The oven rack is such an important part of your cooking process, but it’s often, if not always, overlooked. Using an oven rack the right way can make or break your dish.
Think about it this way: you’re going to bake a pizza. Do you put it on the top rack of the oven? Of course not! If you do, you won’t get that delicious and crispy bottom crust you love so much.
A tray of cookies won’t perform well if you put them on the bottom rack — they’ll all be burned on the bottom.
The type of oven rack you use is just as important as where you put your dishes to be cooked.
Okay, so What Is an Oven Rack, and What Are the Types?
An oven rack is a metal rack and it fits within your oven. Its purpose is to have you place pans onto it while you cook your food. This is so that the food is always centrally located in the oven for even cooking.
The racks are supposed to easily slide in and out of the oven so you can quickly reach your dishes. Of course, most of us know that isn’t always the case, and the racks will need a good washing before they slide as easily as they should.
Typically, ovens have several slots, so you can move the slides up and down in the oven depending on what your cooking and heating needs are. Repositioning the racks makes it easy for you to bring your dishes closer to the heat or move them away from the heat.
You’ll find that the standard design for oven racks is basic. It basically involves metal bars that are connected to each other with a metal frame. They look a lot like cooling racks used to cool baked goods. However, they’re mostly made from heavier metal so they can handle heavy dishes.
The frame is rectangular, and the bars are horizontal with some vertical bars providing reinforcement and stability.
Most ovens can take any style of oven rack, but some have specific racks made to fit specific models only. Your rack should fit securely and properly to ensure a good cooking experience and avoid accidents.
European-style ovens typically have two types of inserts: wire shelves or wire racks and solid trays. The racks are used to cook something that is self-contained, like when you’re using a casserole pan or cookie sheet. The wire rack has lots of space that allows free circulation of hot air — a good thing for cooking.
The solid trays are for baking or grilling loose food pieces like burgers, chicken portions, or sausages. They normally come with a removable wire rack and are there to catch any liquids and fat that might drip off the food.
There you have it — the two types of oven racks explained!
Oven Rack Placement That Guarantees Success
When you’re using your oven, the last thing you want is where you place the food to ruin an otherwise perfect dish. That’s why it’s important to know exactly where you should place your oven racks.
1. Top Rack
The top rack is where you put food that needs even browning. When your oven is preheated, the heating element located on the bottom turns off and on during the baking process. This allows the oven to maintain an even temperature.
Heat will also rise from the heating element and it will collect at the top, making the top the hottest area. This top-level heat is perfect for dishes that you want to be nice and golden brown on the top, like grains, crisps, and casseroles.
For an extra-rich color, turn the broiler on during those last few minutes of cooking, but remember to keep an eye on your food.
2. Middle Rack
The middle rack is your safest bet if you aren’t quite sure where to put your food. This is the middle ground of the oven, and the best place if you’re scared of burning your dishes.
The middle rack will bake and cook your food evenly and is suitable for most of your cooking and baking situations.
However, this is only true if you’re using only one oven rack at a time. You could use multiple racks, but that takes more planning, and isn’t ideal if you’re unsure of your situation.
3. Bottom Rack
Do you want to brown the underside of your pizza, bread, or roasted veggies? Then the bottom rack is where you want to place your food. This area is closest to the oven’s heat source and can make your pie and pizza crusts nice and crispy and brown.
Bonus Tip: The Rule of Thirds
Should you have to use two baking sheets simultaneously, put them on the top and bottom thirds of your oven. Then, halfway through your cooking process, rotate the trays and swap them to make sure your food is cooking evenly.
This little tip can come in really useful if you’re baking many batches of cookies together. You’re welcome!
Best Ways to Clean Oven Racks
Oven racks have this mysterious way of becoming so dirty in such a short amount of time that we can only be amazed (and disgusted). Degreasing and thoroughly cleaning them is not a fun activity, but it’s necessary — you don’t want to prepare your food in a dirty place, after all.
Here are some of the best ways of cleaning oven racks that I’ve found to be the best and take the least amount of time.
1. Commercial Oven Cleaners
Commercial oven cleaners are quite strong and can produce toxic fumes. If you want to use such a product, it’s best to head outside, if you can. Otherwise, clean the oven rack in a well-ventilated room or area. If possible, opt for a non-toxic and eco-friendly oven cleaner.
Cover your work surface with newspaper or a sheet of plastic. Lay the oven rack down on the newspaper or plastic and put on good rubber gloves.
Spray the oven cleaner onto the racks in generous amounts and then let it sit for roughly ten minutes. Scrub the racks with an old toothbrush or rag and then rinse thoroughly before putting it back in the oven.
2. Dishwashing Soap and a Bathtub
This is a good go-to if you don’t have any chemicals to clean with. All you have to do is run your oven racks a very hot tub of water and pour in about half a cup of dishwashing soap. If in a pinch, you can use a third cup of laundry detergent.
Put an old towel on the bottom of the tub and then put the oven rack(s) on top. Make sure they’re covered with water and let them sit in overnight.
An old toothbrush should be good enough to get rid of any stubborn and clingy messes. If there are very stubborn messes, add some salt to your toothbrush for more abrasive scrubbing.
Rinse the racks thoroughly before you put them back in your oven.
3. Dryer Sheets and Dishwashing Liquid
For this cleaning method, put your oven racks in a big enough sink or washtub (the bathtub might be best) and fill it with very hot water. Add a couple of generous squirts of dishwashing liquid and a handful of dryer sheets. Now, swirl.
The water will become foamy.
Leave the oven racks overnight and then drain the water and wipe them with the dryer sheets. You should notice that the dirt comes off fairly easily. Rinse the oven racks and put them back in your oven.
4. A Trash Bag and Ammonia
This is a good method if you have a backyard or well-ventilated area. Put your oven racks in a clean trash bag and add one pint of ammonia. Seal the bag well and let it sit overnight.
The next day, you can open the bag (wear a mask because the ammonia fumes will be very strong) and remove the oven racks. Most likely, you’ll find that no scrubbing will be necessary as all the dirt will come off very easily.
Rinse the oven racks very well and then put them back in your oven.
5. Aluminum Foil
Yes, you read that right! You can clean your oven racks with aluminum foil if they’re not very, very dirty. (We all know that moving into a new place can be scary because you don’t know the state of the oven and its racks!)
Wrap the rungs of your oven racks in aluminum foil and then put them in your bathtub. Fill the tub with hot water and add a dishwasher tablet into the water. Let the racks sit for about two hours so the cleansing agent can react with the aluminum foil.
Once the time is up, drain the water and remove the foil. You should find that all the grime comes off easily with just a few wipes. Rinse the racks thoroughly and put them back in the oven.
6. Orange Essential Oil
Do you want to give your grimy oven racks a well-deserved cleaning the natural way without harsh chemicals? Then I have just the method for you!
Mix some baking soda, vinegar, and a couple of drops of essential oil in a small bowl. Make a paste of the ingredients.
Orange oil contains some impressively powerful antimicrobial compounds known as terpenes that will help clean your oven racks. Plus, it smells really good.
Use a damp sponge to apply the nice-smelling paste to your oven racks. Let it sit on the racks for six to eight hours to do all the hard work for you.
When the time is up, scrub the oven racks lightly to remove any stubborn grime and grease. Once you’re satisfied, rinse the oven racks and put them back in your oven.