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When to Use Aluminum Foil, Wax Paper, or Parchment Paper

A dessert resting on parchment paper.
Anton Chernov/Shutterstock

Wax and parchment paper are the same thing, right? Definitely not! Let’s break down the differences between these and other essential kitchen wraps, and how to use them effectively.

Aluminum foil and other various wraps are all basic cooking materials. However, they’re so much more useful than they might first appear. Knowing when and how to use them is sure to elevate your kitchen routines, so let’s dig in!

Aluminum Foil

Aluminum foil is one of many invaluable culinary workhorses. It has multiple functions, some of which you might not know about.

These thin (or heavy-duty) pliable sheets of foil help distribute and conduct heat, making them extremely versatile in the cooking world. You can use foil to line your grill’s grease tray or your stove’s drip bowls for easier cleanup.

The next time you roast some veggies (or anything, really) on a sheet pan, save yourself some cleaning time by lining it with aluminum foil. It’s particularly great when roasting beets, potatoes, and garlic. It can also create an exquisitely tender fish dinner if you use the en papillote wrap method.

If you usually enjoy breakfast on the go, wrap your egg and cheese sandwich in foil to keep it hot on your way to work.

Wax Paper

Wax paper is a paraffin-wax-treated, cellulose-based paper that comes in a roll and looks very similar to parchment paper. Although they look alike, wax and parchment papers have entirely different functions.

The thin layer of paraffin wax coating makes wax paper water-resistant and nonstick, but it’s not the best for high temperatures. It will easily melt at relatively low heat or burst into flames if placed in the oven at high heat. So, if a recipe calls for parchment, do not substitute with wax as I once did early on in my career.

This malleable paper is, however, excellent for wrapping and storing foods, like sandwiches or pie dough. It’s also great for lining countertops and pans if you’re making something like no-bake cookies or fudge.

If you’re working with low temperatures and want to avoid sticking, use wax paper.

Parchment Paper

Raw fish, prepared for the oven with a parchment paper pouch.
Angel Simon/Shutterstock

Again, although parchment paper appears to be wax paper’s doppelgänger, you should never use them interchangeably. Parchment paper is a heat- and moisture-resistant, nonstick paper, often used by chefs and cooking enthusiasts.

Parchment paper is excellent for lining the bottom of cake pans for a convenient, quick-release option when removing baked products. Line sheet pans with parchment paper when you’re baking.

Like foil, parchment is also often used in with the en papillote method to create pouches of tasty fish (and other protein) dinners. Many old-school professional pastry artists also still use parchment to make disposable piping bags.

Plastic Wrap

Plastic wrap is a flexible, transparent polymer that stubbornly clings to itself and containers. It creates a tight seal to protect foods from air and keep them fresh. It also prevents wet foods from losing their moisture, and dry foods from absorbing moisture.

Plastic wrap doesn’t belong in an oven, toaster oven, or on a stovetop, as the plastic will melt. Although plastic wrap can work wonders, many people use other wrapping products to keep things green.

Restaurants and catering companies use a foolproof wrapping trick to keep foods fresh and prevent the wrap from easily falling off pans. To do it yourself, pull out a long sheet of plastic wrap, and then place the container over the sheet. Then, pull the loose ends up and over the top of the dish.

When you wrap from bottom to top (like wrapping a gift), it stabilizes the plastic wrap, which will help it stay on longer.

Press’n Seal

Press’n Seal is a genius multipurpose sealing wrap. It uses Griptex technology to grip clean, dry surfaces. This Glad product launched in 2003, and soon became a game changer for many people.

You can wrap, seal, and store various foods with this wrap. You can place it in the freezer or lock it to your counters during DIY crafting time. It’s airtight and leak-proof, which is why many people prefer it over plastic wrap.

However, although it is microwave-safe, Press’n Seal (like plastic wrap) isn’t heat-resistant, so you can’t use it in an oven or toaster oven.

Whether you’ve learned a few new kitchen hacks, or we just refreshed your memory about some old ones, no you know which wrap goes with what. Now, go bake some cookies—on parchment paper, not wax, of course!

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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