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.
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). Ask us your question in a comment below!
Originally published January 10, 2013