A rack elevates food so air can circulate underneath for even cooking and cooling. Which brand is the best bang for your buck?
Last Updated Feb. 1, 2019. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 21: Bake Sale Favorites
We continually monitor the items we review and recommend. Recently, we noticed that the quality of our favorite wire rack, from Libertyware, had become inconsistent. We now recommend the Checkered Chef Cooling Rack, which had originally come in second place. The rankings have been adjusted to reflect the change.
A wire rack isn’t just for cooling cakes and cookies. The combination of a wire rack and a rimmed baking sheet is our top choice for roasting or broiling meats, holding breaded foods before and after frying, and neatly glazing all manner of confections. The rack lifts up foods so air can circulate underneath for even cooking and cooling, and the baking sheet below contains any mess.
When we discovered that our favorite wire rack was no longer available, we set out to find a new winner. We zeroed in on racks measuring roughly 16½ by 12 inches because they fit inside standard-size rimmed baking sheets—a basic requirement that eliminated many contenders. We also nixed nonstick models because their slick coatings aren’t broiler-safe. Finally, we dismissed models with parallel bars (instead of small grids) because thin cuts of meat and other small foods can fall through the gaps. To our surprise, we were left with just three nationally available models, priced from $7.99 to $12.95.
We used each rack to cool fragile sugar cookies and to roast and then broil sticky barbecued pork. Then we piled each with 15 pounds (the equivalent of a midsize turkey) of canned goods, checking to see if any of them sagged or bent under the weight. Finally, we washed each rack 10 times to see if it warped, chipped, or rusted.
The racks were all made of plain or chrome-coated stainless steel and had support bars underneath with small V-shaped feet to elevate the rack about ¾ inch. Though the sizes of the grids differed, all of the racks performed well. They were high enough for air to circulate underneath, so cookies cooled quickly and evenly and the roasted pork was crisp and evenly browned. Both metal and plastic spatulas slid across them without sticking or snagging. Scrubbing off broiled-on barbecue sauce required some elbow grease, but each rack cleaned up completely.
Given their solid performance, our ratings came down to a few slight differences. One rack had a touch of wiggle room inside standard baking sheets, while others had none at all. Another rack was not dishwasher-safe. In the end, our new winner is the Libertyware Half Size Sheet Pan Cooling Rack ($15.99 for a set of two). Used alone or with our favorite rimmed baking sheet from Nordic Ware ($14.97), it’s a piece of equipment no kitchen should be without.
UPDATE: Since publishing this review, we have changed our recommendation. Please refer to the update at the top of the page for more information.
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.
Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.