Best Cooling Rack of 2021
The KITCHENATICS Cooling and Roasting Rack emerges at the top of our review thanks to several thoughtful design facets that set it apart from the crowd. This rack is double the height of all of the other single racks we tested, standing at 1-inch high and offering superior airflow. Supplemental welds where the six feet are braced to the standard ⅜-inch gridded rack provide additional support and stability, which remarkably hold up to the manufacturer's claim of supporting up to 45 pounds — we tested it. The stainless steel design is also dishwasher friendly and oven safe up to 575℉, making it a versatile option for roasting and air frying too.
Although this rack is very sturdy on its feet, the downside of additional height is that those feet stick out significantly more than others, making storage slightly more challenging, especially if your pan drawer is approaching max capacity. We tested the half-sheet size, but the KITCHENATICS rack is also available in quarter sheet and jelly roll sizes. However, just one of these racks will cost almost the same as different options in this review that include two. Still, if you are looking for amazing airflow and something to use for all purposes, from cooling to roasting, we think you will be happy with this rack.
What's the Difference in Size?
This review often refers to different sizes of racks relative to the standard sizes of sheet pans. So, let's breakdown the differences between the two most common sizes:
- A standard quarter sheet measures 9 x 13 inches, which adds up to 117 square inches of surface area - plenty of room if you're cooking for one to two people. While 9 x 13 is the standard size, many pans we tested vary slightly in dimensions.
- A half sheet is twice the length of a quarter-sheet pan, with a standard measurement of 18 x 13 inches. With a surface area of 234 square inches, this is the size pan most commonly used in a home kitchen's oven. You'll notice that the half-sheet racks we tested don't quite reach this size — that is because a half-sheet rack is designed to fit inside a half-sheet pan.
When it comes to real estate prices, it is tough to beat the price-per-square-inch of the HIWARE Half Sheet 2-Pack. Each half-sheet rack measures 195 square inches, offering a total of 390 square inches combined. These 100% stainless steel racks are dishwasher and oven safe, and thanks to three crossbars that provide additional support, they are set up for heavier cooking tasks, like roasting a turkey.
Unlike other similar racks we tested, the slightly sloped surface doesn't present any issues — you can comfortably move around these sizable racks if you need to clear counter space without fear of spilling baked goods onto the floor. Unfortunately, this rack stands at only ½-inch tall, with not nearly enough elevation to cool as quickly as the best rack in our review. Otherwise, the HIWARE racks are directly comparable and thus present an exceptional value as a two-pack.
For those lacking in counter space, we offer up the Wilton 3-Tier Collapsible to help ease the woes of baking in a small kitchen. This accordion-style, 3-tier rack offers 480 square inches of cooling space from only a 160 square inch footprint, easily collapsing into a compact package for easy storage. Locking racks and rubber feet afford outstanding stability, and a 12-inch spacing in between tiers makes it easy to unload cookies or cool taller baked goods like muffins.
Though efficient, this rack is not nearly as versatile as a standard stainless steel model — the non-stick coated steel isn't oven-safe, nor could we quite imagine how you would even use this rack for cooking. The racks are not gridded, and the ½-inch spacing between bars means small cookies can slip through the cracks. Although the surfaces are flat and the rack is incredibly sturdy, the wires themselves are not very thick and tend to sag under weight. But for apartment dwelling bakers, the Wilton Collapsible is an asset when counter space comes at a premium.
The Ultra Cuisine Baking and Cooling Rack was in close contention for our overall winner. Like most quarter-sheet racks of similar size, this ⅜-inch gridded, stainless steel rack is supported by two braces and four feet. Unlike many others we tested, however, the feet on this sturdy rack sit perfectly flat and do not rock at all, even unweighted. Slightly longer than standard, the 0.8-inch legs improve airflow and make this a superior rack for oven-frying crispy chips.
This cooing rack could have easily taken the top spot in our review if it wasn't for the fact that ours was terribly bowed. Although it sits flat, the gridded rack slopes up in the middle, so badly that lightweight baked goods like cookies easily slide off — we dropped almost a dozen cookies the first time we tried to move this rack on a table. As a result of its heavy-duty design and unfortunate convexity, we deem that the Ultra Cuisine (ours anyway) is better suited to cooking than cooling.
The Betty Crocker 3-Tier Cooling Rack is designed for heavyweight baked goods — think of it as an ideal pie tower. The non-stick, coated steel rack features three 140 square-inch racks for a total of 420 square inches of cooling space. This is the only gridded, three-tier rack we tested. Additionally, it has an optional vertical brace that can be put in place to help support heavier goods or just to improve the stability of this rack in general.
While all of this might sound like it should add up to a top spot in our review, the design is clunky and not very intuitive. It is the only rack we tested that even includes directions, and each component must disconnect to break down for storage. The spacing between the racks, at only 5.5 inches between tiers, is also not nearly as user-friendly as the Wilton Collapsible. However, if much of your baking is made up of pies, then the Betty Crocker 3-Tier is a safe bet for an ultra-stable rack.
The Spring Chef Heavy Duty helps set the baseline for this category. As a 100% stainless steel quarter-sheet rack with a ⅜-inch grid spacing, this is very much a standard two-pack of racks offered at a very reasonable price point. The stainless steel construction makes it both dishwasher friendly and oven safe up to 575℉, and the smaller rack size allows it to fit in some, though not all, toaster ovens, making it a versatile tool for any kitchen.
The unfortunate thing about standard-sized models is that the standard height seems to be ½-inch, which is not nearly as effective at circulating heat or airflow as those that stand higher. Though it offers a slightly more stable platform than the Ultra Cuisine rack, the Spring Chef is still bowed and slopes towards the edges. Notably, this rack is very lightweight and thus very flexible. But, the savings of a few dollars can add up in a professional kitchen's budget, thus making this rack a very viable option, especially if you plan to purchase more than one.
The Checkered Chef Quarter Sheet racks come in a set of two, making them an economical option. The individual racks are also slightly smaller than other quarter-sheet racks in this review — they have a surface area of 94 square inches, while the others measure 102 square inches. Though it may seem like you're losing out on valuable real estate, the slightly smaller dimensions actually make them more versatile. You can, of course, use them in conjunction with a quarter-sheet pan. But you can also combine the two racks to fill out a half-sheet pan when you need more cooking or cooling space.
The surface of these racks is very even, but the feet are not, and they tend to rock unless weighted under a full load. The wires themselves are of a fairly thin gauge — despite being made from 100% stainless steel — which likely contributes to their tendency to warp. Like the Spring Chef rack, we wish that these Checkered Chef racks stood taller than a ½-inch to allow for better air circulation. But unlike the others, these racks have a ½-inch grid spacing, which is notably wider than the standard ⅜-inch. While it's not quite wide enough for anything to fall through, it does increase air contact by stripping away material, which undoubtedly improves both cooking and cooling performance.
The Wilton Excelle Elite 3-Tier is unlike other similar racks included in this review in that you can choose to use it as a three-tier rack or individually as three separate racks. This makes it more versatile and offers anywhere from 157 square inches of cooling space for a single rack, up to 471 square inches total.
While the options are nice, the design is not as well thought out as we would hope for a rack specifically intended for baking cookies. When stacked, there is only 2.75 inches between racks, which is very limited compared to the other models we tested. More annoyingly, the straight rack wires are spaced ⅝-inch apart, and cookies easily slide through. The swinging legs don't lock, which makes them not only less stable but also a pain to store. If you need maximum cooling space for a minimum price, then the Wilton Excelle Elite is a safe bet — just understand you will be losing out on essential features in order to save a few dollars.
Why You Should Trust Us
One of our home goods experts, Aaron Rice, recently tested the Best Cookie Cutters alongside these cooling racks, resulting in some endurance baking sessions. Aided by the superior cooking and baking skills of his wife, Jill, the pair baked and cooled a variety of goods. Both have worked on farms and in and around professional kitchens for the better portion of a decade, and spend much of their free time cooking up delicious meals at home to share with friends and family. In the summer, they co-manage an on-site market garden for a fine-dining restaurant in Santa Fe, NM. In the winter, Aaron works full-time as an avalanche educator and ski patroller and also contributes as a reviewer for OutdoorGearLab.
As always, our team of experts performed their due diligence before diving into these cooling racks. After spending hours online researching the top products on the market, we purchased all of these products at retail value. Through a week-long period of intensive, side-by-side testing, our experts analyzed every detail while baking the days away. A cooling rack is not only an essential part of any fully-stocked kitchen, it is also a versatile tool with uses that extend far beyond just cooling baked goods. Our guide is designed to help you find the best one for your pantry.
Analysis and Test Results
The concept for a cooling rack is simple: elevate and expose the bottom of your food to allow for circumferential airflow. For baked goods, this keeps the bottoms from accumulating condensation as they cool, ensuring that they won't get soggy. For cooked foods, you can also use these racks inside the oven to elevate a roast chicken out of its juices or to improve the crispness of french fries by allowing air and heat to circulate freely. Many of these racks seem nearly identical, so we chose four metrics designed to be mutually exclusive and comprehensively cover the most important characteristics: design, strength and stability, versatility, and ease of use. It is important to note that we tested all of these models side-by-side, so they are directly compared and ranked relative to one another. We choose only to test some of the best products on the market, so every product included here is a worthy addition to your kitchen.
It may seem a bit absurd to dive into the finer design points of something as simple as a cooling rack. But that's our job — and when we did, it quickly became apparent that not all of these racks are created equally. Regardless of whether you are cooking or cooling, the engineering problem is essentially the same: create a surface that allows for maximum air circulation to enhance convective heat gain or loss. This comes down to two main design points: elevation height, and size and spacing of the lattice frame.
It should not be surprising that the most well-designed racks are also the ones that earned awards. The KITCHENATICS half sheet rack stands taller than every other single rack in this review, offering superior airflow for superb cooking and cooling — the Ultra Cuisine is also elevated slightly higher than your standard rack. For tiered racks, the Wilton 3-Tier Collapsible literally stands above the competition, offering an unmatched 12-inches of space between racks. However, the straight, ½-inch spacing of the lattice is not ideal for small cookies. In this regard, we must give a nod to the Betty Crocker 3-Tier, which is the only tiered rack that offers a ½-inch gridded mesh, similar to the frame design of the Checkered Chef set.
Strength & Stability
Unlike spilled milk, there is good reason to cry over spilled cookies. You just spent an hour making batter, baking, and now it comes time to pull the treats out of the oven and transfer to the cooling rack — the last thing you want is for them to end up in broken bits on the floor. We assessed stability based on the flatness of each platform and how evenly the feet sit on a countertop. Strength is important for cooking and roasting, so we examined the thickness of the wire frame and considered how well a rack will support the weight of something like a 20-pound turkey.
When it comes to supporting heavier baked goods, the Betty Crocker 3-Tier is unmatched in both strength and stability. The gridded mesh racks are perfectly flat, and the option to add an extra leg for support ensures that both your pies (and prized pie plates) won't come crashing down, even if the rack is accidentally bumped. The KITCHENATICS is designed with additional welds for improved strength, but the thick HIWARE racks have the most even footing of any we tested. While some racks wobble a bit on their feet, it seems like only the Ultra Cuisine is liable to a potential cookie disaster. The rack is bowed outward, which improves stability by creating better contact between the feet and the countertop. But the rack is so sloped that cookies actually slide off when moving it. As a result, it's better to reserve this strong rack for roasting rather than cooling.
Beyond being just a baking essential, a cooling rack is the original air fryer, allowing for hot air to circulate and perfectly crisp fries and veggies. Under the high heat of a broiler, the pairing of a rack and a baking sheet allows you to achieve char-broiled meats without having to step outside and fire up the grill in the middle of winter. The same setup is almost indispensable when it comes to pan- or deep-frying, holding foods waiting to be fried as well as the dripping drumsticks that just came out of the pan and now need to drain off excess oil.
The majority of the racks we tested are 100% food-grade stainless steel and are oven-safe up to 575℉. Only the three-tiered racks — both of the Wilton Racks and the Betty Crocker — have a non-stick coating and should never be put into the oven. We particularly appreciated the versatility of the Checkered Chef set of quarter-sheet racks. These are intended to be slightly smaller than your standard quarter-sheet pan, which allows them to fit in many toaster ovens (just make sure to measure first!) The set is also designed to be used in combination to fill out a half-sheet pan, offering more options and variety when it comes to meal sizes and preparation.
Ease of Use
A cooling rack is a simple tool, and the beauty of this tool is in its simplicity. As a result, you will likely find yourself using these racks all the time for a variety of tasks. Only the tiered racks complicate things a bit — namely, the Betty Crocker 3-Tier rack. This is the only rack that involves instructions, which are necessary for both setup and take-down until you get used to the finicky design. Otherwise, all of the racks we tested are dishwasher safe, which helps simplify cleanup regardless of how involved your cooking or baking may be.
From their intended purpose of cooling baked goods to their less-intended versatility for cooking, a cooling rack is a vital tool to have in any well-stocked kitchen. From roasting and broiling to air-frying and crisping, a quality rack will help unlock a world of home cooking that extends well beyond your book of baking recipes. Bon appetit!
— Aaron Rice
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