Friday, April 23, 2010

Is Your Oven Lying to You? by Cleo Coyle

So I'm packing for a trip to Colorado, where I'll be visiting (and cooking) for family members and guess what I'm putting in my luggage? The photo to the right should help you with this head scratcher...

Yes, that's right.
I'm packing an oven thermometer!

More on this below...

But first I want to raise a virtual champagne glass to my fellow mystery writing cook Elizabeth S. Craig. Writer's Digest has just named Elizabeth's Mystery Writing is Murder blog as one of the Top 101 Websites for Writers in 2010! Congratulations, Elizabeth! And now...


My Colorado realtives are wonderful people. The mom of the family has a demanding full-time job and the dad runs his own business. Without a lot of time to cook, they rely heavily on their gas grill, stovetop, and microwave.

For some time now, their oven has been less than reliable. My dinner menu for them takes this into account. I'm cooking up Italian-fried shrimp as the main dish with two dipping sauces on the side and a mixed green salad with gorgonzola dressing. The problem? I have to bake a birthday cake, too, and as much as I love Colorado cowboys, there is no way I'm attempting to bake a double-chocolate layer cake over an open fire.

Frankly, their oven shares the same problem as many older ovens out there. The heating element works just fine, but the temperature gauge has gone haywire. Consequently, the digital read-out on their stovetop may *claim* the oven is 350 degrees F, but when I put an independent thermometer inside, it reads 280.

This crazy variance in temperature will wreack havoc with cooking times on everything from my spicy, succulent Puerto Rican-style roasted pork shoulder (aka Pernil) to my Mocha-Dipped Rum Macaroons. BTW - if you missed those previous recipe posts, just click on the photos below and a PDF recipe will appear for you to print out, save, or share...

Click the photo to get a printable version of Cleo Coyle's recipe for Puerto Rican-style Roasted Pork Shoulder (aka "Pernil")

Click the photo to get a printable version of Cleo Coyle's recipe for Mocha-Dipped Rum Macaroons

To be totally honest, my own ten-year-old oven is not as accurate as I'd like. The main problem I have (and your oven may have it, too) is pre-heating times. They take quite a bit longer than what my trickster oven claims. For higher temperatures especially, I must pre-heat my oven up to 30 extra minutes to get the *real* oven temperature to match the temperature on the stovetop display.

A sad but true fact of life, folks. (Or maybe it's just the mystery writer in me.) Even your oven needs a background check! So the next time you're out shopping, pick up an oven thermometer. You don't need anything fancy or costly. I bought mine for a mere 5 dollars.

C'mon. Be brave. Don't you think it's time you found out whether your oven is a trustworthy appliance--or has been lying to you for years? 

Eat with joy!
~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

For more recipes,
including the one above,

visit me at

Yes, this is me, Cleo (aka Alice). 
Friend me on facebook here.
Follow me on twitter here
Visit my online coffeehouse here.

To view the
Coffeehouse Mystery
book trailer, click here.

The Coffeehouse Mysteries are bestselling
works of amateur sleuth fiction set in a landmark
Greenwich Village coffeehouse, and each of the
12 titles includes the added bonus of recipes. 
To learn more, click here.  


The Ghost and
Mrs. McClure

Book #1 of 

The Haunted Bookshop
, which Cleo writes
under the name
Alice Kimberly

To learn more, click here


  1. My oven DOES lie to me! In fact, I actively despise everything about the whole appliance...range top and oven. Bleh. It's one of those things that just stays in the background and bothers me, but is now starting to push me to get a new oven! And until then, I'll pull that oven thermometer out for a test. Thanks for the reminder on this, Cleo!

    And thanks for the Writer's Digest mention. :)


  2. I know my oven lies to me, too, although it's about a 1000 times better than the oven I had before this one. Still, it's time for me to invest in an oven thermometer. Thanks for the suggestion, Cleo. My meats tend to be a little underdone. Better than overdone, but not optimal. I know what I'm buying next time I'm out! Great post!


  3. PS -Oop, hit "post" before I congratulated Elizabeth. Woo-hoo!! Major kudos on the Writer's Digest list! Great news!!

  4. Yay, Elizabeth. Yay, Julie!

    My oven went wonky on me (that's a technical term, you know)--just kept getting less and less hot. One expensive repair visit later, I learned that a part I didn't know existed had failed, and the replacement cost about half of what the stove had originally. I was told it was a common problem (that keeps repair services in business).

    So now I just leave the oven thermometer in there.

  5. We recently changed ovens and this one does seem to pre-heat so much better. BTW, I haven't had breakfast yet (unless you count my 2/3 cups of coffee) and now I'm starving for you Mocha-Dipped Rum Macaroons. Hope you have a safe and fun trip.

    Congratulations to Elizabeth and Julie.

    Thoughts in Progress

  6. That pork recipe looks awesome. My Cuban style one also calls for red wine vinegar. Excellent recipe!

  7. What a great looking pork dish! And what a great tip about oven thermometers. Thanks so much!

  8. We had a new stove/oven in the condo we moved out of a few months ago. After a couple of mishaps I realized that the preheat light lied - it always went off in a certain number of minutes regardless of whether the oven was up to temperature or not. So I learned to wait till the heating elements went off and everything was fine.

  9. I'll have to check my oven. I cook a lot of casseroles and I usually use my eyes to tell me when something is done. It drives my kids crazy.

    I absolutely love the picture of the Puerta Rican pork shoulder and will definitely be tying that.

    Thanks, Cleo.

  10. "Even an oven needs a background check!" LOL.
    I had one of those for my old oven. My banana bread was burnt on the outside and raw on the inside -- agony. Finally, I got a new oven.
    Congrats to Elizabeth!!! And Julie!!! Well done, ladies!

  11. Congratulations Elizabeth and Julie!

    No wonder I have to reheat my oven at least 30 minutes. I definitely have to get me a oven thermometer.

  12. Elizabeth, Julie, Sheila, Mason, Juju, Avery, Cindy, Liz, Jenn, and Dru -

    Thank you all for stopping by. I love your comments. It's so nice to know I'm not the only one struggling with issues of "ovenly trust." :)

    Also - I'm glad to report that the double-chocolate layer birthday cake was a huge success (the oven thermometer did the trick)!

    Cheers from the
    great state of Colorado,

    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  13. to jump from the oven to JOE. do any of our readers make it like me?
    water ready fill press.wait 15 secs tip. beans in, press filled. while waiting fill mug with hot water.JOE ready.tip water from mug fill with JOE.
    its very hot and stays that way for a lot longer.
    never any to bin!!


    1. You can find them at - just search for oven thermometers.

    2. Thanks, Liz! That's absolutely right. Simply search online for "oven thermometer" -- Walmart's online shop has them, as well as Amazon. Or try a search engine for shopping such as or, and may you...

      Cook with joy,
      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter