I think I understand what convection does, and (some) of the benefits, such as eliminating hot/cold spots, and being more efficient overall. Does this mean that I should always take advantage of it? If not, which circumstances are better for convection, and which are better for regular bake/broil?
We have a convection oven and almost always use it. I can't remember the last time we didn't use convection. Our model automatically decreases the temperature, so if you set it for 300, then it will heat to 275. Not sure if that is a magic 25 degree number, but it seems to work. Almost all recipes cook time wise as they would with a non-convection oven. Our also has a single and multi-rack mode, and it circulates the air differently in that case. We have NEVER had any problems with the food drying out more with the air circulation as they say that is a common negative.
I am sure the effectiveness varies oven to oven, but in our case, we always use it (except for broiling of course).
Anytime you're in a rush, the convection oven's a big help.
Wikipedia had this to say:
By moving fast hot air past the food, convection ovens can operate at a lower temperature than a standard conventional oven and yet cook food more quickly. The air circulation, or convection, tends to eliminate "hot spots" and thus food may bake more evenly.
A convection oven will have a reduction in cooking temperature, compared to a conventional oven. This comparison will vary, depending on factors including, for example, how much food is being cooked at once or if airflow is being restricted by using an over sized baking tray. This difference in cooking temperature is offset by the fact that circulating air transfers heat more quickly than still air of the same temperature; in order to transfer the same amount of heat in the same time, then, one must lower the temperature to reduce the rate of heat transfer to compensate.
I sometimes feel like it dries things out a little more than a traditional oven, but that may just be a function of it being easier to overcook things due to the speed.
I have tried twice to bake a double-crust Blueberry pie in my convection oven with poor results both times. The crust comes out hard as a rock (homemade crust, not store bought). After the first attempt, I tried again adjusting temperature and time, but the results were still poor.
As you know, berry pies require high heat for the berries and sugar to interact and produce a filling that is firm and not watery. Since the filling is inside the crust, it has to cook too long at a high temperature for the convection oven to "not" overcook the crust.
When I make the same pie in the regular oven, it turns out perfect every time. So I have sworn off baking fruit pies in the convection oven. I also find that it dries out foods that have to cook more than 30 minutes or so.
If yours is a convection/microwave type of oven, then be sure you don't have the control set to "mix" when you make chicken wings. Microwaving meat has always been undesirable to me as it makes the meat tough and chewy. My oven has the option to cook with convection only, microwave only, or a "mix" of convection/microwave.
The convection seems to work best for me when roasting meats or baking a covered casserole (so it doesn't dry out). I doubt I'll ever attempt to bake a pie in there again. I have looked all over the Internet and can't find any good advice about how to solve the baking problem with fruit pies.
I made buffalo chicken wings using the convection feature and they came out tough and not crispy as experienced in non-convection cooking. I'm actually gun shy about the convection option as a result.