How to Choose the Best Oven Rack Position When Baking

April 6, 2022

Pan of pastries in oven
The position of your oven rack plays a crucial role in how well your baked goods cook and brown. This post explains how the heat in your oven works, tips for baking on multiple racks at the same time, and which rack to choose for each type of baked good.


COOK + BAKE   |   Published April 6, 2022



Putting cookie sheet into oven




The oven rack position you choose to bake your cookies, pies, cakes, and other baked goods is just as important to the success of your recipe as the ingredients you use and your ability to mix them together.


Knowing how the heat in your oven works and choosing the appropriate position based on that can mean the difference between cookies with burnt or golden brown bottoms and cakes that are cooked or uncooked on the inside.


While the middle is typically a “safe choice,” there are times when the top or bottom will be better for the exact recipe you are baking. And a perfect pie is best achieved when it is moved to different locations during the baking process.


Read on to learn why oven rack position is important to understand when trying to improve your baking skills, specifics about what to bake where, how moving racks and rotating pans helps achieve an even bake, and how to bake on multiple racks at once, if necessary.










HOW OVEN RACK POSITION AFFECTS YOUR BAKING






How Heat in an Oven Works


Most electric and gas ovens have two heat sources – one at the top and one at the bottom. When you turn on oven to preheat, both heating elements come on to heat the oven.


When the oven reaches the desired temperature, the top element switches off and the bottom one cycles on and off in order to maintain a temperature at an average of the one you set when you turned the oven on. For example, if you set the temperature of your oven to 350F, the temperature will fluctuate between 325F to 375F during the baking cycle, but the temperature averages out to 350F.


Since hot air rises, the racks at the top of oven are consistently hotter, while the bottom will swing hotter and then cooler as you bake. This affects how your baked goods will bake and brown when placed in the oven.



White oven with gold handles



What is Best on Top, Middle, Bottom


Most ovens have two racks with four or five different positions for placement. (Bottom, bottom third, middle, top third, top) Before baking, take the time to set your racks in the best locations for what you are making (specifics about what to bake where appear further down in this post). Then preheat your oven for about 20 minutes to reach and maintain the temperature you set.


When in doubt or if your recipe doesn’t mention rack location (which most don’t), use these guidelines to know where is best for what you are putting into the oven.


  • TOP OVEN RACK: Use the top third of the oven for things you want to have a crusty brown top and even browning. The top of the oven is ideal for things like finishing pies with a top crust, casseroles, baked macaroni and cheese, gratins, crisps, and garlic bread. For even more color, turn on the broiler during the last minute or two of baking time.



  • MIDDLE OVEN RACK: The middle is the default position when you’re unsure of what is best placement for your food. For the most part, the middle rack will cook and bake all food evenly when baking on one rack at a time. The air circulates evenly around food. Tops and bottoms aren’t in danger or burning or browning too quickly here. This middle rack is perfect for cakes, single trays of cookies, brownies, sheet pan dinners, and fish.



  • BOTTOM OVEN RACK: Use the bottom of the oven for things that you want intensely brown on the bottom like the bottoms of pie crusts, crusty breads, pizza, roasted vegetables.



“GOLDEN RULE”


If you need something to brown very well on the bottom, like pizza or pie crust, put it on the lower racks.



If you want something to brown well on top, such as a casserole, put it on an upper rack.



The middle rack is the happy place where most things will bake well from the top to the bottom.




Putting cookies into oven




Moving and Rotating When Baking


Moving baked goods around will help them bake evenly and get the results you want.


Just because you start baking on one rack, you don’t have to stay there. For example, an apple pie crust should be browned on the bottom AND the top and the filling should be cooked through. For a perfect apple pie, start it on the bottom rack to get crisp bottom, after about 10 minutes it can be moved to the middle, and when almost done, move it to the top third to finish off the top crust.


  • If you find that the top of your pie is browning too quickly even on the middle rack, move it to a lower rack.


  • If the bottom of your cookies are browning to quickly, put them on higher rack.


  • Rotate cakes, cookies, and pies 180 degrees halfway through baking to make sure baked good cooks evenly. This compensates for hotspots where parts of your oven may be warmer than others.


  • Don’t move cakes until they have had time to set (at least 30 minutes). Moving them while still in liquid state will damage their developing structure.




Bread baked in loaf pan




Specifics About What to Bake Where in the Oven


BISCUITS: Middle

BISCOTTI: Middle

BREADS: Crusty bread is best baked on the bottom so that the texture is crispy on the outside and softer on inside; Quick breads like banana bread are best in the bottom third

BROWNIES: Middle

CAKE: Use the middle rack when cake is thin (1 -3 inches) to avoid the cake from burning and for a softer, fluffier texture; Position rack in the lower third of the oven for cakes that are thicker (4 inches or higher like bundt, angel food cake, or pound cakes) so that the center of the cake still sits in the center of the oven which will help them to be cooked evenly and not be soupy or uncooked on the inside; Bake single thin sheet cakes (like for a jellyroll) in the middle of the oven.

CHEESECAKE: Bake in the middle of oven either with a shallow pan full of water on the lower rack or with the cheesecake pan sitting in a water bath

COFFEE CAKE: Middle

COOKIES: Single sheets of cookies should be baked in center of the oven. Rotate sheet 180 degrees a little over halfway through baking time.

CROISSANT: Middle

CUPCAKES: Middle

CUSTARD: Top third

MUFFINS: Middle

PIE: Start the pie on the bottom rack for about 10 minutes to brown the bottom crust, move it to the center rack for the majority of the baking, and then finish on the top rack for about 10 minutes to get a flakey, golden brown crust.; A meringue topped pie should always finish baking in the upper third of the oven so that it gets good color quickly and without heating up the filling too much.

PASTRIES: Middle

PUFF PASTRY: Upper third

SCONES: Start in the upper third of the oven to brown and puff them and then about halfway through baking time move the sheet to the middle rack to cook all the way through

SOUFFLE: Upper third because they require intense heat to bake and reach maximum volume

TART: Bottom third

TURNOVERS: Middle to upper third depending on how brown you wan them



Cakes baking in oven





How to Use Multiple Racks at the Same Time


For best results, you want to bake one cookie sheet or pan of baked goods at a time. Using multiple pans in the oven at once time blocks the heat from freely moving around and alters the time it takes for the baked good to brown and bake.


If it is absolutely necessary to bake more than one pan of something at a time, however, place the racks in the middle and lower third of the oven and be sure to move the baked goods between racks.


  • COOKIES:  If possible, try baking both sheets of cookies on the same middle rack leaving space between the sheets for air flow and switch and rotate the pans halfway through. If this isn’t possible, place them on opposite sides of the oven to allow for air circulation. Then move the sheets to the opposite rack and rotate 180 degrees a little over halfway through baking to help them brown and bake evenly.



  • CAKES:  If possible, bake multiple cake layers on the same rack with at least an inch of space between the pans and the oven walls because they need air space to bake evenly. If you need to bake on two racks, make sure that the pans are not directly over top another. After at least 30 minutes of baking time, swap the pans from one rack to the other. The cake needs time to rise and fully set before moving it around or it might collapse.



  • You may need to add a couple extra minutes to the baking time to offset the crowded oven. On average, baking two pans will take about 15% longer than one (So, for cookies that take 10 minutes as a single sheet, add an 1 ½ minutes for multiple cookie sheets.)




Cupcakes in pan



Choosing the right oven placement when baking can have a dramatic effect on how your baked goods look when they come out of the oven and ensures that they are cooked all the way through.




CONTINUE READING THESE POSTS IF YOU'RE INTERESTED IN THE BAKING 101 SERIES: A collection of posts helping you learn how to be successful when making cookies, cakes, and other baked goods.

Essential Baking Pans

Should You Use Salted or Unsalted Butter?






The Right Oven Rack to Use


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