How Important Is Oven Rack Placement?

Oven rack placement can be a wonky thing. It's never as pronounced or "mandated" as, say, temperature, ingredients, or cooking vessel, but it's typically lurking there, right in the recipe, waiting to be acknowledged. In some cases, the oven is already preheated and you're not trying to risk a burn just to shift an oven rack. In other instances, you recognize that the oven racks should be moved, but you don't act on it. And, of course, when you're very committed to your cooking and follow a recipe religiously, you follow the oven rack law and move it prior to preheating the oven. But ... why? What exactly does the placement of the oven rack actually do for your food? Turns out — a lot! Read ahead to learn all about why oven rack placement should actually become one of the actual first things you do whenever you're roasting and/or baking.

At its basis, it's important to note that a preheated oven does not mean that the entire oven is at that designated temperature, or that temperature will stay entirely consistent throughout the cooking time. A 350 degree oven may fluctuate, but its average temperature hovers around the 350 mark, according to Reluctant Gourmet. Ovens distribute heat in different ways; everyone's is different, and whether the oven is convection or conventional changes things, too.

Does it matter which rack I use?

According to Real Simple, almost all ovens have two heating sources: one at the base and one at the top. The top of the oven is usually a bit hotter than the rest, but the bottom heating source can also be slightly hotter, making the middle the "coolest" part of the oven, no matter the temperature. Foods on the top are meant to crisp, and that's especially helpful in situations in which you want to broil the top of a dish or melt a copious amount of cheese, but it's almost as important to note that foods may burn quicker in the "top" than anywhere else. Beyond that, the food on the bottom rack may burn on the bottom, but appear fine otherwise. The middle rack is a good, all-purpose oven location. Bottom rack placement is perfect for pizza.

Of course, another idea is alternating — aka swapping one pan of cookies with another, allowing more even cooking all around. If the top isn't browning enough, maybe move the item up to the top rack. If the dish seems good to go but the bottom is a little underdone, perhaps move it down a rack.

Obviously, safety first! Be careful — don't change oven racks with any cooking vessels already on them; wear oven mitts and/or use a towel to safely move racks in a oven that is already warm — but ideally, that won't be an issue since you've already moved the rack prior to preheating, right? ::wink::