Home bakers and cooks know all too well what it’s like to pull unintentionally undercooked food from a warm oven. Each time, we try different tricks to avoid the disaster of pasty cakes and chickens that are perfect in some parts but raw in others. Ick.

All that time, energy, and love that went into making your recipe is wasted. You feel like you did something wrong. We feel your pain— but it’s not you. It’s oven gremlins.

Just kidding, but close! Before you call a paranormal investigator, cooking teacher, or repairman, you can diagnose the issue yourself. Your oven may not be heating evenly due to hot and cold spots. Food52 outlined a technique to test your oven’s heat distribution that will only cost you a few pieces of bread.

All you need to do is heat your oven to 350° F. When it’s fully heated, slip some bread slices onto the racks to toast them. Go for both the top and bottom racks to be on thorough side. After they’re done toasting, gauge how they’ve browned.

You should be able to tell which parts of the oven are producing pale or undercooked pieces of bread, evenly done, or burnt. If you feel so inclined, slather your test toasts with some jelly or butter and indulge.

Image of browned toast slices.John Ransom via Food52

Food52 also suggests an alternate testing method used by Dorie Greenspan whereby you sprinkle some shredded coconut onto a baking sheet and place it in the oven. Again, assess the brownness levels.
Once you’ve figured out your oven’s hot or cold spots, there are few things you can do to adjust. Rotate your pans so that your food can cook evenly, or switch your racks around to accommodate heat distribution. Changing your cookware may also help; look into using glass, baking stones, or shinier metal pans.
Cake bakers may also want to try cake strips that attach to the outside of your cake pans. Buy them or make your own with a thin strip of fabric and a heat-safe fastener. They help cake layers to bake evenly and level. Combined with the right oven temperature, you could save yourself some frustration.
It’s a fact that ovens cook differently, whether they’re new or old. Investing in an oven thermometer (not to be confused with a food thermometer) can tell you what the actual temperature is in the middle of your oven. That number could be off a few degrees or more from what you used to preheat.

With an oven thermometer, you may also discover that the top rack is a different temp from the bottom rack. Adjust your baking or roasting times accordingly. On another note, cooking some foods on the oven floor might give you the results you’re seeking.

If all else fails, call a professional to check your heating element or temperature sensor. Repairs can be pricey, but can save you from having to replace an entire unit.

Are you the proud owner of a temperamental oven? What tricks do you use to cook in it? Have you tried the toast test?