I have a culinary confession. Before working for America’s Test Kitchen I didn't think twice about the oven rack's location. I figured I could throw food anywhere in the oven and it'd come out cooked.
I was young, and I was wrong.
Once I began developing recipes, I realized the location of your oven rack — top, middle, bottom — greatly affected how your food gets cooked. It's about where the heat strikes your food. If used incorrectly you could be left with a soggy bottom pizza or a pale gratin.
So let’s break it down.
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Top Position: The Hot Spot
When you want lots of browning on top of your food, opt for the top. Your oven heats from the bottom, rises, and reflects off the top, creating a ricochet of bubbly caramel color. Once your oven preheats, it will be consistently hotter at the top. You’ll want this position for any dish that needs a gloriously brown top. Think of a summer vegetable gratin, croque monsieur, or even an asparagus frittata.
Middle Position: Even Playing Field
Lower Position: Bottom Browning
Remember I said the top position gets browning on the top? The bottom position gets color on the bottom. Use the lower position when you’re looking for that bottom crust. Sheet pan pizza, roasted veggies, and a cast iron brownie all benefit from the lower oven rack position.
So next time you preheat your oven, check your racks. Take it from me. It’s truly made me a better cook.