If you cook a lot, you probably enjoy a comfortable intimacy with your stove: through trial and error, you’ve learned which are the quickest burners (perversely, they may be in the back), where the oven’s hot spots are, how much higher or lower you must set the oven thermostat to compensate for its “slow” or “fast” heat.
Many cooks don’t use their stovetops and ovens often enough to develop this familiarity, and their cooking and baking suffers accordingly. If this describes you, here are some tips that will make you a happier cook and your dishes tastier and more predictable.
Read the manual
True, stove manuals are about as gripping to read as the ingredients on a box of Hamburger Helper. But important information can be gleaned there, and I guarantee you that much of what you need to know is not intuitive. An example: Did you know that the beep you hear when you’re heating up many current ovens doesn’t signal that it has reached strike temperature but that it’s 15 minutes away from strike temperature? That’s right—and you need to know that if you’re planning on baking a cake at 350°, because the actual temperature at the signal is likely to be only 225°.
Buy an oven thermometer
Yes, your oven has a thermostat. No, it does not have an independent thermometer. If the thermostat is off, you have no way of knowing what the actual temperature is. The only way you can know for sure is to introduce a freestanding, $6–8 oven thermometer into the oven. Put it on the middle rack. It will tell you what you need to know, including how quickly your oven heats up and how high a temperature it can attain. Over time, most oven thermostats fail—a $6 thermometer can tell you when that happens.
Know your burners
Most stovetops are equipped with power burners (12,000 btu burners that produce more heat). Some gas stoves are also equipped with simmer burners (these have metal caps over the gas jets, which act as flame tamers so you can maintain low simmers). Identify these. Avoid putting small pots on large burners and vice versa; doing so cuts down on efficiency and can damage your pots and pans. Using appropriate burners saves fuel, too.
Once you get to know your stove, you might find yourself with a new best friend- one who feeds you dinner!