Warning: Do not clean your oven

As we head into Thanksgiving’s home stretch, many of our ovens will be working overtime. And they might get messier than ever, especially if you didn’t wrap that butternut squash in foil before you roasted it.

However, I have an important word of caution for you, which might seem counterintuitive.

This is the worst possible time to use your oven’s self-cleaning feature.

Oh, I know. Maybe you have company coming and you recently opened your oven and saw it through your guests’ eyes.

Maybe your oven walls have unsightly burnt-on gunk and splatters and you’re thinking, “Oh my, that looks horrible. I think I’ll use that handy oven-cleaning option now so it’ll look clean in time for Thanksgiving.”

Do. Not. Do. It.

I learned this crucial advice from a Carmona’s repairman a few years ago.

The repairman (whose name now escapes me, but I’m thinking Andy) explained that oven-cleaning features require super-duper hot temperatures.

That makes sense. I mean, what else could remove that charred crud from my oven’s insides?

The thing is, the repairman added that sometimes that feature messes with the electrical system. Sometimes, when that happens, ovens suddenly stop working.

To make matters worse, he said this is often not a quick fix, especially during Thanksgiving week when many cooks had the same idea at the same time to clean their ovens. Compound this certainty with the fact that a percentage of those ovens go on the fritz.

Now we’re talking too many broken ovens and not enough repairpeople. And let’s not even mention the whole mess of ordering parts, which are probably in Bombay or Hong Kong.

Oy. Cue hair-pulling, eye-rolling and much teeth-gnashing.

No oven. No repairperson. No way to make dinner. No way to get a loaner oven.

We’re talking a cook’s nightmare.

That nightmare factor is what sticks in my mind from the Carmona repairman’s oven-cleaning horror story.

The main character in his cautionary tale was a sweet woman; great cook and stupendous entertainer. The week before Thanksgiving she’d pushed her oven to the max in anticipation of her feast. Baking, broiling, roasting, toasting, warming.

The day before Thanksgiving she pushed the self-cleaning button.

And lived to regret it.

She was supposed to have a huge gathering converge upon her dining table for Thanksgiving. Not just supposed to have, but as a foodie and dedicated cook and hostess with the mostest, she really looked forward to having everyone to her home.

The repairman said the woman wept and wailed and begged him for help. But there was nothing he could do for her. Except offer a Kleenex.

I can’t stress it enough. Resist the temptation to clean your oven this week. Wait for a time when it wouldn’t break your heart to be ovenless.  Like next week.

That’s my Thanksgiving tip for the hour.

I’m sure you have tips, too, about all things related to Thanksgiving food, holiday cooking and entertaining.

I wait with baited breath.

Submit your tips, as well as any Q&As, as comments.

I’ll log on often to collect, copy and place them, just as I would for my blog posts.

Fun, fun, fun.

Until then, do not touch your oven’s self-cleaning dial.


Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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