America's Test Kitchen LogoCook's Country LogoCook's Illustrated Logo

7 Things to Know About Your Oven That Will Make You a Better Cook

Change your baking, roasting, and broiling for the better.

Published Feb. 21, 2023.

Do your cake layers rise unevenly while baking? Does your broiler burn one side of the chicken? Are your cookies sad and pale even though you followed the recipe exactly? 

It may be time to improve your oven expertise. 

Ovens have quirks. Even if you use your oven every day, how much do you really know about it? An oven can do more than bake and roast. And if you master your oven (and make sure it’s clean), everything that comes out of it will be better, guaranteed. 

From learning how your oven heats to using it for cleaning other baking items, here are seven ways to get more out of your oven.

Sign up for the newsletter How to Bake

Go from beginner to confident baker with how-tos and free recipes.

1. Understand Your Oven’s Heating Patterns 

Did you know that the heating element for most standard ovens is located on the bottom? Convection is a process in which heat rises up around the food, reflects off the top of the oven, and circulates around the oven chamber by moving air currents. 

A convection setting, which could more accurately be called forced convection, uses a fan to accelerate the moving of the air and heat. Food generally dries, crisps, and browns more rapidly when cooked with the convection setting.

400 Recipes, 200 Skills

New Cooking School: Fundamentals

No matter what stage you’re at in your culinary journey, you'll learn new techniques and recipes in this tell-all cookbook. You’ll be able to ensure the success of each recipe with helpful highlights and step photos as well as troubleshooting checklists.

2. Switch and Rotate Your Food

Even new or freshly calibrated ovens have hot and cool spots. Thus, you should rotate most foods you cook in your oven, and if you are placing food on more than one oven rack, you should switch the positions of the food halfway through baking/roasting to ensure even cooking and browning.

3. Rack Placement Is Important

Yes, your oven-rack location matters. Remember, heat comes from the bottom, so foods placed on lower oven racks will receive more direct heat. Foods placed on higher oven racks will receive heat reflected off the oven ceiling onto the top of the food. Racks in the middle will have a balance of both.

Equipment Review

The Best Rimmed Baking Sheets

A rimmed baking sheet is essential for sheet cakes and handy for cookies. But if yours is flimsy or you use it only for baking, you’re not getting your money’s worth.
See Our Winner

4. Make a Heat Map for the Most Efficient Broil

Broilers are uneven. In general, most broilers tend to heat up the center and back of the oven, leaving the sides and front cool. The best way to learn how your broiler works is to make a map of it (hint: it involves toast). 

5. Let Your Oven Clean Your Baking Mat

A silicone baking mat is a great alternative to parchment paper (even though you can reuse parchment paper a few times), but over time it can look a little worse for the wear. If you don’t want to spend forever scrubbing and soaking, let your oven clean it for you.

Equipment Review

The Best Silicone Baking Mats

For cookies and tuiles, silicone baking mats are as good as parchment—and sometimes better.
See Our Winner

6. Don’t Skimp on the Preheating Step

Most ovens need at least 15 minutes to preheat fully. If you don’t preheat your oven sufficiently, your food will spend more time in the oven and suffer the cooked consequences. Also, be sure to position the rack as directed before you preheat.

7. You Can Turn Your Oven into a Proof Box

Not everyone has a dedicated proof box in their kitchen (even the most enthusiastic of sourdough bakers) but your oven can be the next best thing. Use a cake pan filled with water to proof dough in your oven, especially if your kitchen is a little chilly.

This is a members' feature.