There is a multitude of cooking appliances on the market today, each one out-performing the other. One that specifically reduced in popularity is the convection oven.
While many homes and apartments still have this built-in, more and more modern buildings exclude them completely. Plus, if you have a smaller kitchen, it’s almost impossible to fit a countertop convection oven inside.
So, can you bake without an oven? And how do you do this? First, it is possible to bake without an oven. However, you will need to use an appliance and adjust the cooking technique to mimic that of a traditional oven.
This makes it possible to make in a toaster oven, air fryer, on the stove, using an instant pot, pressure cooker, or slow cooker, and even bake over open flames in a Dutch oven.
In today’s stuffed article, we will take a look at exactly what baking is, how it works, and how you need to adjust your technique to mimic it. Then, we’ll dive deep into the best alternative appliances that will help you bake virtually any recipe you have.
What Is Baking (Using an Oven)?
Now, before jumping straight into the alternative ways to bake without an oven, you must understand what baking is, how it works, and more specifically, how an oven bakes.
Knowing these things will help you better understand how to choose an alternative that works, and better yet, why it works well.
So, first things first, what is baking?
This is a popular cooking technique that only uses DRY heat. Traditionally, baking is done in some kind of oven. This can be a conventional oven, convection oven, or coal oven. However, today there are MANY hybrid appliances with a “baking” setting.
When you bake food, typically it is done between 320-360⁰F (160-180⁰C). Heat is applied to the item indirectly and should come from all sides (all heating elements).
Despite popular belief, baking is used for both savory and sweet meals. It is usually a longer cooking technique because it aims to slowly and evenly cook the food at lower temperatures.
Baking Versus Other Oven Cooking Techniques
We’ve already covered quite a few oven-cooking techniques and compared them to each other to show how they differ. For a more in-depth explanation, feel free to go have a look at our site.
To recap, there are several cooking techniques you can utilize using an oven. You have roasting, braising, grilling, and steaming.
Roasting differs from baking in that it uses much higher temperatures. It also uses mostly the top heating element to help brown the ingredients and give them a smoky, slightly charred finish.
Braising is a technique that combines wet and dry heat. The ingredients are placed in a shallow layer of seasoned liquid and cooked at baking or roasting temperatures. The items are cooked through direct heat (from the liquid) and indirect heat (on the parts that aren’t submerged).
And finally, grilling is a technique that almost exclusively uses the top heating element to char the foods. This is also a dry heat cooking technique, but one that works at extremely high temperatures.
Can You Bake Without an Oven?
Now, if you consider whether or not you can bake without an oven, what you really need to be asking is if you can mimic the baking cooking conditions.
The alternative method should be able to:
- Apply heat from all sides (preferably indirectly)
- Use heat between 320-360⁰F
- Apply a stable and consistent temperature
If you can find an appliance that can replicate these conditions, even if it doesn’t in any way resemble an oven, you can try to make it work. At the end of the day, if you don’t have an oven but need to bake a cake, you have to use whatever you can!
Now, while you definitely can bake without an oven, you have to keep in mind that the results won’t be the same as actually baking in an oven.
Let’s take an air fryer as an example. It’s a fantastic technique, arguably the best of them all! However, the heat used is a lot more direct because of the smaller baking chamber. So, this will probably result in a cake having a slightly tougher or crisper crumb on the outside.
Furthermore, you also have to test the doneness more frequently. The temperature is a lot more intense and will bake the outside a lot quicker. This may mean that the inside is still raw. So, you can either lower the baking temperature from the get-go or change the shape of the cake so it bakes evenly.
This is an easy example of how you will need to adjust some things to make the alternative technique work.
7 Best Ways to Bake Without an Oven
Without further ado, let’s look at the best ways to bake without using a conventional or convection oven.
Unlike we usually do, we have ranked the techniques today. However, the rankings can change depending on the exact appliance you have and what you need to bake.
Plus, our ranking system is based on the opinion of professional bakers. These aren’t like ranking sauces based on personal preferences. All of these techniques have been tried, tested, and ranked accordingly.
So, let’s get to it.
1. Toaster Oven
Technically, it is still a type of oven. But it’s quite different from traditional built-in convection ovens.
Convection ovens have a built-in fan that helps circulate the hot air better throughout the large cooking chamber. They are similar to modern air fryers but on a much larger and less powerful scale. There are often three heating elements that work simultaneously.
A toaster oven only works with heating elements (usually at the top and bottom, sometimes the back). It has no fan and therefore the hot air isn’t distributed as evenly. This does have some benefits, which we will get to shortly.
Another major difference is that toaster ovens are a lot smaller, which is why MANY studio apartments or small kitchen spaces have them instead of countertop convection ovens or even built-in ovens. They use less electricity and often have stovetop plates as well.
While they don’t have as many cooking settings, they are still versatile.
Why Toaster Ovens Can Bake
The first major point we want to address here is how this appliance will affect the texture of the baked item.
As mentioned, this appliance is much smaller, only uses dry heat within the correct baking temperature range, has dials that accurately set and measure the baking temperature, and doesn’t make use of a fan for heat distribution.
All of these factors help create perfectly baked goods – just as good as they would have been in the oven.
The smaller chamber allows for items to bake slightly faster. That’s because the heat is more direct and better circulated in the smaller space.
Furthermore, if you are baking fragile goods like pastries and cakes, it’s actually better to NOT bake with a fan. It often distorts the batter or dough, causing uneven baking or even misshapen goods.
You won’t be able to bake large items because toaster ovens are naturally smaller. So, you either need to bake multiple portions or change the shape and size of your item completely.
If your toaster oven doesn’t work with exact temperatures (just numbers on a dial), you can use an oven thermometer to check where the heat it at. This is the only accurate way to bake and honestly should even be used with regular ovens.
2. Air Fryer
Air fryers today have made massive strides in technology! Even the most basic models have built-in “baking” settings. And in our opinion, it’s arguably your best chance at getting amazing results without using any kind of oven.
An air fryer uses a small chamber, a strong built-in fan, and a special heating element to distribute heat quickly, effectively, and evenly. This is what helps make food uber-crispy without any use of oil.
So, obviously, the fan could be a problem here. However, with the baking function, the fan either doesn’t run or runs at a very low speed. This way, the appliance mainly uses and applies dry heat without any air circulation.
The benefit of this is that your item will bake evenly without becoming crispy or dry. Plus, an air fryer doesn’t take nearly as long to preheat as an oven.
Now, using an air fryer as an oven is pretty easy but you may need to make some adjustments to your recipe.
First, you will likely have to use a smaller baking tray or change the shape completely. You cannot bake directly in the basket and will need some sort of heat-proof baking dish. You can use disposable aluminum foil dishes.
Secondly, you may need to lower the baking temperature slightly. The air fryer works extremely well and could easily over-bake the item while the inside is still raw. We’d recommend lowering it by 10 degrees. The item will either bake for the same amount of time or slightly longer.
An air fryer regulates the temperature extremely well, so you don’t need to worry about measuring it using a thermometer. It’s a pretty hands-free technique that requires minimal cleaning too.
And finally, if your air fryer doesn’t have a fanless setting, lower the temperature by 20-30 degrees. The item may take longer to bake, but at least it won’t over-bake.
By now, everybody has heard about mug cakes. You know, cupcakes in a mug? But how does that technique translate to larger goods, like cakes?
To start, admittedly, you will not be able to bake everything in a microwave. Only items that can handle a little bit of moisture will do fine. This can be something like cupcakes, cakes, cheesecake, brownies, soft cookies, and some kinds of bread buns.
But, anything that is supposed to come out crispy or crunchy (like puff pastry tarts, pie crusts, sourdough loaves, or crackers) will not do great here. They will cook, but their texture will be soft and soggy.
With that aside, a microwave CAN BAKE.
A microwave uses electromagnetic waves to produce heat. This form of heat cooks food via radiation heating. Once the outside of the food has heated well, it starts transferring that heat to the inside of the item, cooking it through direct heat.
Baking differs in that it uses dry heat only, which produces a much different texture.
How to Bake With a Microwave
Don’t use the highest heat setting on your microwave. Use one that is slightly lower or around the middle.
Then, make sure you use a microwave-safe baking dish. Do not use foil or metal in a microwave. Only use microwave-safe glass, ceramic, silicone, or rubber dishes.
Once you start baking, keep an eye on the item. A microwave will likely bake the item much faster. So, if you are baking larger cakes, it can take anywhere between 10-15 minutes. Think about it this way: a mug cake takes 1-3 minutes.
As in a regular oven, the size and thickness will affect the baking time.
Keep in mind that you will need to experiment somewhat with this technique because there are millions of microwave models out there. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all technique here.
4. Instant Pot
Now we get to the very unconventional baking techniques. First up, we have an instant pot.
An instant pot differs from a slow cooker on steroids. Where a slow cooker can only, well, cook items slowly, an instant pot usually comes with multiple cooking functions. Some even have baking settings!
Most instant pot appliances will have slow cooking, pressure cooking, rice cooking, steaming, and searing settings.
For baking cakes (in an instant pot that doesn’t have a baking setting) it’s best to use the pressure cooker setting because it works much quicker.
The pot will provide direct heat to the batter or dough. This means that it may bake a little unevenly, and some parts may come out a little drier. However, by monitoring the progress of the item, it can still work great.
How to Bake With an Instant Pot
First, you need to pick a pan or baking dish that fits into the instant pot chamber. These appliances are usually slightly larger than, for example, an air fryer basket. So luckily, you might be able to still bake smaller cakes.
Do not bake a cake (or any batter-based recipe) without a baking pan. It’s extremely difficult to remove the item and even worse, clean it.
It also helps if you can find recipes specifically for instant pot baking. It sounds strange, but a little tweaking in the ratio of wet and dry ingredients will help you get an incredibly tender, fluffy cake.
You also HAVE TO add some water at the bottom of the instant pot. This is to avoid the appliance giving you “burn” warnings or shutting off because it doesn’t feel any liquid.
On average, a 6-inch round cake will take about 35 minutes to bake on high.
Next up, we have the good old stovetop technique. Personally, we aren’t the biggest fans of this because there is always something that goes wrong. It takes many attempts to get this technique down.
That being said, once you do manage to master it, baking food items is easy!
There are three main techniques you can use here: baking in a skillet, baking in a Dutch oven, or baking in a steamer. The Dutch oven technique will be discussed separately below.
When baking on a stovetop, it’s best to use either induction or gas. You can make the other types work, but it’s a lot harder to control their temperature.
A skillet is ideal for baking cookies, brownies, pies, and pastries. It provides high and direct heat to seal off the edges and create a unique, often soft and gooey, inside.
Use a sheet of foil to cover the top of the skillet and trap the heat inside. This helps create a makeshift oven.
This technique obviously uses wet and dry heat. So as with the microwave method, you will only be able to bake certain items, like puddings, cakes, cupcakes, and souffles. Some types of soft bread recipes may also work.
You can use a bamboo steamer or make a rig using a pot and sieve of some kind. It depends on what you are making.
Tips for Stovetop Baking
Always make sure you cover the pot or pan well. Remember, you are baking, not roasting or frying. Heat should be applied for all sides.
Don’t use high heat. Because the bottom of the item is exposed to the most heat, it will cause it to burn. So, by using low heat, you could avoid that completely.
Don’t open the lid too much. This causes the heat to escape and may affect the final baking time as well as the texture of the items. Leave smaller items (like cookies) to bake for at least 5-8 minutes before checking their progress.
Larger items like cakes and tarts can be checked at 10-15 minutes (maybe even 20) depending on their size.
6. Dutch Oven
Now, the reason we wanted to discuss a Dutch oven separately is that there is more than one way to bake using a Dutch oven.
Baking on a stovetop in a Dutch oven is probably the best tool you can use. The vessel itself heats slowly and evenly, which in turn makes the dough or batter cook slowly and evenly. It retains heat well and will create a stable, uniform temperature inside the pot.
What makes this vessel even better is that you can use it on the stove, in an oven (of any kind), on hot coals, over an open flame, or inside a specialized outdoor cooking appliance like a pizza oven or grill.
The cast iron material makes it incredibly versatile and durable. It will create the ideal dry heat cooking environment that mimics baking quite well.
So, why isn’t it higher on our list? Because they are expensive and because the technique still takes some experimenting before you will master it.
However, using a Dutch oven (like this non-toxic one from Amazon) will allow you to bake virtually any item. Bread also does especially well with this hybrid technique!
While most Dutch ovens are naturally non-stick (thanks to either the cast iron or ceramic coating), it doesn’t hurt to lubricate it with some oil, butter, or non-stick cooking spray. You can even line it with non-stick parchment paper.
Using a Dutch oven can take slightly longer. However, it won’t make the items crispy or bake them unevenly. So, it’s worth the wait.
And it’s not a very labor-intensive technique. If you can manage to control the heat (which should be on the lower side) you can pretty much leave the items to bake.
7. Slow Cooker
Last but certainly not least, you can use your slow cooker to bake a variety of items, as long as they can take some moisture.
Instant pots have a slow cooker setting. But if you don’t have a modern instant pot, you cannot use it. Furthermore, a slow cooker isn’t the same as a pressure cooker. They work with different temperatures and humidity levels, making the “baking” technique you want to create slightly different.
A slow cooker doesn’t use very high heat. The benefit is that it will slowly and more evenly bake the items.
How to Bake With a Slow Cooker
To start, fill the bottom with water again. This will prevent the base of the baked goods from burning and the appliance from giving a “burn” warning.
If you can, use a baking dish. This makes clean-up a lot easier and allows you to bake the items in the size that you want.
If you don’t have a baking dish that fits in your slow cooker, at least line the pot with non-stick baking paper, cooking spray, oil, or butter.
Use the high heat setting. Remember, a slow cooker generally works at lower temperatures. So its “high” is pretty much the baking temperature.
Once the dessert has finished baking, leave it to rest for 10-15 minutes before removing it. This just helps it set in place.