Baking for the holidays is about more than sugar cravings. It’s about passing along family traditions, singing or listening to holiday music as you mix, roasting nuts and special meats, and delivering fresh-baked cheer to family, friends and neighbors.
Whether this is your first time for holiday baking and roasting or you’re a pro with the butter-stained recipe cards to prove it, it is a best practice to have your oven ready for what you have planned for it. Because some of us despise the chore of oven cleaning, ovens often become a culinary crime scene! So before whipping out the ingredients, get that oven in tip-top shape.
Manufacturers recommend that ovens be cleaned every three to six months depending upon how much they are used and spiffed up in between when spillovers of food or grease occur. Regular oven cleaning improves the quality of the food prepared in it; the aromas of old grease and spilled food can taint the flavor of what is being baked or roasted.
While few look forward to the chore, with the right knowledge and a little elbow grease, oven cleaning needn’t be an overwhelming chore. Depending upon how the oven will be cleaned a few tools may be necessary—gloves, eye protection, newspaper, paper towels or old towels, cleaning clothes, synthetic scouring pad, and a large garbage bag. I also like the nylon pan scrapers that fit into the palm of your hand as they are excellent for helping to remove those hard-to-remove aged grease spatters and scraping up burned on residue.
There are three primary ways to clean the oven interior—self-cleaning, chemical oven cleaners, and DIY with baking soda, vinegar, and water.
Self Cleaning. If you have a self-cleaning oven, check and follow your owner’s manual for detailed instructions. Make sure to wipe up any spillovers or liquid grease to avoid excessive smoking during the cycle and setting off your smoke alarm. Remove any oven accessories and the racks before starting the cycle. The self-clean cycle takes about two hours (exact time varies by oven type) during which the temperature reaches 800-1000 degrees F. Because the extreme heat has the potential to destroy the shiny chrome finish on the racks, it is recommended that they be cleaned outside of the oven (instructions follow). The oven gives off a tremendous amount of heat during the cycle as well as some toxic fumes. You should stay at home while the oven is self-cleaning just in case anything goes awry but you and your pets should stay out of the kitchen and vent the room as much as possible. When it’s over, you’ll see a white ash on the oven bottom that you’ll need to wipe out once the oven cools.
Chemical Oven Cleaners. This is the easiest, fastest process and will remove serious amounts of grease and grime. The caveat is that oven cleaners can be quite caustic, so if you’re sensitive to harsh chemicals or prefer an all-natural approach this is not for you. There are low- or no-fume products on the market that do work quite well. Carefully follow the directions on the product and be sure to protect the area around the oven with newspaper, paper towels, or old towels. Remove the racks for cleaning (instructions follow) as well as any other items in the oven. Spray the entire interior being careful to not get spray on the heating elements of an electric oven or the gas inlet of a gas oven. Lift the heating element and spray under it. Gloves and eye protection should be worn when using oven spray cleaners. Also be aware that it is possible that using an oven cleaner could affect the surface of the oven; you may experience white or grey discoloration of the surface. Also, due to the porous nature of the oven surface, some of the product may be left behind after the cleaning process and fumes will be detected the first time the oven is turned on.
DIY. While this may not be the fastest way to clean the oven, it is by far the safest and is appropriate for any oven type. Begin by removing everything from your oven and protecting the floor beneath your oven with newspapers, paper towels, or old towels. Mix 1/2 cup of baking soda with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water to make a spreadable paste. Spread the paste around the inside of the oven using fingers, spatula, or brush covering the entire interior including crevices. Keep the paste away from the heating element of an electric oven and away from the gas inlet of a gas oven. It is also possible to lightly mist the paste with white vinegar in a spray bottle which will cause the paste to bubble and foam. Close the oven and allow the paste to sit for 30 minutes to 10 – 12 hours, or overnight depending upon the depth of cleaning needed.
After time has elapsed, glove up and begin to rub the surfaces with a synthetic scrubbing pad dipped in vinegar or a plastic scraper to loosen baked on grime. Wipe down all surfaces with a damp cleaning cloth. If the paste is dry, spray with vinegar to soften and remove. After all of the paste and grime has been wiped away, spray the oven with vinegar and wipe dry.
Racks can be cleaned with either chemical oven sprays, ammonia, or with baking soda and vinegar. If oven sprays or ammonia are used, the work should be done outdoors with rubber gloves and eye protection. Once the racks are cleaned, washed, rinsed and dried, replace them in the clean oven.
Chemical Oven Sprays. Lay the racks on a garbage bag that has been cut open, spray the racks with the cleaner, cover, and tuck the bag tightly around the racks and let them sit overnight. Spray wash them with a garden hose to remove the chemical residue and then wash them with dish detergent in either the kitchen sink or bathtub scrubbing as necessary. Discard the bag used by placing inside of another bag and putting in the trash.
Ammonia. This is the most dangerous method but one that is frequently used. Place the racks in a large trash bag. Add 2 cups ammonia to the bag. Tightly tie or seal off the bag so that the ammonia cannot leak out and let them sit overnight lying flat. The racks do not have to be coated in the ammonia because the fumes will circulate and do the job. The next day, open the trash bag being cautious of the ammonia and the fumes. (Avoid inhaling the fumes.) Spray the racks with a garden hose and then wash with dish detergent followed by a rinse. Dispose of the ammonia by mixing with water and pouring down the kitchen sink or toilet. If you have a septic system, the ammonia should be neutralized with baking soda, cat litter, and sand and disposed in the outside trash. The bag should be sprayed with the garden hose, bagged, and also put in the outside trash.
Baking Soda, Vinegar, and Hot Water. Place the racks in the bathtub. Plug the tub and sprinkle baking soda on the racks and then pour vinegar on top creating a foam. When the foaming stops, run hot water until the racks are fully covered. Allow the racks to sit in the water for 10-12 hrs or overnight. Remove racks from the water and scrub with a cleaning cloth, pumice, or synthetic scrubber until all grease and grime is gone.
Pat yourself on the back when the job is done. You might want to reward yourself with a holiday gift by investing about $10 in an easy-to-clean non-stick oven liner that catches spillovers and crumbs and helps prevent the fore mentioned ‘culinary crime scene’. Be sure to use the liner correctly in your oven.
Lastly, give yourself a break and don’t stress if the oven doesn’t turn out spotless. The object is to get it clean enough that the grime doesn’t taint anything that is baked or roasted in the oven and the aromas coming from the kitchen are pleasant. After all, ‘tis the season for a little fun, too!