Solved! The Purpose of the Small Drawer Under the Oven
Learn about the various possible purposes of the drawer under a gas or electric oven—and put it to good use in your kitchen.
Q: I recently moved into a new apartment, and the small drawer under the oven puzzles me. Is this an extra space to store pots and pans, or does it have some other purpose?
A: Learning the ins and outs of new appliances can be tricky, particularly if you don’t have the owner’s manuals, which often happens when moving into a rental or a home where the previous owners left most of the kitchen behind. So in the case of an oven, it’s certainly easy to assume that bottom drawer is meant for storage—after all, it’s about the perfect size to hold cookie sheets, baking dishes, and skillets! While in some circumstances that oven drawer is intended for storage, it more commonly serves as either a broiler or a warmer.
An oven drawer that serves as a broiler provides high, concentrated, direct heat.
In most gas stoves, the drawer beneath the oven is a broiler. While the typical oven roasts and bakes using ambient heat that surrounds the food, a broiler heats with flames from above. Check the control panel: Near the knobs or buttons for the oven settings, you should spot a control labeled “BROILER” or “BROIL.” Sometimes, there will be a low and high setting for the intensity of the flame, but many ovens don’t offer any broiler control beyond on or off.
Look inside the oven drawer, and you should see a small built-in rack that holds a broiler pan. Most broiler pans are two pieces: a slatted top that fits over the lower drip pan. If your oven no longer has the original broiler pan, you can buy a new one for less than $25 on Amazon or at a kitchen supply store. Many are nonstick for easy cleanup.
As a general rule, the broiler itself won’t require much cleaning, only the broiler pan, which can be washed like any other nonstick cookware. But if food does spill into the broiler, wait until it cools down, and then wipe it up with a damp paper towel or cloth.
Think of the broiler as an upside-down grill.
If you’ve ever used an outdoor grill, you know that its flames cook from underneath the food. A broiler functions very much like a grill, only the flame comes from above, via a heating element on top, a few inches above the broiler pan. Rely on it when you have a hankering for grilled burgers, steaks, or other foods—handy when the weather isn’t conducive to outdoor cooking. The broiler is also ideal for giving a quick toasted or browned finish to dishes such as macaroni and cheese, pizza, casseroles, or pies. Just bear in mind that you have less control of the heat of the broiler than you do of a grill, so you’ll need to check on your food frequently to avoid overcooking or even burning.
A warming drawer under the oven is great when preparing multiple dishes.
If your oven is electric, the purpose of the bottom drawer is most likely to keep cooked foods warm. Usually, the heating element for the warming drawer is beneath it and separate from the oven’s main heating element.
A warming drawer is actually quite useful when you want to maintain the temperature of one dish while preparing the rest of the meal or to warm up serving dishes before filling them with cooked food. Some warming drawers are simply a shallow space, while others have a wire rack that lets you stack two or more items.
Take a look at your oven’s control panel for a knob or button labeled “WARMING DRAWER.” If you don’t see one, check the frame of the oven drawer itself, where some brands put the controls. Many ovens provide low, medium, and high warming settings, as well as a humidity control to keep food from drying out.
Be sure to use warming drawers properly.
Note that the warming drawer is only intended to keep hot cooked foods warm until serving; it is not for cooking food, and even on the highest setting will not reach a sufficient temperature to safely cook meat or other raw items. Although controls vary from brand to brand, as a rough guideline, you can expect temperatures around:
- 140 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit on low
- 165 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit on medium
- 200 to 240 degrees Fahrenheit on high
While it’s fine to cover your food with aluminum foil to keep moisture in, never line the warming drawer itself with aluminum foil, which will prevent the oven drawer from evenly heating. And although the drawer doesn’t get as hot as your oven, it still gets quite warm, so never use plastic or paper serving pieces and utensils in it. Only oven-safe bowls, dishes, and utensils should go into the warming drawer.
If the oven drawer needs cleaning, simply wipe down with a damp cloth or paper towel once it’s cooled down. Tough spills might need a little bit of dish soap to soften them.
Sometimes that little drawer under the oven really is just for storage.
Whether your oven is gas or electric, there are some models that really do intend that little drawer as a convenient spot to stash muffin pans, cookie sheets, and other cookware that’s hard to fit in your regular kitchen cabinets. If you don’t see any control for the drawer on its frame or on the main oven control panel, it doesn’t have a rack or a frame to support a rack, and there is no heating element positioned directly above it, it’s safe to assume the drawer is for storage only.
Be aware, however, that the drawer will still get hot when the oven is on—after all, it is positioned directly underneath the oven. Do not store plastic/paper dishes or utensils, cookbooks, cloth oven mitts, cleaning supplies, or anything that might be flammable or is not oven-safe inside the drawer.