Whether you’re baking, roasting or grilling, where you put your culinary efforts in the oven will impact on how they cook. This can make the difference between a golden, flaky crust and a soggy bottom! This guide will take you through some of the principles of oven rack use.
Understanding how an oven works
Most conventional electric ovens have a heat source at the top and one at the bottom. When you turn on the oven, both sources will heat the cavity to the set temperatures. Once this is achieved, the bottom heat source will kick in intermittently to maintain the heat. This means that the top of the oven will be hotter, because that heat source is constantly producing heat and because hot air rises.
Many modern ovens feature fans, which help distribute heat evenly around the oven cavity. That said, you can still apply the principles in this guide, though the effects may be less noticeable.
The bottom rack is great for anything you want to have a crusty base. Pizzas and crusty bread are just some examples.
The top rack is excellent for dishes you want to have a crusty brown top. Things like pies, bakes and casseroles work here.
This is a happy medium where the top or bottom of your food isn’t going to be exposed to more intense heat, so is the perfect place for cakes, cookies and brownies, as well as more substantial dishes and meat.
You don’t have to use just one rack!
Seems obvious, right!? You can take advantage of the different racks to achieve different things during the cooking process. For example, you could start a pie on the bottom rack so you get the bottom nice and brown, then move it to the middle rack for the majority of the cooking time so the filling gets evenly cooked. Finally, you can put it on the top rack for the last 15 minutes or so to get a golden-brown, flaky crust.
If you’re in doubt, you can always just pop whatever you’re cooking on the middle rack and keep an eye on it. If it looks like it needs a bit more heat on the top or bottom, move it! This kind of knowledge comes with a little trial and error, and experience, so don’t worry if you don’t get it exactly right first time around.