Ovens – Temperature and Rack Placement for Perfect Baking

Learning how to use your oven correctly is more than half the battle in making perfect baked items.  There are a lot of different ovens on the market. And temperature settings vary based on what system of oven heating your oven has.

I have a common electric oven.  Even when I’ve had a gas cook top my oven was separate and electric.  But gas ovens are still pretty common, my daughter has gas for her oven.  Here are some tips for ensuring your oven is set and heated properly.

Preheating is essential as the oven temperature can fluctuate dramatically.  An oven temperature example for cookies would be 375°F/190°C/Gas Mark 5.  If you have a convection or forced air oven reduce the temperature to 350°F/180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Most recipes should give you the oven setting at the very beginning of the instruction.  This is the time to place your oven racks in the appropriate place and turn the oven on to preheat.  Turn the oven on to the desired temperature.  By doing this at the beginning of preparing your recipe the oven has time to heat completely and evenly.

The majority of ovens preheat by turning the heating elements on to full temperature, taking the oven up as hot as possible.  My current oven has a timer count down that says about 5 minutes to preheat, depending on the temperature selected.  This is just a fancy gadget by the manufacturer and is not in any way an accurate representation of how long it actually takes.  There’s a light on my control panel that goes out when the oven is preheated and it’s always still on when the timer says it’s done.

You can use an interior oven thermometer to check the actual temperature and accuracy of your oven setting.  You’ll want to do this if you are consistently having trouble with baked goods.  Another way to tell if your oven is preheated is that the heat elements, in and electric oven, are not still burning red.  In a gas oven, you’ll be able to see the gas flames through holes in the bottom of the oven.  If they’re still burning let the oven preheat longer.  For forced air or convection ovens you will learn when they’re done if there are no heating elements are showing.  Usually there will be an indicator light on the outside oven controls too tell you.

I have bread and pizza recipes that call for the oven to be 475 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and tell you to preheat for 25 minutes.  This is so the oven is actually as hot as it needs to be for a nice crispy crust.

The correct rack position will ensure even baking.  Usually the oven rack goes in the center of the oven.  For two trays of cookies space them evenly.  I have 5 places for racks in my oven so I place them on the second and forth position. My Angel Food cake recipe goes on the third rack down because of the height of the cake and pan.

When a recipe doesn’t tell you where to put your oven rack it should generally be in the middle position.  Sometimes I watch cooking shows and they place things on the bottom rack or top rack when baking and I am perplexed.  It seems that the bottom or top of the item will be cooked more.

However, in a convection or forced air oven the temperatures are more even though the entire oven because there is no heating element directly above or below the food to cause more heat in one location.

If you’re still having trouble getting items to bake evenly in your oven check this list of rules; preheating, rack position and separate interior oven safe thermometer place in the center of the oven.

Keep the oven door closed as much as possible so it retains the proper heat setting.

When all of this fails, your oven may actually need service.  If you have specific questions or problems just post a comment and I’ll see if I can help with the issue.

NOTE: Because of all the questions on this page I’ve written a second article that may help the preheating and temperature issues. Your Ovens Best Friend and How to Keep it Warm

Happy Baking!

30 comments on “Ovens – Temperature and Rack Placement for Perfect Baking

  1. Sara says:

    I havr Ikon Gas Oven but it doesnt have any sort of temperature marks, just a knob to adjust. My question is, i tried adjusting the temperature to 180°C for baking biscuits. I turned on the oven, placed the thermometer inside at the centre amd started observing the temp. It lepot on risinf above 200°C even when i adjusted tge knob to lower the temp. It kept on changing the whols time. What to do to stabilize the temperature inside to 180°C?

    • Sharon says:

      One of the key things about preheating an oven is that the thermometer inside will continue to rise to a really high heat during the preheat cycle. My daughter’s gas oven takes forever, probably more than 30 minutes, to preheat to the correct temperature. Once it gets to that really high full blast heat the entire oven, including the walls absorbs it all and it begins to even out inside. See my additional article on Oven Temperatures. I hope this helps!

  2. Hi Marie, I purchased a duel Kenmore, gas top, electric oven. Iv’e had it recalibrated a couple times, used temp readers which always read accurate, adjusted my use of 4 available rack positions, and other nonsuccesful attempts to cooking a cream, potato or pumpkin pie. Prior to this oven I made them perfectly. Now they cook too dry while getting solid in the middle, fall in the middle once the cake cools, you name it, its all wrong. Please, any tips. Thank you.

    • Sharon says:

      On the cream or pumpkin pie there are a couple of things you could try. Put them inside a deeper dish add water around the outside and cover with foil for at least part of the cooking time. See my article on Creme brûlée It explains how to do it. If the outside edges of your cake are getting too cooked and the middle not cooked enough, that’s what makes them fall in the middle, make sure you let your oven preheat long enough. If you are using a convection setting the oven should be set 25 degrees lower than the recipe calls for. You could also try lowering your temperature a few degrees and see if that helps. I hope this helps!

  3. Bert says:

    I have tried unsuccessfully to bake a pound cake in my oven. This problem just recently started happening. I have been baking this cake for at least a year, but for the past 2 or 3 months the cake sinks in the middle–I make sure I follow the recipe to the letter, but it still sinks–I use good ingredients–still sinks. The heating element is burning red–it is an electric stove. Please tell me what I might do to correct this problem–the stove is only about 5 years old. Thanks

    • Sharon says:

      My first question is: Have you put an oven thermometer in your oven to see if the temperature is still actually what you have it set at on your oven?

      Have you made sure your oven is completely preheated before putting the cake in. Many ovens that are only 5 years old will have a light or a beeper that tells you when it’s preheated. I always make sure to wait about 10 minutes after it says so. If you turn the oven on when you start to mix your cake it should be ready by time you want to put it in.

      If so, are you using the same pans? the same ingredients?

      It sounds to me like you are not baking it long enough. A cake will sink if the middle is uncooked.

  4. sunil says:

    I have a gas operated oven with setting options of top or bottom. Which setting should I use for baking cakes. And what rack position should I use??? Please help.

    • Sharon says:

      It would be great if you could tell me where you are and what brand of oven you actually have. I’m not sure what your settings are but in a gas oven the top is generally for broiling something not baking. Does your oven have a temperature setting? Most gas ovens take a long time to really preheat so try the bottom setting and make sure your rack is in the middle.

      Also, put an oven thermometer in there to verify the temperature is correct. Keep an eye on your cake or cookies, if it looks like they’re not cooking evenly adjust the rack.

  5. Naj says:

    Hi Sharon,
    I have got a gas oven, which doesn’t have a temp settings in C/F. It has only got low, medium, and high. How do I bake. At what…Pls help me…Thank u

    • Sharon says:

      I would put an oven thermometer in and set the oven to each setting and see what the oven temperature is for each one. Record it somewhere so you know what it is in future. Then use the setting closest to what the baked item calls for and adjust the time depending on if the oven is hotter or cooler than the recipe calls for. Make sure the oven preheats completely.

  6. rubi says:

    Hello, im very new to baking and would like to ask what settings on electric oven should be used for making a soft cake. My oven has three settings saying “top and bottom heating” , “top only”, “bottom only”. I tried top and bottom for the first bake but it turned out hard and dry. By the way this tutorial is very helping. Thanks a lot.

    • Sharon says:

      I would put an oven thermometer in and set the oven to each setting and see what the oven temperature is for each one. Record it somewhere so you know what it is in future. Then use the setting closest to what the baked item calls for and adjust the time depending on if the oven is hotter or cooler than the recipe calls for. Make sure the oven preheats completely. Your soft cake recipe should tell you what temperature and how long to bake it. If it doesn’t most cakes bake at 350F or 180C.

  7. Christine Eager says:

    I bought a new gas cooker on 11th nov got payed a gas man to fit it 4 me.iv tryed making scones in it 4 the 1st time today but they were hard and flat more like hard biscuits.my other gas cooker done them great I used to bake stuff all the time.the flame on the back of my new over is tiny even on gas mark 7.the flame was high in my old cooker.do u know why this can be plz c.eager x.

    • Sharon says:

      I would read the manual on your new oven and see if they have some recipes that are similar and will help you figure things out. I’ve never baked in an oven except in the US. Our ovens are really stable and have firm temperature settings. Even my toaster oven bakes pretty evenly.

  8. Nia says:

    hi what is the ideal setting for baking cakes?top bottom setting or bottom only? i made a marble cake. the recipe instructs to sett the tempreature at 175’c for 65-75 mins. i ended up burnt the top. fyi, i used middle rack.thx

    • Sharon says:

      Well, you’ve got the temperature right, 175-180c or 325-350F, and the oven should heat evenly. We don’t have top or bottom settings here, we have bake and broil. The rack should be in the middle but the time you baked for seems really long. What pans did you use? Was it a deep bundt pan or layer cake pans. If it’s a bundt pan then you may want your rack lower because the cake will rise taller and be closer to the top rack. A bundt pan is a single deep pan with the hole in the middle, like an angel food cake. It bakes as all one cake you flip out and frost when finished. Layer cakes are only about 2″ tall. I don’t think I’ve ever baked a cake for more than 45 minutes.

  9. Marie says:

    I have recently purchased a gas stove and am having difficulty with baking. I do have a centre foil placed on bottom tray but not covering any of the edges. Could that effect it?
    My instructions say to bake for 5 min less than recipes but find centres not done and do leave for more time. Is it due to the fact gas is a liquid heat?
    I like making bread but it has not turned out correctly either.
    I have auto pre heating, should I leave longer than required?
    With Christmas coming I need help…lol.

    • Sharon says:

      Marie, Ovens can be the most frustrating part about baking? Where are you, maybe someone with your type of oven can help. Have you tried putting a thermometer in the oven to make sure it is heated to the proper temperature. You would think with todays appliances any new one would be correctly heating. I have an electric oven and find they when I want a high temp for bread or pizza I have to let it heat longer than when the preheat light tells me it’s done in order to get a good even temperature in the oven. Set an oven thermometer in the center of the oven and keep an eye on it.

      The people that write oven manuals are not the people that bake! Be patient, check the centers of your cakes. The type of pan you bake in can make the baking time differ. I use a really heavy aluminum baking sheet for cookies and they always take longer than the recipe. I use cast iron bread pans and they finish faster than a metal or glass pan.

      Set your timer for 5 minutes less and keep checking until it’s done. You can make a note in your favorite recipe for how long you baked it. My Irish Soda Bread takes 30 minutes instead of the 45 the recipe says. That’s a big time difference.

      Tap the bottom of your loaf of bread and see if it sounds hollow. That’s when it’s done. There are charts to use a thermometer in the baked good in the oven to check it’s doneness. I have tried this method before. The trick is to balance the thermometer the right way in the oven. You need a digital thermometer with the wire that comes out of the oven to the reading part. Or an oven that takes one, my new one does. I NEVER use it though maybe I should.

      Good Luck! Happy Baking!

  10. liyah says:

    Kindly help out with the process of baking a cake and using a gas oven

    • Sharon says:

      So, here are the tips from my daughter who has an old gas oven.

      Buy an oven thermometer and place it in the center of your oven on the rack.
      Preheat your oven for about 30 minutes to make sure the oven is evenly heated and the gas jets are no longer running at full heat. This is really important when baking.
      Set your timer for less time than the recipe calls for; she feels her oven cooks faster.

      So, get your favorite recipe and give it a go. If you’re cooking other things like meats and potatoes you might already have an idea if your oven cooks hot, or takes less time, but not if it’s the only one you’re used to. The oven thermometer is the best place to start.

      If you have any specific questions or problems let me know and I’ll try to answer them.

  11. Ritu says:

    Hi Sharon, im relatively new to baking and have just got an electric oven. Among the heating options i can either turn on heat from bottom, top or both and then there is the option for broiling as well. While baking cakes and cookies i usually turn the heat on from below and towards the end either change the setting to both (top & bottom heating) or just top heating am i doing it right? Also would like to know what heat option should i use for roasting.

    • JACKY says:


      • Sharon says:

        Does the oven have a temperature setting for how hot? If so set at the required baking temperature for the bottom heat. Make sure your oven rack is not on the bottom, place it in the middle or higher. If there’s no heat setting then I’m sorry I just don’t understand what kind of oven you have.

  12. wshera says:

    My oven is an LG gas oven.
    Most of the cakes i bake are 190 celsius, the cake is baked well at the time, but by later on the same day i bake and the following day it getting
    all sticky on the tops. Could you advice me on this please

    • Sharon says:

      If the cake is baked when you’re done is there a lot of moisture or humidity in the air that is making it get sticky? Is this just the cake left sitting to cool? Is it only on the surface or does the whole cake end up soggy? Have you frosted the cake and then it gets sticky?

      • CBS says:

        Where do you live? Do you need to adjust your flour for high altitude? Are you cooling on a rack to allow circulation around?

  13. Thelma says:

    I have several old receipies that say to bake in a gas oven only
    – I have an electric oven. How can I adjust the temperature
    in the electric oven so as not to burn these cookies?

    • Sharon says:

      Thelma, I’ve sent you a private email so we can work through the problem. There could be many problems but I’m sure it’s just a matter of testing the settings and timing. Small test batches of the cookie could be the best way to adjust the time and temperature.

  14. teresa clark says:

    i have baeen bake a cream cheese pound cake but if has been turning out bad like it is not done good it is not rising and cooking good and my bread didnt rise all the way

    • Sharon says:

      Have you placed an oven thermometer in the center of your oven to check the temperature? Double check to make sure you’ve preheated it long enough to come up to the proper temperature.

      My daughter has an old gas oven that doesn’t tell you when it’s preheated so we turn it on to the desired temperature and leave it to preheat for about half an hour to obtain a nice even desired temperature.

      If these are the only two recipes you’re having trouble with baking they could just be faulty recipes. I’ve had trouble with some recipes failing. Your bread may not have been proved (risen) long enough. It must be set to rise twice. A cream cheese pound cake has a lot of heavy wet ingredients and the balance could be off.

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