How Does an Electric Oven Work?

Using an electric oven to cook a meal has been a way of life since the first half of the 20th century when they were first introduced on a mass scale. Although they are found in millions of homes, their inner workings are usually taken for granted. An appliance as common as an electric oven should be understood, if only to become more familiar with the technology. Becoming more familiar with the ins and outs of an electric oven could also help you if you were to install one yourself.

Basic Components

There are a couple different types of electric ovens, including the freestanding-range stove combinations and wall ovens. The oven works in the same way for all types. Smaller, countertop-convection ovens also operate under the same principles, although they are used for less-thorough heating and cooking.

The basic components of the interior of an electric oven are the top and bottom heating elements, which are contained in an enclosed steel box. The elements are controlled by the thermostat and the selector switch. There is also a timer for precise cooking. Most electric ovens are equipped with a clock as well as other features such as an interior light switch and a self-cleaning control. Older appliances controlled the elements with dials, while newer and more advanced models have all-electronic controls.

Inner Workings

When you first set the temperature on the electric oven with either the mechanical dial or electronic control, the bottom heating element is activated. There is a copper wire that connects the temperature control to the oven box that reads the temperature and can make appropriate adjustments. As the heating element increases its temperature beyond the setting, power to the element is cut, and the temperature decreases until it reaches the level indicated by the dial. An electronic-temperature gauge does essentially the same thing, only the temperature-detecting rod sends a signal to a circuit board, automatically adjusting the interior temperature.

The heating elements do not move. They consist of wires surrounded by metal sheaths. Electrical power heats the wires, which in turn heats the metal surrounding them. Convection ovens have a fan to blow the hot air around inside the oven. Some electric ovens may include a convection feature that you can use alternatively when you wish.

Selector Dial or Control

Many electric ovens use electronic controls, but not all of them do. Some models have a selector dial that lets you indicate the type of cooking you want the oven to perform. The biggest distinction is between baking and broiling. Setting an electric oven to bake uses the bottom heating element, while the broiling function uses the top element. The broiler is designed to cook food from top to bottom. On older electric ovens, they are not controlled by the temperature gauge in the same way as the baking element, but in newer ovens it may have its own control.

Other features of an electric oven are fairly self-explanatory. The timer on an electric oven lets you bake or broil for a desired amount of time, while the self-cleaning switch heats the elements to high temperatures and reduces any residue that bakes onto the interior to dust. These vary between oven types, though, some being more complicated than others. Most ovens are combined with a cooktop consisting of four burners, each with their own controls, although some are wall-mounted and have no range components.