This is an odd question. Are there any suggestions as to what baked items would catch on fire or smoke (possibly from being forgotten for a few extra minutes) and make a big mess?

I am researching baking information for a fiction story and have a baking disaster that needs to occur. I know alcohol and sugar will flame, but I'm uncertain if that would happen in a normally running oven.

Many thanks!


By far the main way you make a smoking mess in your oven is by baking something in too small a vessel, so that it boils over and burns on the bottom of the oven. The actual food can be pretty much anything you want, as long as it has liquid. (Similarly, baking a cake in a springform pan that leaks around the bottom will tend to cause messes.) If you want actual flames, I'm guessing something greasy would do it, but I've never been crazy enough to try it. Alcohol does burn too, but you'll get much stronger flames from a grease fire.

Alternatively, you can set a lot of things on fire by leaving them under the broiler too long. A minute or two? Nicely browned. Five or ten minutes? Charred - and there'll probably have been flames if it was flammable.

  • A dripping casserole or similar item was my first thought (as I've done it). I've gotten smoke when things have dripped over and hit the bottom of the oven, but I can't say that I've ever gotten flames. I have gotten flames but it's been something too close to the flame, not a liquid issue where it was mostly related to being left in too long. Even if it's a steak that curls up and starts collecting fat, the fat needs to drop off the side before it'll burn. – Joe Oct 21 '14 at 11:24
  • I've had cherry pies make an exquisite smoke cloud when I forget to put a catch pan under the pie dish and the lquid hits the bottom of the oven. – Wayfaring Stranger Oct 21 '14 at 14:19
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    @Joe In that vein, the best I can think of is trying to bake bacon on a cookie sheet instead of something appropriately deep, so that a bunch of fat would render out, then when the pan snap-warps from the heat, it'd go everywhere... – Cascabel Oct 21 '14 at 15:29
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    @Jefromi : I was trying to think of a potentially greasy casserole that might bubble over ... but most casseroles are wet, not oily. Maybe if you managed to get it just right, you could have a mound of cheese that exuded its fat, then melted down the side, onto the hot oven floor. If you wanted a real kitchen disaster, try roasting a hunk of meat in a modern pyrex dish ... cold dish, hot oven. There's a chance the dish will explode, then the grease will drip, causing the fire. Of course, no restaurant would be stupid enough to use pyrex. – Joe Oct 21 '14 at 18:06

Pizza disaster is a fairly common oven horror story. It involves placing a pizza directly on the oven rack, and then having it sag through the wires to burn on the bottom of the oven. Sadly, I'm not finding an easily uploadable image for this answer, but the result can be quite horrifying, and smoky.

  • Thank you. Pizza isn't going to fit into this scenario but I'll keep it in mind (-: – GHS Oct 21 '14 at 4:20

I once caused a fire in a comercial kitchen by refilling the deep fat fryer but only a little in the bottom I went to fetch some more oil when I came back it was on fire. Now the flames were very high but it was quite easy to put out with a fire blanket but for it to lead to a full scale inferno would be for someone yo attempt to extinguish the flames with water, it's important to point out that this person would likely be very badly burned. But the resultant fire along with buckets of old fat underneath the fryers would be the makings of a huge fire.


This is probably obvious. In hindsight it was a thoughtless move:

When my wife and I first got married, I was broiling steaks in the oven.
I thought I would prepare my own glaze.
Bourbon glazes were all the rage at the time.
I think you can see where this is going.

To my defense, up until then I had never added alcohol to anything except for deglazing in a sauce.
So, since this question seems to serve as a general warning for when to look out for fire, also be careful when adding uncut wines and spirits (especially spirits).
I haven't tried to prepare a bourbon glaze since. I would do some thorough research if I intended to.

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    Glazes in general will burn ... and the really sugary ones will smoke up something awful (but not necessarily flame up). Alcohol flames are at a much cooler temperature than grease fires, and may not generate much smoke if that's the only item burning. One random though -- a bourbon glaze on a baked good would likely burn easier than one on a steak (steak == moisture source, therefore thermal mass), but typically in that case you put the glaze on after it comes out of the oven. (although, maybe that's the reason for demoting the character). – Joe Oct 21 '14 at 11:30

Not actually a food item, but I once set some parchment paper on fire in the oven while baking cookies. I cut the sheet too big and the extra paper (with no cookies) had some good flames and smoke going on...


Puff pastry will catch fire it you put it too close to the heating spiral. It can rise outside of the original container and touch the heating elements, at which point it will catch fire. It also smokes intensely.

(Yes, this is from experience)


The scenario you specify isn't very likely to happen. The food in an oven has a very low temperature. A casserole or loaf of bread might get some surface charring after staying for too long in the oven, but it'll need at least half an hour above the normal time for somebody in the next room to notice the smell. And there won't be much smoke and certainly no fire.

A common kitchen scenario is to forget something on stovetop. There you have several nice possibilities, depending on the amount of damage or chaos you want in the scene. A pot of something high in sugars, like jam left to cook down or caramel in the making (before adding milk) will result in charred residue which will smoke and stink a lot, ruin any coating on the pot (enamel, non stick) and annoy the cook to no end, but won't do any damage outside of the pot, so it can be hidden after five minutes of airing the kitchen. Or you can have milk boil over, it will happen in mere seconds, then it will then stick to the stove and the residue will be very hard to clean. Note that if you specified "baking" because your character is working in a bakery or as a patisserie chef, he will still be heating milk, jam and caramel frequently.

If you want actual flames, there's nothing better than oil. It will need longer time to get to auto-ignition temperature, but if you have somebody deep frying stuff on stovetop, and the person is not so great at managing temperature, it can happen right in front of the cook, without any need for forgetting. With a gas stove and a pan full of hot oil, you can also have a spark getting into the pan without the need for badly controled temperature. This kind of grease fire is quite dangerous, and shouldn't be extinguished with water.

illustration of pan on fire

If it absolutely has to be an oven, you'll have better luck if it is happening in a restaurant. There, you can find pizza ovens going up to 450 Celsius, or even wood fired ovens which are much hotter. A rotisserie with open heat elements is also a candidate, if you let hot fat drip on the lower elements. In a home oven, a broiler will have enough temperature to burn something to the point of lots of smoke and charring, but I doubt that you will get flames. I think that a forgotten creme brulee will be very good for this scenario - the burning sugar will give you lots of stink, and it's done on a broiler by default.

There are also self cleaning ovens, and if your character forgets food inside the oven before turning the cleaning cycle on, it can cause a fire, and a dangerous one at that, because you can't open the oven to extinguish it before the cycle is over. But you need a very scatterbrained character to pull it off.

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    For what it's worth, I've even managed to set a pepper on fire under the broiler. The stem was too close to the element. – Cascabel Oct 20 '14 at 17:56
  • I love the creme brulee idea. I should have mentioned that she's in a commercial kitchen, and this disaster leads to a demotion. So self cleaning ovens won't work although it's a great idea. She is a little scatterbrained these days. (-: – GHS Oct 21 '14 at 4:29
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    Commercial kitchen? crap ... it's actually harder to burn things in a commercial oven, as they don't have broilers in them. They would have a separate broiler unit (possibly a salamander), that's not fully enclosed; this prevents there from being moisture build-up, which would retard the browning. – Joe Oct 21 '14 at 11:38
  • Along with that, they'd be less likely to use too-small baking dishes, I suspect, since there'd be more of a routine (and plenty of appropriately sized equipment. – Cascabel Oct 21 '14 at 15:31
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    Hmmm all good ideas. Thank you. She works in a bakery, so it's all commercial baking equipment. No broiler. But she's creating a "masterpiece" experiment to surprise her boss (who is already losing faith in her). This could lead to using a smaller dish and some alcohol. As long as it is enough of a smoking disaster (she receives an emergency call from her son which leads to her forgetting about the item) to convince the owner to demote her I'll probably have what I need for the time being. Clearly I need to spend some time interviewing bakers. I'd rather work in one for a while! Thank you! – GHS Oct 21 '14 at 18:07

I've had flare-ups when frying fatty sausages using a broiler or an electric grill in an oven in much the same way that you can get flare-ups on a barbecue. Oven fires can happen when fat builds up in an oven or broiler and hasn't been cleaned, it would be entirely plausible that someone could walk out of the room for a minute and come back to find their oven engulfed in flames if they fry lots of fatty food and don't clean their oven.


Would you consider a toaster, or toaster oven? Like a broiler, they have a nice combination of high temperatures in close proximity to food.

I once accidentally set a flour tortilla on fire (literal fire, with flames) while attempting to warm it in a toaster oven.

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