If you are using a conventional oven, with a heating element on the bottom and racks above, your items will bake very differently depending on where you place them in the oven. Positioning oven racks correctly can make a huge difference in the quality of your baked goods. For best results, understand the way your oven works and the ideal position for particular items. (A convection oven, with heating elements on top, bottom, and back, and a fan to circulate hot air, works differently. If that’s what you use, the following advice won’t necessarily apply.)
- In general, the middle of the oven is best for even baking. Many recipes, including those on Bakepedia, will direct you to position the rack in the middle. If no direction is given, assume that your items should be baked here.
- Items that require an especially browned bottom should be baked in the lower third of the oven. Overall baking time will be the same as when baked in the middle, but the pan or baking sheet’s proximity to the heating element will promote browning on the bottom. A fruit pie requiring an especially crisp bottom crust that won’t get soggy from prolonged contact with a juicy filling should be baked in the bottom third of the oven.
- Placing items in the upper third of the oven will promote browning on top. This is the place to bake your meringue-topped pie so it gets good color quickly and without heating up the lemon curd underneath.
- If you have more than one pan that you’d like to bake off at once, place both pans in the middle of the oven unless otherwise directed. For example, two 9-inch cake pans can be placed side by side and then rotated at some point during baking after the cakes have begun to set (you don’t want to move them while they’re still in a liquid state and risk damaging their developing structure).
- If both pans won’t fit, as with two baking sheets of cookies, bake one on the top rack and one on the bottom rack, keeping an eye on them and rotating the pans halfway through baking to prevent overbrowning on either the top or the bottom. I recommend this only for items like cookies that require a relatively short baking time. With longer-baking items the risk of burning is greater and not worth the savings in time. Some ovens will have 4 rack positions, others will have a 5 or a different configuration. Best case scenario is that you can set one in lower third and one in upper third; just do your best to space them out evenly.
Image: Lauren Chattman