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The Non-Expert

Easy-Fake Oven

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. In this week’s installment we break down all that pre-heating nonsense, with a heating guide for 21st-century cookery.

Have a question? Need some questionably expert advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


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Question: Why do you have to wait for ovens to pre-heat? —Sonia

Answer: I know who you are. You honk immediately after the light turns green. You can’t stop yourself from stepping 10 feet off the curb while you wait for the pedestrian “walk” light to change. No doubt you’re unable to put yourself squarely at the end of a line, preferring to stand slightly off to the side. And I’m certain you crowd the person in front of you at every check-out counter.

The Non-Expert doesn’t like being crowded at the check-out counter, but your question is of interest. If the goal is to eat sooner rather than later, why isn’t it faster to put the dish in when the oven is somewhat warm instead of leaving the food cold on the counter until the oven has fully prepared itself? We don’t have time to fully prepare ourselves for anything. Why should the oven have it so much better?

The concept of pre-heating probably originated during that famous post-war era when all the housewives were depressed and all the men were having affairs. Cheever time. When do you think they drank all those cocktails? While the oven was pre-heating, of course! A few decades later, feminism in full swing, pre-heating became a statement, of sorts, a way for women to lay claim to the domestic sphere while struggling to maintain jobs outside the home. The casseroles were store-bought, the cookie dough frozen, but with the oven pre-heating, everything felt wholesome and women could say they were doing it all.

In recent years, women have become less interested in doing it all than in being so busy that “all” is completely out of the question. Thus, reheating is the new cooking, and to the extent that one must preheat in order to reheat, the modern 18 million-BTU stoves come pretty close to making preheating redundant. Those things are like cooking with uranium. If you think the “slow food movement” means ordering take-out on a Friday night, then this is the oven for you.

Those more inclined toward the culinary arts, don’t worry. Experts believe that, like books, eating will be around for at least another eight years. To that end, the Non-Expert has compiled a conversion chart for 21st-century cooking. Go ahead and put your food in the oven before it is pre-heated. This chart will help you make sure you get the meal you deserve:

The TMN Heating Time Conversion Chart©

Food is room temperature Add 5 minutes
Food is frozen Add 20 minutes
It is before 8 p.m. Add 5 minutes
It is after 11 p.m. Subtract 10 minutes
You are cooking alone Add 5 minutes
You are cooking for a date Add 6.5 minutes and pretend to baste
You are surrounded by hungry children Subtract 20 minutes
Pizza from 6 blocks away Add 10 minutes
Pizza from 1 block away It’s warm enough
After half a bottle of chardonnay Subtract 20 minutes
After a box of Triscuits Find food uneaten in the morning
Oreos Don’t need to be reheated


TMN Contributing Writer Jessica Francis Kane’s first novel, The Report (Graywolf Press, 2010) was shortlisted for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize and was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. Her story collection, This Close (Graywolf Press, 2013) was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Story Prize and was named a Best Book of the year by NPR. She lives in New York with her husband and their two children. More by Jessica Francis Kane