I've noticed in my convection oven, there is a difference between the air and the surface temperature of the metal baking pan on the top shelf.

Which is the better reference for measuring oven temperature?

And, does the answer change depending on what is being baked and the method of baking?


In this specific case I'm baking baguettes on said metal baking pan.

I use an IR gun for the surface temp of the pan and an oven thermometer hanging from the same top shelf for the air temp.

If I place the oven thermometer on the pan then both show the same temperature.

1 Answer 1


Generally speaking ovens are controlled by a thermostat that (to a first approximation) measures the air temperature. This is what recipes expect. It's also why for some very sensitive baking it's not sufficient to preheat until the thermostat says the setpoint is reached, as the metal inside (e.g. shelves) hasn't yet warmed up (and a reason for sometimes preheating a dish or using a pizza stone). A lot of heat in the air is lost when you open the door, heat in solid contents much less so. Note that not all the air is at the same temperature anyway.

I would expect the temperatures of the air and a pan to converge over time, if you can avoid opening the door: the element heats up the air, the air heats up the pan. There may also be radiative heating of the pan from elements either visible or embedded in the walls/floor of the oven. For element you can also read "flame" in a gas oven.

If heat is mainly transferred through the air, the air temperature will rise faster than that of the pan (possibly much faster), but once the air temperature reaches the setpoint the pan temperature will catch up.

If radiative heating of the pan is significant, it could heat up ahead of the air and therefore exceed the setpoint, but once the setpoint is reached and the element switches off, it will cool to the air temperature.

If you keep opening the door to measure using the IR thermometer, all bets are off, so to track convergence you'd be best using two oven thermometers, one in the pan and one suspended from a rack. Make sure you can read both without opening the door, and make sure they read the same.

Although it's the air temperature that matters, if coooking something sensitive you should preheat until the metal and air are close to the same temperature, and then the air temperature will recover quickly after you (quickly) put the bread in.

  • I measure with the IR Gun only when the setpoint is reached + the door is only open a crack + IR measurement is taken within 1 sec, so the metal wont have time to cool too much. But, the metal surface is always hotter than the air, even over a period of 30mins.
    – tuk
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 14:35
  • It sounds like you may still have some radiant heating going on. You may be able to select between elements. My small (non-fan) oven has top and bottom heat, with the top element exposed, while my large fan oven tucks the element away and shouldn't be so uneven. If radiant heating from the top is an issue I would expect a little too much browning on top, which may be mitigated by using a lower shelf and/or placing an empty baking sheet (or even a sheet of foil) on the shelf above the food.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 14:48
  • The real issue is knowing which of the two readings is the most important in terms of baking the bread at the correct temperature. Is it the metal surface the bread sits on or the air circulating around the bread? As I have to choose between them to gauge when the oven is ready.
    – tuk
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 14:57
  • My first two sentences say that recipes expect air temperature. The rest explains the science behind why, and a few suggestiosn for what to do about it. It's also possible to get an over-browned bottom on a black baking sheet, if it gets too hot, so in a sense both matter
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 15:38

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