Your oven unit is more than just a cake-baking, potato-roasting, cheese-grilling workhorse. Open the door, fiddle with the temperature and you also have a yoghurt chamber and sterilising cabinet in your kitchen. And if you’ve been tempted to invest in an air fryer or dehydrator, save yourself the trouble – your oven can do many of the same things. From everyday hacks to long-form cooking projects, these are the lesser-known things you can do with your oven and grill.

1. Batch-cook bacon and sausages

Long bacon rashers on a baking tray.
Baking bacon: to cook rashers in bulk, roast them in a hot oven for 15 to 25 minutes. Photograph: Mint Images/Getty Images/Mint Images RF

If you’re making breakfast for a crowd and want to avoid the long-range artillery fire of bacon grease from a frying pan, the oven is your best friend. Lay your bacon or sausages on a baking sheet and pop them in an 200-220C oven – anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes for bacon and 25 to 30 minutes for sausages.

When it comes to bacon, US food writer J Kenji López-Alt has a few different techniques to help you reach your desired spot on the chewy-crispy continuum. If your bacon is destined for a sandwich, he suggests placing another baking tray on top of the bacon to keep it flat while it cooks, leaving it in BLT-ready condition.

2. Crisp up leftover fried food

Air fryers are sometimes touted as the best way to reheat fried food, but don’t let Big Air Fryer fool you. According to Choice’s home economics expert, Fiona Mair, “if you’ve got a fan-forced oven, you’ve got an air fryer”.

Fried food – such as chips, chicken and hash browns – loses its crunch because it absorbs moisture and baking it briefly at about 200C will drive off the excess. For best results, place your leftovers on a rack on top of a tray, so the food isn’t sitting in its own oil.

3. Map your grill

Kitchen cartography? Not quite – but you can find out where the hot and cold spots are under your grill. In this method by Cook’s Illustrated, you line the surface of a baking tray with sliced white bread, then pop it under a hot grill.

Top view of a baking tray lined with slices of white bread, in varying degrees of golden-brown toastiness.
This heat map of my grill will remind me to place my future cheese toasts in the middle. Photograph: Ann Ding

Once the slices have browned, take the tray out. Darker spots are, of course, places where the grill is hotter. Cook’s Illustrated recommends taking a photo of the map to keep, but if yours is anything like mine, you can probably just remember the heat is concentrated in the centre. And once you’ve mapped your grill, you can make cinnamon toast the right way.

4. Make dehydrated fruit

Dried apple slices on a rack being placed into an electric dehydrator.
If you’re thinking of buying an electric dehydrator, save your money and bench space – an oven can do the same thing. Photograph: SilviaJansen/Getty Images

Properly dehydrated food has a long shelf life and your options are nearly endless, from kale chips to beef jerky and fruit leather. But if you’re tempted to buy an electric dehydrator (like the ones featured in #fooddehydrator TikTok videos) don’t be swayed.

“[Dehydrators] take up so much room,” says Mair. “It’s quite a huge unit and they do make a lot of noise. And the thing is, [the oven] seems to dehydrate the food much quicker.

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“You do have to run it for hours, but not 14 hours, overnight like a dehydrator.”

The time it takes will also depend on the thickness of the food. Thinly sliced apples will take about three hours, according to Mair. You’ll want to keep the temperature between 50C and 90C so as not to actually cook the food.

With electric ovens, Mair says the fan-forced setting will work best, as the circulating air will be drier and carry moisture off the food quicker. However, it’s still possible with a conventional oven, she says. Although your ingredients might not feel completely dry, once they cool they will firm up and become dehydrated.

5. Kickstart your homemade yoghurt

Spoonful of yoghurt over a glass jar on a wooden surface
A stable home: a warm oven is the ideal place to kickstart your homemade yoghurt. Photograph: Maurizio Polverelli/Getty Images

Ovens are built to retain heat, so electric models are great incubation chambers for making never-ending yoghurt or natto (it’s easier than you think!). They can maintain a stable temperature of 40C – the temperature at which the microorganisms responsible for fermenting yoghurt and natto work fastest.

This is easier with newer ovens, which tend to have more precise temperature settings – some models are able to maintain temperatures as low as 30C (perfect for proofing a sluggish bread dough when the weather is too cold). But you can MacGyver your own solution. Heat the oven to the lowest possible temperature, then turn it off and put your yoghurt in; you could also place a saucepan of hot water in the oven along with your ferment and monitor the temperature with an oven thermometer.

6. Sterilise jars

If you’re making jams or pickles (or homemade yoghurt in your oven), you’ll need sterilised glass jars. After giving your jars a hot soapy wash and rinse, place them on a tray while they’re still wet and put them in an oven, preheated to 110-120C, until the jars are completely dry. Here’s a how-to guide from Cornersmith.

Note that this is different from heat processing, which will make your homemade jams and pickles shelf-stable; food stored in sterilised jars that is not canned should be kept in the fridge.