Identifying oven hot spots: the toast test

Do you ever have trouble with cookies burning? What about a pie whose bottom crust is doughy and white, rather than crisp and flaky? And why, occasionally, does one side of your cake rise more quickly than the other? The answer may be oven hot spots.

Your oven is basically a metal box whose interior can be heated to temperatures ranging from barely warm to screaming hot. We bakers typically bake in a “moderate” oven: 350°F. But that’s not to say that when you preheat your oven to 350°F, every cubic inch of air inside the oven is 350°F — any more than every spot in your air-conditioned house is 66°F.

Your oven is hottest around its periphery: sides, bottom, and top. The closer you get to those metal walls, the hotter the air. Thus anything baked towards the periphery will bake and brown more quickly than anything baked in the center of the oven. Note: Information in this post may not apply to convection ovens.

Your oven isn't perfect. But you can make its imperfections work for you — once you understand them. Click To Tweet

A loaf of quick bread or pan of sheet cake placed in the exact center of the oven will probably bake flawlessly: nicely risen, evenly browned on top, and neither burned nor raw on the bottom.

But bake two 9” x 13” cakes side by side, where the far edges of both pans are close to the oven wall; or position pans of cookies on three racks so that some are near the bottom of the oven, and others near the top — and you may experience uneven browning, burned bottoms, or tough edges.

The cause? Oven hot spots.

Oven Hot Spots via @kingarthurflour

Left, bread baked in the center of the oven; right, bread baked at the back of a lower rack.

Identify your oven hot spots

Just how much does the temperature vary between that sweet spot in the center of the oven and everywhere else? Every oven is different — which is why you should test for oven hot spots using this simple technique.

First, buy a jumbo loaf of inexpensive white bread (because you don’t need to waste your homemade loaf on an oven test).

Position your oven racks where you typically have them for baking. Preheat your oven to 350°F, giving it sufficient time to come to temperature. Check its temperature with an independent thermometer; the oven signal telling you it’s preheated is probably far from accurate. (My oven takes a good 30 minutes to preheat to 350°F, though it tells me it’s hot enough after 15 minutes. Liar liar pants on fire!)

Oven Hot Spots via @kingarthurflour

Space slices of bread over the racks.

Bake the bread until the center slices are a light golden brown; in my oven, this takes about 18 minutes.

Remove the racks from the oven, and check the results. Assess the brownness of each slice of bread (both top and bottom) based on where it was on the rack, and where the rack was in the oven.

Oven Hot Spots via @kingarthurflour

Assess the results

Do you see any differences in browning? Unless you own the Rolls Royce of ovens (whatever that may be) — of course you do.

Typically, the slices closest to the center of the oven will be the most evenly browned, as well as the lightest. Those around the edges (front, back, and sides) will be darker, and probably show varying degrees of browning. Perhaps one or two slices of bread are VERY browned: these denote your oven’s hottest hot spots.

What do you do with this information?

Combine it with a dollop of common sense and use it to position your pans for optimum baking results.

Put your knowledge to use

Your oven may be much hotter towards the bottom than the top — even if the heating element is on the top. If you have trouble with cookies burning on the bottom, keep your cookie sheets off the bottom rack.

On the other hand, if your bottom pie crust always seems underdone, take advantage of that hot spot at the bottom of your oven by baking pies on the bottom rack.

Oven Hot Spots via @kingarthurflour

If you have trouble with round cake layers rising or browning unevenly, bake them as close to the center of the oven as possible. Instead of placing two pans side by side on the same rack, place them on two racks, one below the other (spacing the racks about 4 1/2” apart for best heat circulation).

Two-thirds of the way through their bake, rotate the pans: top pan to bottom, bottom pan to top. In addition, give each pan a 180° spin so the side that was formerly facing the back is now facing the front.

Why not rotate the pans halfway through? Certain thin-batter cakes can be delicate, and moving them around the oven before they’re set can cause them to fall. However, other baked goods — cookies, muffins, bars, etc. — should be rotated at the halfway point.

What if you’re having an issue with yeast bread not browning sufficiently: e.g., sourdough? Try positioning the pan on an upper oven rack, where the top crust is closer to the hot wall or heating element at the top of the oven

Oven hot spots: your takeaways

• Position your pans in the oven thoughtfully, keeping in mind the oven is always hottest at the top, bottom, and sides.

• For most even baking, position pans in the center of the oven.

• If you’re baking multiple pans of treats at once, rotate the pans midway through the bake: top to bottom, bottom to top; front of the pan to the back, back to the front. This will help minimize the effect of those oven hot spots.

Oven Hot Spots via @kingarthurflour

Oven hot spots: what about your baking stone?

Baking stones are known for their ability to absorb and hold heat, and then transfer it to whatever is set on top: pizza, baguettes, a crusty sourdough loaf.

But they’re also an excellent fix for excessive heat at the bottom of your oven. Place a baking stone on the lowest rack or on the oven floor (if there’s no heating element there). The stone absorbs heat from the floor of the oven and gently diffuses it upwards, effectively eliminating any hot spots.

Are you convinced? Test for oven hot spots today — and use the results to inform your pan placement going forward.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

    1. Susan Reid

      Hi, Libby. Convection ovens depend very much on the speed of the fan and the depth of the oven. I have found the hottest spot in many convection ovens is toward the door, where the air is hitting it and bouncing back. Susan

  1. Teresa

    I have a convection oven. Doesn’t this solve or mostly solve the hot spot problem since the air is circulated in the oven?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Convection ovens are a bit of a wild card, Teresa. It’s true that there are fans in convection ovens that help circulate air, which can help things bake more evenly. However, there can still be hot spots that will bake things faster than other areas. If you have a convection oven and you’d like to get to know it a bit better, do a toast test both with the fan off and on. You’ll likely notice a more pronounced difference with the fan off, but we’d be surprised (and delighted for you!) if every piece of toast was evenly browned, even with the fan on. Feel free to share a full report of your findings with us. We’d love to hear an update. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  2. Barbara McEwan

    I may be confused. I read that using a pie stone on the bottom shelf, preheating the stone and then placing the unbaked pie on top would help to nicely cook the bottom crust. Is this correct or should I put the pie directly on the bottom shelf.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Barbara, your method is fine. Depending on your stone you’ll want to make sure it has a solid 45 minutes to preheat, but once it’s hot it will do the job as you describe. The floor of some ovens have exposed heating elements; some are closed, with the heating element just underneath it. Once the stone is hot it will do its job of giving more heat to the bottom of your pie pan more efficiently. Susan

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It sure can, Pamela. Baking steels are quite hardy and can stay in the oven to help even out the heat distribution in your oven while baking. Give it a try the next time you bake and see if you like the results. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  3. Tee

    As an appliance repair technician with 30+ years in homes just like yours, please take this one piece of advice prior to calling in for repairs.
    PRE-HEAT, PRE-HEAT, PRE-HEAT.
    FOR 30 MINUTES. I don’t care what your chime says, I don’t care what your manual told you, I don’t care what your mamma told you. Pre heating solved 90% of temperature problems in my experience.

    Reply
  4. Loey Krause

    I use the baking stone when I’m baking any sort of custard, like a custard pie, pumpkin pie, or a souffle. I do it because I think the constant temperature would help the custard to set more evenly. I don’t really know if it helps or not because custards always take wayyyy more time then the recipe calls for when I do them. Like maybe twice as long or more. and my ovens are VERY uneven and the temperature swings are plus and minus 35 degrees.

    Reply
  5. Loey Krause

    I would suggest that the slices of bread be labeled so after you take them out, you won’t lose track of where each piece was. You could also take pictures of them for later reference, in case you forget where the hot and cool spots are.
    Perhaps rows and columns, horizontal row 1 in the back, vertical column A, along the left side.

    And just a little nit to pick, a typo, you have 180 (degrees) F, but this is how far to rotate, as in degrees of an angle, not temperature.

    Reply
    1. Wendy

      they took the whole rack out, so they remained in place. Taking a photo is a great idea.

  6. Marie

    What about gas ovens? I’m still getting used to my first propane ovens after only using electric. I’m learning the hot spots, but I’d appreciate any insights and tips!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Go with the same method for checking for hot spots, Marie! You’re already ahead of the baking game having learned some of your new oven’s hotspots, and therefore are probably baking much more accurately than most. Annabelle@KAF

  7. pc Brown

    Although, after decades of using this builder grade oven, yes, I understand about the hot spots (as a cake baker insert frustrated eye roll here). What I didn’t know was that trick with the baking stone (insert a cake baker happy dance here)! Thank you! I always find such good USEFUL information here; so much so that when I pin a recipe or a great tip, it always includes ‘KAF’ in the title so with a glance I know it’s from King Arthur Flour and there is no concern over a ‘pinterest fail’!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Thanks for your kind words. I discovered the baking stone effect by accident; I’d fully expected it to be the opposite, that the stone would make the bottom of the oven hotter. That’s why it pays to test, test, test! PJH@KAF

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