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No matter the level of your cooking skills, you have a kitchen drawer containing at least one (if not all) of the following: parchment paper, wax paper, or aluminum foil. From covering leftovers in the microwave to baking cookies and grilling ribs, these handy products couldn't be more versatile if they tried. But spoiler alert: They are not created equal.

For example, if you run out of parchment paper, you can use non-stick foil in the oven. Wax paper, on the other hand, is not the same as parchment paper. "While both papers have non-stick properties, and are safe in the microwave, wax paper is made by applying a food-safe wax coating to the surface of the thin paper," says Charry Brown, senior manager of the Reynolds Test Kitchen for over 20 years. Why is this important? It means wax paper cannot be exposed to direct heat in an oven, she explains, while parchment paper can.

And that's just the beginning. To clear up all the confusion once and for all, we asked Brown to break down the best uses for wax paper, parchment paper, and foil, plus answer your most Googled questions about them. And because she's just that good, she even offered up this simple piece of advice for remembering all these tips: "Sweet treat, parchment sheet. Grill or broil, go with foil. Messy prep or sticky candy, wax paper's handy."

wax paper

When to Use Wax Paper

"Wax paper has several great uses," says Brown. "It is great for food prep with messy or sticky foods. When making candy or dipping sweet treats like strawberries, cookies, or pretzels in chocolate, the food lifts right off the wax paper without breaking into pieces or leaving a mess behind on your countertop or trays." Wax paper also makes clean-up super-easy when you line the counter with wax paper for coating chicken parmesan.

The best wax paper uses include:

  • Making candy
  • Dipping foods in chocolate
  • Covering the counter when adding crumb coatings to fish or chicken pieces
  • Separating layers of cookies or treats for storage
  • Prevent splatters to keep your microwave clean
  • Rolling and storing pie crusts
  • Wrapping hard cheeses

Can you put wax paper in the oven?

"Wax paper should not be directly exposed to the heat of an oven, as it cannot withstand high temperatures that might be needed in certain cooking and baking recipes," says Brown. "That said, it can be used as a pan liner when baking cakes, bread, or any baked food in which the dough or batter completely covers the wax paper lining."

What are the best substitutes for wax paper?

"Given the multitude of wax paper uses, it depends on what you're trying to do," says Brown. "For storage, you can substitute with freezer paper or plastic wrap, for prepping, foil works well, and for baking, parchment is a great substitute."

parchment paper

When to Use Parchment Paper

So what exactly is parchment paper? "Reynolds Kitchens Parchment Paper is a natural, high-density paper with a non-stick coating," Brown explains. "Its versatility makes it perfect for baking your favorite cookies, making parchment packets, or cooking a sheet pan dinner." Think recipes like roasted vegetables, salmon parchment packets, and classic chocolate chip cookies.

The best parchment paper uses include:

  • Baking cookies
  • Baking cakes
  • Roasting vegetables
  • Roasting fish
  • Reheating dinner leftovers

Can parchment paper go in the oven?

Parchment paper is oven safe up to 425 degrees F, and non-stick for picture-perfect baking results and easy clean-up, says Brown.

Can you put parchment paper in an air fryer?

"We are still in the process of testing parchment paper in this appliance because consumer safety is of utmost importance to us," says Brown. "While we love that people want to use parchment paper in everything, we recommend referring to and following the recommendations from the manufacturer in your appliance use and care manual."

What's the difference between butcher paper vs. parchment paper?

"While both parchment and butcher paper have wet strength, butcher paper is intended for use specifically with a smoker," says Brown. "It helps create a breathable barrier which seals in moisture and protects the crisp outer layer when cooking brisket, pork, and other meats low and slow." Parchment paper, on the other hand, is not intended for use with grills or smokers, Brown stresses.

Can you microwave parchment paper?

Yes! "To reheat foods in the microwave, place a small sheet of parchment paper over foods in order to eliminate splatters and avoid messy cleanup," says Brown. "For reheating vegetables or casserole leftovers, place at least ½ cup of food in a microwave-safe dish and cover with a sheet of parchment paper."     

aluminum foil

When to Use Aluminum Foil

Foil is best used for anything grilled. "I love to make chicken wings or shrimp scampi foil packets using our non-stick foil, and ribs or even grilled pizza using our heavy-duty foil," says Brown. Aluminum foil is safe to put in the oven, making it great for lining baking sheets. But it's not recommended to use foil to line the bottom of the oven to catch spills and drips.

The best foil uses include:

  • Cooking food on the grill
  • Roasting chicken or turkey in the oven
  • Baking brownies

Can you put aluminum foil in the microwave?

No. You should not put aluminum foil in the microwave because the material heats so quickly that it can spark and cause a fire.

Which side of the aluminum foil should you use?

If you're using a non-stick foil, make sure you place your food on the dull, flat finish side which is the non-stick side. This is mentioned on the packaging. "With standard and heavy-duty foil, it's perfectly fine to place your food on either side," says Brown.

Can you put foil in an air fryer?

"Similar to parchment paper, we are still in the process of testing foil in this appliance because consumer safety is of utmost importance to us," says Brown. You should follow recommendations from the manufacturer of your appliance to determine if it's safe.

What are the best aluminum foil alternatives?

Depending on the dish and method, what you replace foil with would change, explains Brown. For oven use, replace foil with parchment paper. For food prep, wax paper is non-stick and can be an alternative to foil. And when it comes to the grill? "Good alternative options are tough!" says Brown. Find more information on usages at ReynoldsBrands.com.