oven symbols mean

Strange Kitchen Symbols: What do They Mean?


March 10, 2022

If you’ve ever seen strange oven symbols appear when you’re trying to cook food, you’re not alone, especially if you’ve moved to a new kitchen or gotten a new oven! Many people are confused by the symbols that appear on their ovens and microwaves. In our oven symbols guide, we will explain the most common oven symbols and what they mean. We’ll also provide tips on when to use the different modes so you can get the best cooking results out of your fan oven!

Oven Modes & Oven Symbols


Often indicated with three lines waving or the actual word, the preheating symbol is actuated after you turn the oven on, but before it reaches the internal temperature you set. See below for a few examples of pre-heating icons. For nicely cooked meals you should wait until your oven is fully preheated before starting cooking.

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The pre-heating oven symbol is often confused with the symbol for the plate warming function if your oven is equipped with this feature. Most ovens with a plate warming or warming drawer will have no oven light symbol at all, but if they do it will look like something below.

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Regular Bake Mode:

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The oven will maintain a consistent temperature throughout the cooking cycle using two heating elements, one on the top of the oven and one at the bottom, which are depicted with two horizontal lines. This method is best for baking cakes, cookies, and any other baked goods!

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Your oven may also have options for using the upper heating element and lower heating element separately. If so, you’ll likely see a horizontal line like the symbols above for upper heat (with a top horizontal line), and below for lower heat (with a lower horizontal line).

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You can use these oven modes if you’re using prebaked pie crusts where you only want to cook from the top or certain dishes like crispy pizzas (if there’s no ‘pizza’ mode) so you can cook primarily from the bottom.

Convection Bake Mode – Using Your Oven Fan:

The oven will circulate air around the food, resulting in faster and more even cooking. The circulation is accomplished by using a fan built into the oven, often with a circular element around the fan which is called ‘true convection’, which uniformly distributes the hot air in the oven for more even cooking. Convection cooking is excellent for roasting meats with single shelf cooking and when you need to cook on multiple cooking racks on more than one shelf at the same time.

The fan symbol is commonly used to indicate natural convection. A ‘fan’ light, which should be accompanied by an oven fan noise from the oven and also be visible if your oven has an internal light bulb and viewing window.

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Broil Mode – Using the Grill Element

The oven will heat from the top, resulting in a crispy top and tender interior. In some countries, like the UK, this is referred to as ‘grilling’ because it is used to produce a browned, crispy exterior. While the name might change the effect it has on your food is the same. Broiling is similar to grilling so it’s amazing for things you’d put on the grill, especially when you don’t want to go outside! Try our broiling method for salmon for a super easy weeknight meal, but you can use the grill’s heat for a lot of other dishes too!

Your oven may have partial grill and full grill options. These indicate how much of the grill element is energized at once, with full grill producing a faster cooking method than partial grill.

The broiler is often indicated by a zigzag line at the top of the oven.

Steam Mode:

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The steam oven mode can be used to keep you dish moist which is especially useful in the pizza or pastry case when you’re aiming for the perfect crust or cake!

Self-Clean Mode:

The oven will start heating up to very high temperatures. High temperature pyrolytic cleaning uses extreme heat to make it easier to clean off cooking debris by heating the oven to 900 degrees and up. If you use this mode, remove your oven racks and anything that might be damaged from the super-high temperatures from in and around your oven.

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Due to the extreme temperatures used in pyrolytic cleaning, ovens will often have a child lock to prevent anyone from accidentally opening the oven door when the temperature inside is so high. A lock or key symbol is used to indicate the door is locked due to temperature and will keep the door closed.

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Air-Fry Mode – The New Modern Heating Element!

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Air-fryers are a fairly new development in cooking so don’t worry if it sounds new to you. They’ve even started including them in some modern ovens as a separate mode. In air-frying, a fan distributes hot air directly onto the food sitting in a basket which takes less oil. This method is healthier than regular deep frying and saves on the mess too! When done properly you’ll still get that nice browned surface surrounding your food for crunchy fries and breaded vegetables with a crispy base.

Microwave Oven Symbols

Defrost Food Symbol

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You may also have a defrost function on your regular oven, but since they are most commonly seen on microwave ovens I’ve grouped them here. The snowflake and water droplet symbol appears when you’ve selected a low-power option for defrosting meats directly from the freezer. Thicker meats will take longer no matter the defrost setting used. I always prefer to defrost in the fridge but sometimes you forget and you need it unfrozen quickly, it’s one of the downsides of cooking meat for large parties but definitely, a worthwhile feature to save cooking time when roasting meat!


Tamara is an avid foodie and successful restaurateur. She has dedicated a large chunk of her life to researching healthy food recipes and diet plans, and also teaching people how to improve their eating habits. Using Eatomology, Tamara shares the very best diet plans, cookbooks, and more. Also, for those on a quest to improve their kitchen, Tamara shares some awesome and high-quality kitchen equipment recommendations as well as buying guides on her website.