Only one of them can go in the oven.
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As baking season ramps up, you might be wondering, What is the difference between parchment paper and wax paper? And can you use them interchangeably? In some cases, yes, but not in the oven!
These kitchen papers are both awesome for making cleanup faster and easier. They’re also good for wrapping meat and fish and separating layers of baked goods for storage. But the number one reason parchment paper is far superior to wax paper is because it won’t melt or ignite in the oven.
That’s a biggie. Do not, we repeat, do not put wax paper in the oven. We try to avoid excess flames in the kitchen.
Parchment paper is usually more expensive, which makes sense since it can do anything wax paper can, plus go in the oven to line baking sheets. The brown (unbleached) parchment paper also has that cool artisanal thing going on when you wrap baked goods in it for gifts, especially with butcher’s twine as ribbon—so Brooklyn.
The main difference between wax paper and parchment papers is their respective coatings. Parchment paper is coated with silicone to give it a nonstick, heat-resistant surface, and wax paper (or waxed paper) is—as the name suggests—coated with a soybean or paraffin wax.
Because of this coating, wax paper is not meant for use in the oven—the wax coating on it will melt if the paper is exposed to direct heat. So use wax paper for wrapping up sandwiches or food for cold storage, or for spreading out things like homemade candy and chocolate-coated confections to cool. Wax paper usually comes in a roll like foil or plastic wrap, but can also be purchased in pre-cut squares (good for separating burger patties before freezing, for instance), or in sandwich bag format.
Parchment paper is the best choice for cooking, as most brands can withstand temperatures up to about 420 degrees Fahrenheit. Parchment paper is good for lining cookie sheets when baking, but also when roasting veggies or making sheet pan dinners, because it eliminates the need to grease them (great for those who want to reduce fat or calories, plus it keeps you from having to scrub crusted-on baking pans).
It’s also used to cook “en papillote,” a technique of wrapping food in a packet and baking it. Parchment paper is available on a roll, in pre-cut sheets, and even in rounds (ideal for lining round pans; folding neat packets to steam in the oven; and using as “lids” on braises and stews, which lets some moisture escape but not so much that your liquid evaporates too quickly).
If you’re using parchment for baking a free-form tart like our Rustic Blueberry Tart recipe, you can roll the dough out on the parchment itself, then transfer the whole shebang right to the cookie sheet.
The other way the papers differ is in how they’re processed before being coated. Pat Schweitzer, a spokesperson for Reynolds Consumer Products, says that the company’s parchment paper is pressed into a sheet, then dipped into an acid bath, washed, and “passed over a series of hot rotating drums that realign the fibers and give the paper its strength,” before the silicone coating is applied. Reynolds’ waxed paper, on the other hand, undergoes a process called supercalendering, which compresses the paper to give it its transparency, before it is coated in wax.
Bleached vs Unbleached
Both parchment paper and wax paper can be found bleached or unbleached. If they’re unbleached, they’re brown in color and have been less processed (aside from their respective coatings), but if they’re bleached, they’ve been treated with chlorine to make them white.
An Eco-Friendly Alternative
Wax paper cannot be recycled due to the coating, nor can it be composted. Parchment paper can’t be recycled if it’s stained with food, but can still go in the compost bin.
If you’re looking for a greener alternative, you can also buy a Silpat silicone baking mat (or similar brand) to line your pans for grease-free baking with minimal cleanup. The initial cost is more, but a Silpat lasts for years.
AmazonBasics Silicone Baking Mats, 2 for $9.29
These do everything parchment does but can be reused again and again.
How to Use Parchment Paper and Wax Paper
Many recipes call for using parchment or wax paper. Try a few of these:
1. Rice Krispies Treats
Now here’s a great reason to buy wax paper: Rice Krispies Treats. Using buttered wax paper both to line your pan and to press the sticky mixture of melted marshmallow and cereal into an even layer really cuts down on the mess. You can make the classic squares (maybe an adults-only White Russian version?), or a multi-tiered Rice Krispies Treats Birthday Cake recipe.
2. Homemade Candy
Wax paper is also great for lining your countertop (or a sheet pan) where you plan to cool homemade candy, from chocolate-coated bars like our Copycat Candy Bar recipes to caramels and things like our Honey Butterscotch recipe. Parchment works too.
3. Perfect Roast Potatoes
Yes, you can use aluminum foil to line a pan when roasting meat, fish, or vegetables, but parchment paper works just as well. Roast literally anything on a parchment-lined pan, from our Perfect Roast Potatoes recipe with rosemary and garlic to our fragrant Roasted Fish with Thai Pesto recipe. Just don’t grab the wax paper by accident!
4. Easy Fish Baked in Parchment
If you want to try cooking en papillote, fish is a great choice of protein. It steams in the tightly folded packet, resulting in perfectly tender flesh and an aromatic cloud of steam when you open it up to eat. You can make foil packetstoo, but one benefit of parchment is that it won’t react with acidic ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar. Get our Easy Fish Baked in Parchment recipe.
5. Gingerbread Waffles with Vanilla Bean-Orange Butter
Both parchment and wax paper come in handy for storage, too. Next time you make pancakes or waffles, make extra and freeze them between layers of parchment or wax paper for quick weekday breakfasts. Get our Gingerbread Waffles with Vanilla Bean-Orange Butter recipe.
6. Linzer Sablés
Who better to take cookie advice from other than master baker Dorie Greenspan? The dough for these delicate sandwich cookies is rolled out between sheets of wax paper (or plastic wrap), and then you use parchment to line the pans. When the cookies cool down, they’re stored between more layers of wax paper in airtight tins or other containers. We recommend using hazelnuts, but you can also bake these with almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts, and fill them with whatever jam or jelly you like. Get our Linzer Sablés recipe.
7. Brown Butterscotch Pie
Another way to use parchment when baking is to cover a pie crust before adding uncooked rice, beans, or pie weights in order to blind bake it. You can also use foil, but if you prefer parchment or only have that on hand, it does the trick. This warming winter pie with a sweet but nutty browned butterscotch flavor is a nice change from the usual pumpkin, but we wouldn’t turn down a Salted Maple Pie either (or, let’s be honest, any pie at all). Get our Brown Butterscotch Pie recipe.