See also furnace.
An oven is a thermally insulated chamber used for the heating, baking or drying of a substance, and most commonly used for cooking. Kilns and furnaces are special-purpose ovens, used in pottery and metalworking, respectively.
The earliest ovens were found in Central Europe, and dated to 29,000 BC. They were roasting and boiling pits inside yurts used to cook mammoth. In Ukraine from 20,000 BC they used pits with hot coals covered in ashes. The food was wrapped in leaves and set on top, then covered with earth. In camps found in Mezhirich, each mammoth bone house had a hearth used for heating and cooking. Ovens were used by cultures who lived in the Indus Valley and in pre-dynastic Egypt. By 3200 BC, each mud-brick house had an oven in settlements across the Indus Valley. Ovens were used to cook food and to make bricks. Pre-dynastic civilizations in Egypt used kilns around 5000–4000 BC to make pottery.
Culinary historians credit the Greeks for developing bread baking significantly. Front-loaded bread ovens were developed in ancient Greece. The Greeks created a wide variety of doughs, loaf shapes, and styles of serving bread with other foods. Baking developed as a trade and profession as bread increasingly was prepared outside of the family home by specially trained workers to be sold to the public.
During the Middle Ages, instead of earth and ceramic ovens, Europeans used fireplaces in conjunction with large cauldrons. These were similar to the Dutch oven. Following the Middle-Ages, ovens underwent many changes over time from wood, iron, coal, gas, and even electric. Each design had its own motivation and purpose. The wood burning stoves saw improvement through the addition of fire chambers that allowed better containment and release of smoke. Another recognizable oven would be the cast-iron stove. These were first used around the early 1700s when they themselves underwent several variations including the Stewart Oberlin iron stove that was smaller and had its own chimney.
In the early part of the 19th century, coal ovens were developed. Its shape was cylindrical and was made of heavy cast-iron. The gas oven saw its first use as early as the beginning of the 19th century as well. Gas stoves became very common household ovens once gas lines were available to most houses and neighborhoods. James Sharp patented one of the first gas stoves in 1826. Other various improvements to the gas stove included the AGA cooker invented in 1922 by Gustaf Dalén. The first electric ovens were invented in the very late 19th century, however, like many electrical inventions destined for commercial use, mass ownership of electrical ovens could not be a reality until better and more efficient use of electricity was available.
More recently, ovens have become slightly more high-tech in terms of cooking strategy. The microwave as a cooking tool was discovered by Percy Spencer in 1946, and with the help from engineers, the microwave oven was patented. The microwave oven uses microwave radiation to excite the molecules in food causing friction, thus producing heat.
Types of ovens
In cooking, the conventional oven is a kitchen appliance used for roasting and heating. Foods normally cooked in this manner include meat, casseroles and baked goods such as bread, cake and other desserts. In modern times, the oven is used to cook and heat food in many households across the globe.
Modern ovens are typically fueled by either natural gas or electricity, with bottle gas models available but not common. When an oven is contained in a complete stove, the fuel used for the oven may be the same as or different from the fuel used for the burners on top of the stove.
Ovens usually can use a variety of methods to cook. The most common may be to heat the oven from below. This is commonly used for baking and roasting. The oven may also be able to heat from the top to provide broiling (US) or grilling (UK/Commonwealth). In order to provide faster, more-even cooking, a fan oven, which has a fan with a heating element around, that provides the heat. Or a fan-assisted oven that use a small fan to circulate the air in the cooking chamber, can be used. Both also known as convection ovens. An oven may also provide an integrated rotisserie.
Ovens also vary in the way that they are controlled. The simplest ovens (for example, the AGA cooker) may not have any controls at all; the ovens simply run continuously at various temperatures. More conventional ovens have a simple thermostat which turns the oven on and off and selects the temperature at which it will operate. Set to the highest setting, this may also enable the broiler element. A timer may allow the oven to be turned on and off automatically at pre-set times. More sophisticated ovens may have complex, computer-based controls allowing a wide variety of operating modes and special features including the use of a temperature probe to automatically shut the oven off when the food is completely cooked to the desired degree.
Some ovens provide various aids to cleaning. Continuous cleaning ovens have the oven chamber coated with a catalytic surface that helps break down (oxidize) food splatters and spills over time. Self-cleaning ovens use pyrolytic decomposition (extreme heat) to oxidize dirt. Steam ovens may provide a wet-soak cycle to loosen dirt, allowing easier manual removal. In the absence of any special methods, chemical oven cleaners are sometimes used or just scrubbing.
Industrial, scientific, and artisanal use
Outside the culinary world, ovens are used for a number of purposes.