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Foil vs. parchment vs. wax paper: Here's when to use them

These go-to cooking staples have very different uses. Make sure you're using the right one with this guide.

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Use wax paper to line dishes that aren't going in the oven.

Chowhound

You probably know that foil is silver-colored and parchment paper and waxed paper are, well, waxy, but does your knowledge about them end there?

These three kitchen staples have a variety of uses that can make cooking time much simpler. Here's the difference and tips on how you should use them.

Parchment vs. wax paper

Both waxed paper, aka wax paper, and parchment paper are coated papers. The difference is in their coatings. Parchment paper -- which is available bleached and unbleached -- is coated with silicone, while wax paper is coated in, you guessed it, wax. Soybean or paraffin wax to be precise.

Their coatings give them different uses. Parchment paper's silicone coating makes it heat-resistant and nonstick. Line baking pans with this paper wonder and food won't stick to the pan. This trick can't be duplicated with wax paper because the wax will melt, making it useless as a nonstick barrier.

Wax paper's best use is lining countertops and tables before rolling out pie crusts or kneading bread, to prevent a mess. Wax paper can also be used to wrap food for cold storage or even line a pan for making something like fudge. Putting a piece of wax paper in between items you're freezing will also prevent them from sticking together.

So, to sum it up, parchment paper is for hot and wax paper is for cold. Also, parchment paper can be used over and over again, unlike wax paper. Just wipe it off and you are ready for another use.

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Wax, parchment and foil

Alina Bradford/CNET

Foil vs. parchment paper

Foil is basically very thin aluminum. Many people use it to line cooking dishes for easier cleanup, which is a great trick, but foil has no nonstick properties, unlike parchment paper. You may end up with a little piece of foil stuck to the bottom of your roasted potatoes or cookies.

Also, research by the International Journal of Electrochemical Science found that small amounts of aluminum may leach into food during the cooking process. Like with wax paper, if there is heat your best bet is parchment paper.

Some people line their ovens with foil to prevent messes. This is a big no-no, too. It can damage your oven in several different ways. It can also prevent proper air circulation, which can alter how your food cooks.

Foil still has its uses, though. 

Use it to:

  • Wrap sandwiches
  • Wrap meat for short-term freezing
  • Cover bowls to hold in heat
  • Make disposable funnels
  • Prevent messes around the stove

That's just the beginning. Here are 10 more uses for foil.

Foil vs. wax paper

OK, so foil and wax paper have a lot of similar uses, but which one is better? A good rule of thumb is if you don't want it to stick, use wax paper and if you want to insulate, use foil.

Aluminum foil can also be reused or recycled, unlike wax paper. So if saving the planet is on your mind and you can't decide between foil and wax paper, choose foil. Before slipping it in the recycling bin just make sure to rinse it off.

Now that you know what to do with these three, your time in the kitchen will be easier and less messy.

Editors' note: This article was originally published on November 10, 2016, and has been updated.