Does the Position of the Oven Rack Really Matter?

Wondering if the position of your rack in the oven is actually important? The Never Cook Naked Guys have the answer.

: New Africa

Oven Racks

Dear Never Cook Naked Guys: Does the position of the rack in the oven really make a difference? —Still Standing Facing the Stove

Dear Standing: Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Depends.

In general, follow the recipe. If it says, for example, that the rack should be in the bottom third of the oven, the writer intends the cookies or quick bread to get a little toastier on the bottom than if they’d been in the center. So yes, it matters.

But now to complicate things, always remember the rule of the oven: It’s all about airflow. Never put the rack so low that it sits on the element—you might as well be braising on top of the stove. And don’t put the rack so high that the lofty elevation yields an inconsistent temperature, so far away from said element.

There are also times when the rack’s position doesn’t make that much difference. Baking is about precision. But when it comes to roasting and braising, there’s a range of acceptable: not at the very top and not at the very bottom but somewhere within the general confines of what’s considered the middle of your oven.

What’s more, all bets are off if you’re working with convection. A well-regulated convection fan will keep the hot air flowing evenly throughout the oven, no matter what rack you’re baking on—although, again, watch out for overbrowning on too-low racks.

Finally, if you’re using your oven for storage, be heedless. Your sweaters care not where the rack is positioned. Originally published January 10, 2013.

Our very clever, very clothed Never Cook Naked columnists are at your disposal, able to troubleshoot everything from questionable table etiquette to tricky cooking techniques (as well as, natch, proper cooking attire). Curious to learn more solutions to culinary conundrums? Just ask!

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Comments

  1. I have always loved gas cook tops, and long ago we had great big stove with gas ovens. Now I have a little all gas stove with small oven, no fan and have either burned or undercooked or dried out everything I have tried… I did buy a thermometer for the oven which should have helped. But now I need your help.

    1. I feel your pain, Gary. My gas oven is on the smallish side too, and I find that things burn far too easily. So far, my solution has been to set the oven about 20°F (11°C) lower than called for, and I try to never put more than one thing in there at once, and never anywhere besides the upper rack.

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