How to tell if your oven temperature is accurate

If you love baking, you've probably noticed that a lot of your favorite recipes call for setting the oven temperature to 350 degrees. But how can you tell if your oven temperature is accurate so that you don't end up with a tray of treats that are undercooked or, even worse, burnt to a crisp? 

An easy and accurate way to ensure that your oven is set to the right temperature is using an oven thermometer, and then doing a quick test to see if your oven has any hot spots (via CNET). Over time, your oven's temperature dial can become inaccurate, not reflecting its actual internal temperature. Oven temperature can also vary model to model by as much as 90 degrees, so you can't assume that each one will bake items the way you expect them to (via CNET). 

To test the temperature of your oven, place an oven thermometer on the center rack. Set your oven to 350 degrees, and once the oven is done preheating, check your oven thermometer. If there's a difference between the temperature on the thermometer and the dial on the front of your oven, make note of it, and adjust you dial setting accordingly the next time you bake something. Since the calibration can fluctuate over time, you should repeat this test every 3-6 months (via Cook's Illustrated). Once things are calibrated correctly, you can even make a homemade wedding cake without worrying that your oven will somehow destroy it. 

Your oven's temperature can also fluctuate depending on which part of the oven your food is placed in — the sides, bottom, and top of ovens tend to be the hottest. To test for hot spots, preheat your oven to 350 and place about six slices of bread on each rack, so you have them spread fairly evenly throughout the oven. Bake until the bread in the center of each rack has turned a light golden brown, and then see which slices of bread are overcooked. That will help you figure out where to place your pans and baking sheets, and can also tell you whether or not you need to flip or rotate your pans at some point during the baking process to make sure that things are cooking evenly (via King Arthur Flour). 

Once you know that your oven temperature is accurate and you've identified its hot spots, you should have smooth sailing the next time you embark on a big baking project.