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My college apartment is furnished with pretty basic appliances and the oven has just a knob to set the temperature, an indication light to show that it's on, and a switch to turn the oven light on and off.

I've only used digital ovens that beeped when the set temperature was reached, but this one doesn't have any sort of indicator. How would I know when the set temperature has been reached?

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    you would need a simple thermometer with an alarm
    – Max
    Sep 18, 2022 at 21:45
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    Sometimes the indication light indicates when the heating element is on, so switches off when the oven is at temperature. Just in case you haven't tried yet, that could be the case here.
    – dbmag9
    Sep 18, 2022 at 21:53
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    @Max I had a probe thermometer with an alarm. I found out the hard way that you can’t use them for that, as the probe tips aren’t always rated for the higher temperature. (As they don’t expect to get much over boiling temperatures). Some might be rated for candy making temperatures
    – Joe
    Sep 19, 2022 at 0:55
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    Just get a decent oven thermometer and check on it every 5 to 10 minutes? The one built in to the oven probably isn't very good anyway and unless you are doing something that requires precise temps you'll figure out pretty quickly how long it takes to heat up and cool and how the position of the nob translates to actual temp.
    – eps
    Sep 19, 2022 at 11:44
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    @dbmag9 This did turn out to be the case!
    – vjh
    Sep 19, 2022 at 22:36

4 Answers 4

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You don't mention if it is an gas or an electric oven, but if it is the latter, there is generally an easy way to tell if the oven is up to temperature without a thermometer.

Give the oven about 10-15 minutes to heat up then rotate the temperature dial back and forward a few degrees (decreasing and increasing the temperature respectively). Listen carefully, and you you should hear a very slight "Click" when the thermostat kicks in. Immediately stop rotating the dial, and read the temperature off the scale. This will be roughly your oven temperature.

This method won't work with all ovens, gas specifically. It may not work with other exotic electric ovens that don't have a basic bimetallic thermostat either.

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    I have used a gas oven with a small window to view the pilot and burner. The same trick of turning the temperature adjustment up or down to read the real temperature would be used while watching the flame in the window.
    – Phil
    Sep 19, 2022 at 20:05
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    Before doing this (and for everyone else in general): CALIBRATE YOUR OVEN THERMOSTAT! It's far easier than you imagine, and those things are way further off than you think in most (even newish) appliances. They mostly rely on (very cheap) bimetal strips, which aren't the most precise to begin with and (can) show a huge drift over time
    – Hobbamok
    Sep 20, 2022 at 9:29
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Simple enough, really. For an electric oven, look at the elements (easier with the light off - also easier if your oven has a glass window in the door - you don't specify - but not essential.)

If they glow orange and then get dark, they are cycling on and off. If the "off time" is more than a minute or so, it's likely where it thinks it's set. My current one does not just slam the elements full on until it hits temperature, so I'd not say turning off at all is a good indicator.

That may have a wide relationship to what the actual temperature is, so a thermometer is still a good idea, but you can live without one if you look at the food and it seems to be too brown/black or not browned enough, allowing you to infer the temperature is higher or lower than it says, and change the setting next time.

In many cases you can also hear the elements click on and off. Useful if there's no window.

If a gas oven, look at the burner flames. You can usually hear those, as well. Most will only go back to "large pilot" once they hit temperature, so the main flame dropping is a good sign you are at temperature.

Ye Olde Recipes (1980's and before) generally just said something like "preheat for 15-20 minutes," so that's another simple method, as is not even preheating (so, you bake a little longer, but the oven is on for less total time) for the many things that don't really need it, reserving preheat for the few that do.

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    Even older recipes just specify "warm oven", "hot oven", etc. So don't worry about it too much. With my old oven, it's pretty much wishful thinking that the inside temperature matches the number on the dial anyway ;)
    – Kingsley
    Sep 19, 2022 at 5:24
  • I'd forgotten that point about gas ovens, Ecnerwal. To clarify, I don't think adjusting the temperature dial will have the same immediate effect on the temp as an electric oven, so you would have to go by sight/sound of the flame rather than the thermostat.
    – Greybeard
    Sep 19, 2022 at 10:01
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    How do you know the oven has reached temperature? Because 15 minutes have passed! Sep 19, 2022 at 11:56
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The answer to this is simple, and is true for any oven: use an oven thermometer.

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That's one, there's lots of other options - not endorsing any specific one (the link goes over several).

Oven temperatures aren't terribly consistent even in relatively new ovens, so it's always ideal to use an oven thermometer to see what the actual temperature is, assuming you have something that cares about the actual temperature cooking (like a cake or cookies).

The best ones can sit outside the oven and just use a probe inside it, so they're very readable, and can have alarms set to alert you when it's ready.

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  • I wanted to write this, but I consider probeless ones better, because I had several probes die on me, and buying just a probe is often impossible. Simple one you hang, stand or glue inside can be bought for $10 or so. If you buy one with probe, make sure replacement probes are available, and maybe buy some in advance.
    – Mołot
    Sep 21, 2022 at 10:46
  • To be honest, ovens that heat with visible glowing rods or flames may heat the thermometer up to higher temperatures -- via radiation -- than the actual air. A truly accurate temperature reading will only be obtained in a convection oven or shielded from the heating elements, by being in a container or under aluminum foil. The fool proof method to be sure that the oven is hot is to heat it for 15 minutes, or 20 if you are a chicken or have a particularly delicate baking task. Sep 21, 2022 at 15:48
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A way to avoid the trouble is just to put in the dish while the oven is heating up. If you develop a feeling for cooking, this will be fine with almost any type of dish. The benefit of preheating is mostly so that you can follow a recipe to the letter, including total oven time. But you can go by eye/smell too. There are a few dishes where inside temperature/cooking time may ideally be slightly different from the outside temperature but I wouldn’t worry about that too much. The benefit is that it also saves energy and costs because no heat is wasted.

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    True for some dishes, like casseroles. Not so good for baking, or for things that cook hot and fast (i.e. it will ruin a pizza)
    – Chris H
    Sep 19, 2022 at 8:41
  • As Chris H says, for baking this will tend to burn the top / outside of your dough (and/or the bottom in a glass pan), because of the strong radiant heat. I'd guess the cases where it's not a problem are wetter and/or fully covered foods, like a casserole dish with a lid. Sep 20, 2022 at 6:18

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