When to Use Parchment Paper vs. Aluminum Foil

Both parchment paper and aluminum foil are helpful to have in the kitchen. Here's when to use each one.

Growing up, my mother lined her baking sheets with aluminum foil before putting them in the oven (although she always called it tin foil). It significantly cut down on scrubbing time because those baked-on bits clung to the foil instead of the pan!

It wasn’t until I worked in a professional kitchen that I started using parchment paper instead. The prep cooks at the restaurant used long parchment sheets on every pan, reducing cleanup time while also making it easier to remove roasted vegetables or meat loaf from the paper’s nonstick surface.

Today, I use both, but does it really matter which you reach for? Is it possible to make a wrong choice when considering parchment paper vs. aluminum foil?

When to Use Parchment Paper

First, it’s important to know that while the two look strikingly similar, waxed paper and parchment paper aren’t the same. Waxed paper is made with a nonstick coating made from soybean or paraffin wax, which melts at low heat. That makes waxed paper great for cooking prep tasks, wrapping food or for use in the freezer.

Parchment paper, on the other hand, has a heat-resistant nonstick coating, so it’s safe for use in the oven. The parchmenting process makes the paper greaseproof, durable and heat- and moisture-resistant, too. Here’s when to use it.

Can parchment paper go in the oven?

Parchment paper may darken in the oven, but it’s safe for use at temperatures up to 450°F. Lining your pans with parchment paper is a great way to cut down on cleaning time. You can trace cake pans and cut out circles before lining them or pick up pre-cut parchment paper sheets from the store.

The benefit of using parchment paper vs. aluminum foil in the oven is that the parchment is naturally nonstick. You’ll have to spritz an aluminum foil liner with cooking spray to get the same nonstick benefits.

Can you put parchment paper in an air fryer?

Technically, it’s safe to use parchment paper in the air fryer so long as the temperatures don’t exceed 450°. But keep in mind how an air fryer works: It’s basically a countertop convection oven, so it circulates hot air around the food. Parchment paper can block the air from reaching the food, reducing the efficiency of the air fryer.

Instead, use store-bought air fryer liners. The liners have pre-cut holes that allow the air to circulate while also cutting down on cleaning time.

When to Use Aluminum Foil

Can aluminum foil go in the oven?

Aluminum foil has many uses, but it’s particularly helpful in the oven. It’s easy to form around any baking vessel, so it protects the pan from grease and burned-on bits better than parchment paper. Use it to line baking sheets for roasted vegetables, make special-shaped cake pans like hearts for Valentine’s Day or trees for Christmas or wrap bread loaves or rolls to keep them from drying out as they reheat.

Then, after you’re finished baking, we recommend reaching for another storage method. You don’t want to wrap leftovers in foil because it doesn’t seal the food off from air, allowing bacteria to grow faster.

Can you put aluminum foil in an air fryer?

Yes: Just like parchment paper, you can put foil in an air fryer. Aluminum foil is easy to secure so it won’t fly around because it can mold to the shape of the basket. You’ll want to avoid using aluminum foil when air-frying acidic foods (like tomatoes or citrus), as the metal is reactive and the acids can cause the foil to break down.

Here’s the real reason aluminum foil has a shiny side and a dull side.

Can you put aluminum foil in the microwave?

While you can put aluminum foil in the microwave under the right circumstances, we don’t often recommend it. The microwaves used to heat food can’t pass through the metal. That will prevent your food from heating properly, and it can even cause a fire hazard if the microwaves heat up the pieces of metal too rapidly.

However, the USDA offers the following guidelines for using aluminum foil in the microwave:

  • Use new, smooth foil only. Wrinkled foil can cause sparks.
  • Cover no more than 1/4 of the food with foil.
  • Shape the foil smoothly to the food so no edges stick out.
  • Do not place the foil closer than 1 inch from the oven walls.

You can grab parchment paper or aluminum foil to make delicious sheet-pan dinners!

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.