How to Tackle Your Holiday Meal with Only One Oven
It's the same puzzle every year, you have multiple baked dishes on the menu that all cook at different temperatures—so what do you do?
As holiday meal prep kicks into high gear, chances are you’re already stressed about the kitchen acrobatics that will be required to prepare your most ambitious dinners of the year. Lost in a sea of recipes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the variations in temperature and time requirements across all of your dishes. And, unless you’re a professional chef or happen to have the multi-oven kitchen of our dreams, chances are you’ll be tackling your holiday cooking with just one oven.
Attempting to stick to the predetermined cooking temps of each of your holiday dishes will most likely turn your kitchen game plan into a complicated nightmare. This year, instead of fretting over following each recipe to the T, use these simple tips for preparing your various meats, sides, and baked goods at the same temperature, helping to make your hectic holidays a whole lot easier.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled
The first thing to keep in mind—in order to keep your holiday stress at a minimum and your worries at bay—is that for the most part, recipes that typically require higher temperatures will be perfectly fine at a lower level, if given enough extra cooking time. This difference in timing will be flexible depending on the dish in question and the deviation between the original and new temperatures.
The best way to ensure each of your dishes will be heated properly is to keep a close watch over dishes that are being prepared at an adjusted temperature. Check in every 10 minutes throughout the cooking process for signs that your dish is complete, whether it be the color or texture. For meats, check on the internal temperature frequently using a meat thermometer to ensure the protein has reached its ideal heat level before being removed from the oven.
When cooking multiple dishes in the oven at the same time, keep in mind that dishes will typically take 15 percent more time to cook properly. It’s also important to note that most ovens have a natural temperature deviation of up to 25 degrees anyways, so dishes that require fairly similar temperatures will likely be just fine cooked side-by-side.
Prioritize Your Temperatures
When determining which temperature to initially set your oven at, prioritize the needs of more sensitive foods. Usually, this will be your baked goods, which require a specific balance of heat, and are best not to be tampered with.
As a rule, the temperature required by your baked goods should always set the bar, as deviations in the recipe could lead to a baking disaster. Though attempting to cook multiple kinds of baked goods requiring different temperatures at the same time is risky, if absolutely necessary, bake them at the average temperature and keep a close watch throughout the cooking process, checking frequently for color, texture, and solidity.
Super sensitive pastries, like soufflés, should always be baked alone, as the moisture and temperature levels inside the oven will determine if the recipe will be a success or a failure.
If baked goods aren’t involved, it’s best to set your oven at the average between the required temperatures of your various recipes. If one dish is set to cook at 300, and another at 350, a cooking temp of 325 should make both of your dishes happy.
While baked goods are known to be fussier, most of your holiday dishes will be far more malleable when it comes to the cooking process.
Meats tend to be the most flexible in terms of adjusting to temperature deviations. While these dishes are typically given a higher roasting temperature to speed up the process, cooking your protein for a longer amount of time at a lower temperature will not only result in a success, but will likely make for juicier, more succulent meat in the end.
The one significant sacrifice with this method will be the browning, which usually occurs at higher temperatures. To compensate for this, briefly sear your meat on the stovetop before putting it in the oven, or give it a high temperature blast under the broiler for 5-10 minutes after the rest of the baked dishes are done to achieve a similar effect.
Larger meats, like roasts and whole birds, will retain their heat for much longer than most dishes, and will stay hot for up to an hour once removed from the oven, giving you extra breathing room to finish up your sides and salads.
Roasted vegetables are also fairly flexible when it comes to oven cooking times, though they should be checked on frequently to ensure they don’t come out to dry or too moist, especially in the case of denser vegetables like potatoes. One thing to note while cooking vegetables side-by-side with other recipes is that they are likely to produce an excess of moisture within the oven, so it’s best to remove them during the browning process of other dishes. Wrap your veggies in foil in the interim, and return to the oven for a quick reheat just before serving.
Casserole With It
In general, stews, casseroles, and braised meats have the most flexibility when it comes to cooking temperatures and times. By utilizing braised recipes in place of your typical protein, like a Slow-Braised Beef Stew or Braised Pork Loin with Port and Dried Plums, you’ll be able to prepare your main course at the same temperature as the rest of your dishes without breaking a sweat.
In terms of flexibility, casseroles and other covered dishes are the MVPs, as they will typically cook normally at adjusted temperatures, with the exception of much higher temperatures that might make the food burn on the sides and bottom of the dish. Covered dishes that call for a period of uncovered cooking towards the end of the cooking time can be finished with a few minutes under the broiler towards the end of your food prep.
Make an Oven Game Plan
If your ultimate goal is to finish each of your dishes at around the same time, rotate them through the oven in order of timing needs. Baked goods will get the heat first, as they’ll need time to rest post-baking. Then, dishes that require longer cooking times, like meats, will be next into the oven. Work backwards from your desired time of dining, and introduce each dish into the oven based on how long they’ll need to be cooked.
Also, be careful not to overload your oven, as proper air circulation is needed around each dish in order to cook evenly, particularly in the case of uncovered dishes. Too many dishes in the oven at once will also create an excess of moisture, making it hard to get the browned effect desired with most roasted dishes.
While determining where each dish should be placed in the oven, consider how the heat is likely to be distributed. Depending on your oven, there will be a heat source at the bottom, or heat sources at both the top and bottom. Since heat rises, the top of the oven will be hotter, so sensitive dishes that are at risk of burning should be kept on lower racks. Dishes that require a lot of browning should be placed near the bottom or top of the oven to get that extra concentrated blast of heat.
Finally, be mindful of flavors. If you’re preparing a dish that’s heavy on the garlic or chili, chances are that flavor will seep into the other dishes being prepared—for better or for worse. Cook any dishes with strong flavors separately to guarantee your sweet potato casserole won’t come out tasting of garlic.
If you stick to these simple rules, navigating your kitchen—and your solitary oven—will be easier than ever this holiday season.