the pan)

  11. KeterMagick says:

    LOL @Bobbie Laughman ! Heck yeah; there’s no school like old school!

    @imabug – you’d better believe I use bacon grease! I would have to turn in my apron and move way up north otherwise. ;-) Unless they are going to be used immediately, I pass the bacon drippings through a fine-mesh wire sieve (one that is about as old as I am) to remove the particles that could cause it to spoil and keep it in an old pickle jar in the refrigerator. It has been my experience that cast iron requires bacon grease to maintain proper seasoning.

  12. bookchick says:

    I use duck fat to season my cast iron. But that required a separate purchase in the store, bacon grease would be more economical.

  13. My mother-in-law taught me to use a cast iron skilled, too! I pour olive oil (t-r-y-i-n-g to be healthier here!) into the bottom, just enough to make a coating no more than 1/8 inch. I heat up the pan as I heat the oven. When the oven is heated and the corn bread mixed I pour the batter into the hot oil. It is supposed to sizzle. If it doesn’t sizzle much then I know I didn’t preheat the oven and pan long enough.

    It makes a wonderful crispy texture on the bottom…yummy!

    P.S. My dad likes to eat cornbread in a bowl with buttermilk poured over it. Go figure.