Can I make french fries/granola/cookies faster than I can buy them?
By Katie Broyles
Maybe it’s cheaper. Maybe it’s healthier. But is it faster? I put my oven to the test to find out just how much time and effort it takes to get french fries, granola cereal and chocolate chip cookies into my mouth.
Granola. I am out of granola cereal, which I eat for breakfast and sometimes late night snacks. Can I make some in the oven and get it into my bowl faster than running to the store to buy it?
Oven Version: I preheat the oven to 300 degrees and begin mixing the granola together: 3-5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, a handful of almonds, 5 tablespoons of honey, ½ cup of unprocessed sugar, and a pinch of salt. After putting the cereal in the oven to toast on a greased baking tray, I’ve done 7 minutes of work. After an additional 18 minutes of free time while the mixture is cooking, I have warm, ready-to-eat granola cereal.
Total Time: 25 minutes
7 minutes of work time + 18 minutes of free time
Store Version: I tested how long it took to drive to the grocery store, buy one item and return home during 3 typical shopping times (4pm, 6pm & 7pm) and then averaged the results.
Total Time: 14-19 minutes*
*It took me an average of 6 minutes from the time I left my house to park my car at the grocery store and walk in. Door to door, my average time to run to the store and buy one item was 14 minutes. Driving and parking took an average of 6 minutes one way and would have been about an 8-9 minute walk. If I walked, the trip would take approximately 5 minutes longer, giving me an average of 14-19 minutes to run to the store for one item under normal conditions – no long lines, no running into someone I know or being otherwise distracted.
This is the best-case scenario. I am fortunate to live very close to the grocery store – 0.5 miles; many people have further to travel. Also, 2 out of 3 times in the experiment, there was no one in line ahead of me. The third time, there was one person checking out ahead of me. Conditions were optimal.
French Fries. Can I make oven fries faster than I can go buy them in the fast food drive-thru?
Oven Version: I have a plain old potato on hand. I preheat the oven to 400 degrees and begin chopping my potato. I place my oven fries on a greased baking tray, drizzle olive oil and add seasonings and fresh parsley to taste. This only takes 5 minutes, so the oven hasn’t finished preheating. I have four minutes of break time, then take ½ a minute to return and put the tray in the (now ready) oven. I set my timer for 15 minutes and resume free time. When the timer beeps, it takes me 1 ½ minutes to flip the fries to the other side for more even cooking. It’s free time again. I set my timer for an additional 12 minutes, bringing my total cooking time to 28 minutes. I happen to like my oven fries fairly crispy and thick. If you cut the fries smaller, (closer to the size you’d get at a fast food joint) cooking time would be reduced. When I take my home fries out of the oven ready to eat them, my results are:
Total Time: 37 minutes
7 minutes of work time (5 minutes prep + ½ minute inserting tray + 1 ½ minutes to flip) and
30 minutes of free time
Store Version: My trip to the local fast food joint was remarkably fast. I arrived at the drive-thru from my house in three minutes flat. There was no line. I ordered, paid, and received my French fries all in one minute and was back at home with my food in 7 minutes. This was truly the best case scenario, as anyone who’s ever been stuck in a drive-thru line can attest.
Total Time: 7 minutes
Chocolate Chip Cookies. Sometimes you just want some cookies. I have the ingredients on hand, but will it be worth the effort to make them from scratch?
Oven Version: This was the only challenge where my prep work took longer than the oven took to preheat. I set it for 375 degrees and start mixing my chocolate chip cookie ingredients. First I combine 1 ¼ cups of flour, ½ tsp of salt and ½ tsp of baking soda together in my main mixing bowl. Then in a small bowl, I cream 1 cup of butter and ¾ cup of unrefined sugar together and fold one egg into the mixture. I add that into the dry ingredients and mix for a few minutes with a spoon before adding 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips and mixing a bit more. I shape balls by hand and put them on a greased cookie sheet. I have my cookies in the oven after 13 minutes of work. Then I have 10 minutes of free time while the cookies bake.
Total Time: 23 minutes
13 minutes of work + 10 minutes of free time
14-19 minutes. (*see above)
With 13 minutes work time, I still beat the 14-19 minutes to go to the store and pick up cookies, but baking from scratch does take 4-9 minutes longer before I can eat them.
Work required: Oven wins!
Total time required: Store wins.
When it came to actual work, the oven version was always either the same or less actual work time than going to the store. For granola and cookies, the oven required less work time. With oven fries, I again had only 7 minutes of labor, which was equal to the time required to pick up fast food fries, but required the best-case scenario at a drive-thru close by. In all the challenges, the total time required from start to finish to make the home versions couldn’t beat the store time, but with the granola and the cookies, it wasn’t far off. When it came to french fries, putting aside the obvious health benefits of baking instead of frying a potato, the fast food joint definitely won on overall time needed. I still love my home fries though!