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Oven Rack Height


Shel_B
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Some recipes specify the location of the oven rack - top, middle, lower, etc. - yet others don't.  As an example, when I make oven-baked rice, I use the upper middle rack in my oven, and when I use a lower rack, using the same oven settings, the rice doesn't turn out as well - it's wetter and mushier.  I've noticed a big difference in in the results when making popovers depending on rack height, and while a number of popover recipes don't specify rack height, many more do, so it would seem that rack height could be important there as well.

 

So, is there some reason why so many recipes don't specify the oven rack location?  Is there any rule of thumb to determine the rack height, perhaps for certain types of dishes (meat vs baking a cake, for example)?  Does not specifying the height, does it mean to use a default height, and what might that height be? 

 

Is the lower rack hotter than an upper rack?  I always thought the upper location would be hotter because heat rises, but recently I read that pizza should be baked on the lowest rack, closest to the heat source, and therefore the hottest location in the oven.  So, which is it for pizza?

 

For recipes that are being tried for the first time, it seems that having an idea of the rack height may be important to getting good results.

 

Comments?

Edited by Shel_B (log)

 ... Shel


 

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Shel, I think the best anyone can tell you is "it depends".  And one very important thing it depends on, is your particular oven.

 

Ovens have their individual characteristics; the hottest rack in mine may not be the hottest rack in yours, even if we have the same make and model  I don't know if you've ever experienced it, but it's really difficult taking one of your favourite recipes and trying to make it in somebody else's kitchen.  You'll get out something similar to what you're used to, but it may need a little more or less time, or to be turned round halfway through cooking, or some other little tweak.

 

Sure, there are rules of thumb.  If in doubt, go for the middle.  Higher should be hotter.  Pizza is maybe a special case, and there's been much debate on the 'best' way to do it.  Modernist Cuisine, in their discussion of the topic, says to put it at the top of the oven with the grill/broiler going, BUT they also go into detail about how to determine the exact spot where it will perform best in an individual oven.  I don't recall the exact details, but the particular 'sweet spot' below the grill/broiler element varies; it's not as simple as just putting your pizza as high as you can get it.

 

But that's getting more technical than you probably want.  The expert on your oven is you.  Over time, you'll learn where it's hottest, what the best rack is for a particular dish you like to cook, where any (relatively) cool spots are, any special tricks to make [insert name of dish here] come out just right, every time.

 
And when you do, we want pictures!
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Leslie Craven, aka "lesliec"
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Personally, if the recipe doesn't specify the position, I start in the middle. If I feel that I need something to be more brown on top, then I go topside, if I need the bottom to be more done, then I move one rack down.

 

I'm sure that you know your oven, so I'll just say to use your "feel".  To me, more often than not, the feeling of a recipe far outweighs the written scope.

 

Follow your culinary heart, not the recipe you read....

I'm a lifelong professional chef. If that doesn't explain some of my mental and emotional quirks, maybe you should see a doctor, and have some of yours examined...

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Sure, there are rules of thumb.  If in doubt, go for the middle.  Higher should be hotter.  Pizza is maybe a special case, and there's been much debate on the 'best' way to do it.  Modernist Cuisine, in their discussion of the topic, says to put it at the top of the oven with the grill/broiler going, BUT they also go into detail about how to determine the exact spot where it will perform best in an individual oven.  I don't recall the exact details, but the particular 'sweet spot' below the grill/broiler element varies; it's not as simple as just putting your pizza as high as you can get it.

Actually, I think Cook's Illustrated also suggests baking pizza on the highest rack your oven will allow - they claim the reflected heat from the top op the oven  helps.

 

What's more important than rack position, however, is the accuracy of your oven's temperature.  I use 2 thermometers in my oven, and they register different temps. depending on where they are place, but I get a good idea of an "average" temperature throughout and can see where that is in relation to what a recipe might say.  I also like using the convection feature of my oven, which tends to even out the temperature, but must be accounted for when checking for doneness. 

 

But in general, midpoint is a good place to start.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Hi Shel,

 

Frankly, with some foods, particularly those that are more forgiving to an inaccurate temperatures, I pay more attention to where the rack is than how accurate the oven is. Take pizza for instance. Reasonably flexible with regard to oven temps, but where you bake it in the oven can make a big difference.

 

As noted above, Cooks Ill suggests using the highest level (and a 500 degree oven, if I recall). Why? I believe it is because if you use the lowest rack, you take chances of finishing, and even burhing, the dough before the toppings (meats in particular) get done. Since heat rises, using the upper rack affords the toppings to finish by the time the crust finishes. On the other hand, Lynn Rossetto-Casper suggests using the lowest rack (and, I think a lower temperature, which for thin pizzas with lilttle topping might be the way to go).

 

Continuing with pizza, there's also the type of utility on which you cook the pizza: are you using a stone? Are you using a cookie sheet (if so, is it dark or shiny—more browning, less browning, respectively)? Or are you using just the oven rack? All that plays a difference as to oven placement. There's the matter of a recipes cooking vessel; the shallow/depth (and other aspects) play a part as to where it has been decided to place the food in the oven.

 

So always give thought to the heat sensitivity of the food you are cooking, and, in most cases, start with the recipe's suggestion, noting the results for future adjustments to be made.

 

Hope that helps,

 

Starkman

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I always understood that the default oven position for a recipe is the middle of the oven.

 

Nevertheless, most ovens heat unevenly, so know your oven. I once attended a demo for a very expensive, razzle dazzle oven. The sales rep pulled a batch of cookies out of the oven to entertain the audience. While she continued with the sales patter, I went up to the counter and examined the cookies. They were pale in the middle of the pan and overbrown on the right side. Hmmm.

 

I routinely rotate pans halfway thru the baking time. Rotating pans means switching pans from back to front and (if using both racks) from upper to lower, lower to upper.

 

Keep in mind the radiant heat from the oven walls. If something is not coming along quite right when positioned in the middle of the oven, I adjust the racks up or down, depending if I want the bottom or the top to get more heat and cook more evenly.

 

I notice people are using pizza as an example for adjusting oven heat by location of the racks. I cook my pizza on the lowest rack, close to the heating element and the floor of the oven. Then in the last minutes of cooking time I put it on the high rack to gild the toppings. I've never cooked pizza under the broiler, but I bet that also works fine--I once cooked some naan that way.

 

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"---For recipes that are being tried for the first time, it seems that having an idea of the rack height may be important to getting good results.

 

Comments?----"

 

It is not easy to be sure.

 

There are two main types of oven, each with two variations. There is electric and electric convection, and there is gas, and gas convection, each with different heating characteristics.

 

Given the same type, each oven has it's personalities depending on the location of thermostat and insulation of the walls, etc. etc.

 

The best is to get to know your own oven. You can do an easy test:

 

Get a few (10?) small metal containers, and fill them with cooking oil. Place them in the oven, top front, left, right, top back, left right, bottom front, back left, right, middle center, -----.

 

Set the oven temperature at low, measure each container oil's temperature, then set the temperature at medium, measure again, and finally set the temperature at high and measure.

 

You will be surprised at the variations between the oven's set temperature and the measured temperature and the temperature differences at each location inside the oven.

 

dcarch

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I bake just about everything on the second rack from the bottom (so the lower 1/3 of the oven).  I have a large cordierite stone on the bottom rack.   

 

Seems to work best for this oven.

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I'm with you, diyee100. Rotating (turning the food 190 degrees is so important. Further, if you're cooking to alike foods on two racks, it's important to the bottom to the top rack and vice versa. Makes a big difference in an end product that is evenly cooked.

 

diyee said,

"I once attended a demo for a very expensive, razzle dazzle oven. The sales rep pulled a batch of cookies out of the oven to entertain the audience. While she continued with the sales patter, I went up to the counter and examined the cookies. They were pale in the middle of the pan and overbrown on the right side. Hmmm.

 

I routinely rotate pans halfway thru the baking time. Rotating pans means switching pans from back to front and (if using both racks) from upper to lower, lower to upper."

 

Edited by Starkman (log)
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"---For recipes that are being tried for the first time, it seems that having an idea of the rack height may be important to getting good results.

 

Comments?----"

 

It is not easy to be sure.

 

There are two main types of oven, each with two variations. There is electric and electric convection, and there is gas, and gas convection, each with different heating characteristics.

 

Given the same type, each oven has it's personalities depending on the location of thermostat and insulation of the walls, etc. etc.

 

The best is to get to know your own oven. You can do an easy test:

 

Get a few (10?) small metal containers, and fill them with cooking oil. Place them in the oven, top front, left, right, top back, left right, bottom front, back left, right, middle center, -----.

 

Set the oven temperature at low, measure each container oil's temperature, then set the temperature at medium, measure again, and finally set the temperature at high and measure.

 

You will be surprised at the variations between the oven's set temperature and the measured temperature and the temperature differences at each location inside the oven.

 

dcarch

 

The test sounds like an excellent idea, and I've tried something similar myself.  One problem I noted with my (electric, with convection option) oven was that the oven temperature dropped crazily every time I opened the door to measure temperature.  I realize that the oil in the containers won't lose heat as rapidly as the air in the oven, and therefore the oil containers will reflect more accurately the temperature profiles in the oven.  Still, it's an invasive procedure. I'll float an alternative idea that I've read elsewhere (sorry, I don't remember who should get the credit):  baking sheets with uniformly measured pancake batter spread around on them.  As you watch the batter cook (without opening the door) you can get a feel for where the hot and cold spots are.  It isn't as qualitative as your idea, but it also reduces the need to open the door and upset the heat balance.

 

What do you think?

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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The reason for using  oil is simple. Oil's boiling point is around 400F. this allows you to test measure high temperature settings.

 

Regarding heat loss when opening the hot oven door. I believe that is a myth.

 

It takes .005 watts to heat 1 cubic foot of DRY air 1 degree F. 

 

A typical oven is 5 cu ft. 5 x 0.005 = 0.025 watts to heat up the air in an oven one degree F.

 

Let's say room temperature is 70F, and oven temperature is 350F. 350F- 70F = 280F

 

280F x 0.025w = 7 watts is the power needed to reheat all the 350F hot oven air. Your oven's electric heating element is capable

of putting out from 3,000 watts of power or more.

 

When you open the oven door, you are immediately blasted with 350F of burning air. It gives you the impression that you are loosing a huge amount of heat.

 

 

dcarch

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The reason for using  oil is simple. Oil's boiling point is around 400F. this allows you to test measure high temperature settings.

 

Regarding heat loss when opening the hot oven door. I believe that is a myth.

 

It takes .005 watts to heat 1 cubic foot of DRY air 1 degree F. 

 

A typical oven is 5 cu ft. 5 x 0.005 = 0.025 watts to heat up the air in an oven one degree F.

 

Let's say room temperature is 70F, and oven temperature is 350F. 350F- 70F = 280F

 

280F x 0.025w = 7 watts is the power needed to reheat all the 350F hot oven air. Your oven's electric heating element is capable

of putting out from 3,000 watts of power or more.

 

When you open the oven door, you are immediately blasted with 350F of burning air. It gives you the impression that you are loosing a huge amount of heat.

 

 

dcarch

 

You make an excellent point about the oil.

 

My oven has a measurable drop in temperature, as measured by my Sur la Table digital oven thermometer placed on a middle rack, whenever I open the door.  I was surprised at how pronounced it was: 10 - 15 degrees F.  I should add that I was also surprised by the swings in temperature of this particular (electric) oven, even with the door closed.  I don't know if I still have the data, but I discovered last fall that it overshot the initial target temperature by at least 20 degrees (F) when I was setting for 350F, and once it was supposedly at the target temperature it oscillated something like +/- 10F.  The best way to stabilize temperature in my oven was to add thermal mass, in the form of pizza stones on top and bottom racks, and use the convection feature.  In other words, my oven may not be typical.

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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"-----My oven has a measurable drop in temperature, as measured by my Sur la Table digital oven thermometer placed on a middle rack, whenever I open the door.  I was surprised at how pronounced it was: 10 - 15 degrees F.------ "

 

That is to be expected, because the oven temperature is going from 350F to close to 70F room temperature air. The question is how quickly the oven temperature can recover from the temperature drop back to set temperature. 

 

Good temperature control in an electric oven is not easy, because the heating element can only be on 100% and off 100%. There is no in between heating. Combining that with a typical mechanical/hydraulic capillary temperature sensor, which in itself has a resolution of + - 15F, in addition,  when the heating element is first on, almost all the heating is done by infrared radiation, which the temperature sensor is not very good in picking up, until the infrared heat is converted to conduction heat.

 

dcarch

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