Yes, It Matters Where You Put the Oven Rack

by Jane Wangersky | September 5th, 2014 | Cooking Basics

file9371237213748First things first: If your pizza ever burns around the edges, just cut out the middle and eat that. It worked for us, and it may save your dinner — well, mostly — someday.

How does a pizza end up with edges burned beyond an edible condition, but the middle just overbaked? By being cooked too high up in the oven. Let me elaborate: We were staying in a vacation rental with a kitchen that was fully, but not perfectly, equipped. The oven racks, for some reason, were positioned at the top and bottom of the oven. Maybe somebody had been doing some broiling on the top rack. Anyway, when I tried to move the top rack to the middle of the oven, where recipes and package directions tell you to cook everything (when they bother to tell you at all, because center-of-the-oven baking is one of those things everyone’s supposed to know about), I couldn’t get it out of its spot. We think the racks may not have been the ones that were actually made for the oven, or they would’ve slid more easily. But of course the vacation cabin gets all the stray bits from people’s real homes.

I was tired, hungry, and jet-lagged, and also apparently had left all my cooking expertise at work, because I just put the pizza on the too-high rack and hoped for the best. As you already know, that’s not what we got.

Yes, it matters where in the oven you put the food, so pay attention to any instructions on this. (A typical one that comes to mind is baking angel food cake on a rack at the very lowest position.) I wondered how the pizza had started to burn so quickly when it was so far from the element, but it’s a simple fact that heat rises.

My misadventures weren’t over. A few nights later I decided to broil some steaks. My stove back home has a separate broiler compartment under the main oven; Vacation Stove broiled in the same place it baked. By now, with a lot of help, I’d managed to move the upper rack to the middle of the oven and I wasn’t about to wrestle with it again. So I turned on the broiler and put the meat in the middle, far from the broiler element that was supposed to cook it. The cooking took longer than I expected — and the steaks, though they tasted good, toughened a little in the process. They never really browned either.

Sometimes we need to re-learn the most basic lessons the hard way, I guess.

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