The Scientific Reason Why We Always Preheat the Oven to 350°

Ever wonder why most recipes tell you to bake at 350°? We have the answer.

Chocolate Chip Cookies Fresh from OvenPhoto: Shutterstock / Regan Baroni
Photo: Shutterstock / Regan Baroni

“Preheat oven to 350° F.” This is the first line of the majority of baking recipes in print. Be it for cookies, cakes or casseroles, the oven temperature rarely changes. Have you ever wondered why?

The Maillard Reaction

Chances are, if you have a passion for cooking, you’re familiar with the Maillard reaction—whether you know it by name or not! This is the chemical process that causes the proteins and sugars in your food to turn brown. Think of it as the difference between plain and toasted bread. Apart from color, this reaction creates hundreds of flavor compounds, making many foods much tastier.

Temperature’s Role in Baking

The Maillard reaction is known to happen at some point between 300° and 350°. Because ovens often fluctuate (or are incorrectly calibrated) a setting of 350° essentially ensures that the browning temperature is reached. Read: It’s a clever way to make sure that all of those glorious flavors are formed.

Anything Else?

Not everything bakes at 350°. Cornbread, pies and muffins often require higher temperatures, while granola and meringues don’t need such high heat.

While it isn’t a foolproof number, 350° is a moderate temperature that will cook your food without burning it (if baked for a reasonable amount of time!). Since it’s high enough for browning reactions to occur, your food will taste more complex and undoubtedly more delicious.

Grace Mannon is currently a stay-at-home mom with an M.S. in food science. She loves baking and cooking and writes about her endeavors on her blog, A Southern Grace.

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Grace Mannon
Grace is a full-time mom with a Master's degree in Food Science. She loves to experiment in the kitchen and writes about her hits (and misses) on her blog, A Southern Grace.