The difference between restaurant food and homemade is widest when extreme heat is required. Commercial ovens are designed to reach the high temperatures needed for blistered pizza and crusty artisan bread; home ovens just aren’t. But even if you’ve got an ancient, wimpy rental, clever rack positioning can trick your oven into acting hotter than it is.
For most residential ovens, the main heating element is on the bottom. This means that your oven is probably hottest near the floor—where the heat originates—and towards very top, where it rises. Setting one rack at the bottom of your oven and one at or near the top creates two heat zones so you can control how much heat your food is exposed to, and when. It’s like setting up a zoned grill in your oven, and it’s the easiest way to improve your high-heat home baked goods.
To start, preheat your oven to a high temp—I usually do 245 degrees Celsius for pizza and 220 – 245 degrees Celsius for bread—and arrange the racks. My oven is gas, so I can actually set a rack right on the floor, but if your oven has an exposed electric heating element, just get the bottom rack as close to it as you can. Once the oven is fully hot, set your pan on the bottom rack, then move it to the top rack for the last few minutes, just to brown the surface. Blasting the bottom of the pan with constant, direct heat gives the underside a chance to crisp up, so you’ll never have to eat a slice of soggy homemade pizza again. (Beyond doughs and breads, this does wonders for roasted veggies, if you are int that kind of thing.)
If you already bake with a cast iron span or enamelled Dutch oven to cheat your oven’s max temperature up a little, this trick will be extra effective. It also works great with plain old aluminium sheet pans and can even help baking stones do their best work, provided you don’t try to move them around. (Just leave the hot stones on the bottom rack.) Your results may not rival a 1000ºC wood-fired oven—but they won’t be too far off, either.