The Difference Between Common Cooking Papers and Foils

Stashed away in kitchens across the country is that drawer or cabinet where we stuff our various cooking papers and foil. While some people have a great depth of knowledge about the differences and uses of these papers, many of us don’t know what to do with them.

There are three primary cooking papers and foils we’ll be focusing on: aluminum foil, parchment paper, and wax paper.

Aluminum Foil

Generally, standard aluminum foil is between .00101 and .00178 centimeters thick, with extra heavy-duty foil only between .00279 and .00406. This allows it to be easily foldable and maneuverable so you can use it to line baking sheets, make grill packets, or cover a hot bowl. There are a number of other benefits to using aluminum foil in your cooking. Chief among these is the extremely high maximum heat they can withstand (about 1,220°F).

Cooking Tips

Great for:

  • High heat cooking
  • Grilling
  • Covering baking sheets

Avoid:

  • DO NOT use in the microwave

It doesn’t matter which side you use; the shiny side is just a by-product of the manufacturing process.

Wax Paper

Unlike aluminum foil, wax paper is a bit more specialized. Thomas Edison is often credited for the paper, though it was actually invented by one of his assistants. The food-safe paraffin wax creates a non-stick surface and makes it easy to separate foods for storage. Most types are also biodegradable and an eco-friendlier option.

The one downside is that it’s not safe to use in the oven. Any direct exposure to heat will cause the paper to smoke. You can use it in the microwave, though.

Cooking Tips

Great for:

  • Separating cooked foods
  • Covering foods in the microwave to prevent splatters
  • Some non-cooking uses

Avoid:

  • Using in the oven without proper care

If you do use wax paper in the oven, ensure the batter or food covers the paper entirely to prevent smoking or fire.

Parchment Paper

Modern parchment paper is made with plant-based ingredients through a treatment process that mimics many of the qualities of the parchment used for writing in the past (made out of stretched and prepared animal skins). In many ways, parchment paper is a great catch-all covering. It can generally withstand up to 450°F in the oven, separate food, and be used in the microwave. You can even use it for en papillote cooking, which is a simple but refined way to make a delicious dinner!

Cooking Tips

Great for:

  • Cooking in an oven at 450°F

  • Making a non-stick covering for dishes
  • Baking
  • En Papillote and steam pack cooking

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Each type of foil or paper has its own purpose it excels in. Ultimately, you may not need any of these in your day-to-day cooking, but it’s still good to expand your knowledge. That’s why it’s worthwhile to have a roll of each stashed away for the cases where a little parchment paper will go a long way.