Because you never want to get caught in that situation.
Credit: AndreyPopov/Getty Images

In an attempt to make grilled heirloom tomato and feta panzanella salad without a grill—I almost set my oven on fire. See, I popped a tray under the broiler for a few minutes with the idea that it would warm my bread and tomatoes, and potentially help develop some char on the food too. My bread worked out great. It was dark, toasty, and perfectly crunchy. My tomatoes… started to spark in the oven. Luckily, I noticed it quickly enough to promptly turn off the oven, wait a moment, and pull my tray of olive oil-soaked, bright summer tomatoes from under the broiler. Whoops.

There are a handful of common mistakes that can lead to a flaming oven. Here are six mistakes we’ve made ourselves that may have accidentally led to a (small) kitchen fire—plus what to do if it happens to you.

Placing Greasy Food Too Close to Heat

Something you (and I clearly) may not consider—fat (i.e. cooking oil) coming too close to a heating source can spark a flame. In my case, I poured too much olive oil on my tomatoes and placed them directly under the broiler. This caused the oil to splatter and spark when it came into direct contact with the broiling element. That’s a fire just waiting to happen. Instead, keep generously oiled foods, especially those that also have a high moisture content, on lower oven racks when broiling.

Using Wax Paper Instead of Parchment Paper

There’s a pretty big difference between using wax paper and parchment paper when cooking. Wax paper is not heat-resistant the way parchment paper is, so it will most definitely melt when exposed to prolonged, high heat (key word here, folks: wax) and the paper can easily catch fire. Oven-safe parchment paper may darken a bit in the oven, but it won’t catch fire.

Dropping Food In the Oven

It’s crucial to always clean up any food that may have dropped to your oven floor. There are a great many reasons as to why you want to maintain a relatively clean oven. Namely, leftover bits may catch fire, or at least burn and smoke at the base of your oven… which is annoying. Larger pieces of dry food, like if you’re toasting a baguette and a piece falls, may even catch fire instantly. Always place loose food items on a baking sheet, and check your oven for dropped food before and after each use.

Forgetting to Use a Baking Sheet

A super common mistake is forgetting to place a baking sheet under dishes to avoid dripping. Pies, cobblers, and pizzas should be baked either directly on a baking sheet or with a baking sheet place on the rack beneath to catch any excess liquid that may burn at the bottom of your oven. And if you forget, be sure to clean your oven properly before the next use.

Using the Wrong Settings

Always make sure you read a recipe carefully and know how to use the oven properly before baking anything. Simple mistakes, like setting the oven to broil instead of bake or hitting the self-cleaning option, can easily become the start of a fire.

Leaving Your Food Unattended

Unattended cooking accounts for 33 percent of home fires, according to the Fire Department of New York. Whenever you leave food unattended in the oven, you’re at risk for it to burn or you may forget how long it’s been cooking. Always keep an eye on food you’re cooking and set a timer as a reminder to remove dishes from the oven.

What To Do If A Fire Breaks Out in Your Oven

The most important thing to remember if a fire breaks out in the oven is to keep the door closed, turn off the oven, and keep an eye on the flame. This will keep the fire contained (TBT to high school chemistry class, where we learned that fire needs oxygen to grow), and it should die down in a few moments. Once the fire is out, open all of your windows, and open the oven door to let all of the smoke out. If the fire does not go out, becomes too big to contain, or grows beyond the oven, exit your home immediately and call 911.