"There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is
by the sword. The other is by debt." - John Adams
($21 trillion and counting...)
1) I always find myself calibrating a lot of ovens in the Fall
with Thanksgiving and Christmas closing in, and tried to get this to
you long before the holidays, but...
Anyway, that oven that's been a
little too hot or that you've had to set 50 degrees higher needs to be
*right* for all the baking this time of year (or for pies any
time!), so let's talk about a couple of oven temperature basics.
First, even though electronic
controls can be adjusted up or down a bit, they rarely need it,
so I'll focus mainly on 'analog', or 'hydraulic' thermostats
here. If it has a simple rotary knob and no digital display, this
most likely describes yours.
If the temperature's 'off' in
your electronic control oven , I'd contact your local pro, as
there are so many different adjustment procedures for these,
depending on brand, there's not space here to get into them.
Check your owner's manual first, though; the procedure is often
We talked a bit
about the various error 'F' codes in the electronic range
controls in other issues, so I won't go over those here. It'd probably
be a good idea to discuss them again in the near future, though, as
some of them have changed.
Contrary to what you might
think, when you set your oven temp to 350F, it doesn't heat to 350F
and *stay* there. (In a perfect world, it would, but in this old
fallen one, things are just never that simple <grin>).
An oven 'ramps up' in preheat
- usually 5 to 10 minutes - to a temp that's usually well above
the 'set' temp. At 350, for example, you'll see the average
electric oven heat to around 400F before cycling off the first
After preheat, once the
metal's hot, the average 'differential', or range of temp's between
on and off, will vary from one oven to another. I consider a 50
degree F differential very accurate, and even electronic controls
don't get much better than that in the real world.
So what we want at the 350
setting is an *average* of around 350 or a little less. Ideally,
this is an 'on' temp of around 325F and back 'off' at around
375F, yielding an average of 350. Setting this a bit lower than
350F isn't a bad idea, though. I usually aim for an average of
340F or 345F, because it's easier to put your food back into the
oven for a few minutes if under - done than it is opening the
door to find a 'burnt offering'.
OK, so now we know what to
'shoot for'. How do we measure the actual oven temperature?
Well, let me answer that by telling you how *not* to try it.
Don't rely on those $2.99 dial - type thermometers from the local
grocery or hardware store. They're never very accurate, and it's
pretty much impossible to get a good idea what's going on inside
the oven using one.
One note that I'll insert
here, before you start: check the position of the thermostat's
sensing bulb inside the oven. Make sure it's fastened securely in
its mounting, usually with two small steel clips, and is *not
touching the oven wall*. This is very important.
The t'stat senses air
temperature, and if its sensing bulb's touching metal, the
accuracy will be severely 'off' - usually averaging very low
(electronic sensors are mounted more securely, but it pays to
take a quick look at one of those before you start, too, just to
The best way to read this
accurately is with a remote - reading thermometer. These days,
digital ones are very inexpensive (way less than a pro's service
call!), and one will last you a *long* time. I had my first
digital unit for nearly 20 years (!), and used it several
times per week, at least. Upgraded a few years ago, and the price
was about half of the old one.
Way back when I bought my
it cost around $70, but these days you'll often see temperature
capability built into inexpensive digital volt-ohm meters, and
that' s really handy combination.
Shack sells them at very reasonable cost, as do other retailers,
and they work very well. Usually accurate to within one degree or
so F, which is way more than enough accuracy for our purposes
here. (to give you an idea just how old I am, the first one I
used was an analog meter style, like the Simpson 260's (and if you
remember those, you must be an old guy, too!)
When testing, place the end
of the meter's thermocouple in the center of the oven - I usually
twist it around the center of a rack - and then watch the temp
change up and down with the door closed.
Allow the oven 30-45 minutes
or so to preheat and run at
least 3 on/off cycles up and down, then adjust, and run 2 or 3
more to verify that it's right.
Write down the 'on' and 'off'
temps for several cycles, and divide the difference between them to
get the average, or total them and divide by two (remember doing
averages in elementary math class? Do yours on a slate? <grin>).
Adjustment procedures vary
widely between brands and models, but on many newer ones, you'll see a pair of
screws on the back of the tstat knob, and by loosening
these the indicator can be rotated to the correct setting,
matching the average you've measured.
If your tstat knob has no
screws, you'll commonly see a tiny screw inside the hollow tstat shaft,
and this is turned a bit to change setting.
On most of these, turning
that little screw CW lowers temp, CCW raises it. The 'trick' is
finding (or grinding down) a screwdriver small enough to fit. We
used to buy them from our parts distributors, but I've had
trouble finding them the last decade or so, so have had to carefully
grind small 'pocket' screwdrivers down to fit.
If you can't get enough
adjustment to bring your oven temp into line using the available
range on the knob or with that little screw (or if the screw's
'frozen' - not uncommon), you'll have to 'bite the bullet' and
replace either the tstat or the range, I'm afraid.
If it should come to that,
drop me an email with your model number and I'll be happy to
research one for you. I have some pretty awesome parts sources, and
can get parts to you pretty fast. I get a real kick out of helping
handy folks, especially when they realize that they actually
*can* do way more with their own appliances than they ever thought.
Anyhow, that's about it! Have
fun (and feel free to send me a pie; I'll, um, use it to evaluate
your oven's performance! <grin>)
3) I've been using Palm PDA's every day for years, and one of
the things I love about them is their instant on/off, with nearly
zero boot-up time (Please, Mr. Gates, could we someday have a PC
that does this?!)
Being spoiled by the Palm operating system, I'm always
frustrated by how long my PCs take to boot up and shut down every
day, and recently found an easy little trick, to streamline at least
the shutdown side of things. I know this is way off-topic, but
thought you might find it handy, too:
Right-click your desktop, then click 'new', and 'shortcut'. A
window will come up, asking 'type the location of the item'. Enter
'shutdown -s' in the space provided (without the quotes) and hit
'continue'. Name the shortcut 'Shutdown', and click 'finish'.
Now you have a shutdown icon on your desktop that you can just
click and walk away to quickly shut your computer down. Your
computer will wait 30 seconds, then shut down. I still have to turn
off my monitors and UPS, but it saves a few clicks and a few seconds
Now if Bill can just come up with fast PC boot-ups...