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Pan liners: When to use wax paper, foil and the many other options

Pan-lining options abound from aluminum foils to waxed

Pan-lining options abound from aluminum foils to waxed papers and parchments. Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus

What paper product should I use to line baking pans?

We are living in a golden age of pan liners. I remember when my kitchen utility drawer held only aluminum foil and wax paper, but now I regularly use five different products.

Wax paper

Wax paper has been impregnated with food-grade paraffin to make it stronger and more moisture-resistant than untreated paper. It can be used in the oven as long as it never is exposed directly to heat, so it is ideal for lining the bottoms of cake pans.

I sift dry ingredients onto wax paper, then roll it into a cone to transfer them to the bowl. I pound cutlets between two layers of wax paper. When I pack cookies in tins, I separate the layers with wax paper. If I'm dipping fruits in melted chocolate, I let them cool on wax paper. I also use it to wrap cheese and sandwiches.

All of these tasks can be performed with parchment paper, but parchment can cost more than twice as much.

Parchment paper

Parchment paper is impregnated with silicone. Unlike wax paper, it can be exposed directly to heat up to about 425 degrees. (Brands vary; check the package.) It is excellent for lining baking sheets; the baked cookies will slip right off. If you're baking a pizza or free-form bread directly onto a baking stone, place a piece of parchment on the peel (paddle), place the dough on top of that and slide the paper and dough right onto the stone.

Aluminum foil

Aluminum foil's great advantage is that it conforms itself to whatever you wrap it around. Lining a roasting pan with it will ensure that all the ensuing mess will wind up on the foil, not on the pan. Because it's sturdy (and heavy-duty foil is even sturdier), it's great for wrapping cooked food for refrigeration. You can also place a foil-wrapped package directly into a hot oven.

Foil's great drawback is that foods can stick to it when they cook. For example, you will have a tough time prying roast vegetables off foil. Which is, no doubt, why the geniuses at Reynolds Wrap invented ...

Nonstick aluminum foil

This is simply heavy-duty foil, one side of which has been treated with a nonstick coating. Helpfully, the nonstick side has "nonstick side" printed all over it. Like regular foil, it conforms to any vessel, but it also provides a nonstick surface. It's great for cheesy casseroles and lasagna. Line a sheet pan with it and roasted vegetables won't stick. You can also use it on a gas or charcoal grill.

One drawback of nonstick foil is that items roasted on it won't brown quite as well as they would on a "stickier" surface, just as foods don't brown as well in nonstick pans. Another drawback is price: It can be more than twice as expensive as regular aluminum foil, so use it only when you really need a nonstick surface.

Pan-lining paper

This is the name Reynolds has given to a product that is foil on one side, parchment on the other. Like foil, it can be molded to fit the pan; like parchment, it provides a nonstick surface. It is pretty interchangeable with nonstick foil, although it doesn't conform itself quite so well to the inside of pans. Like parchment, it can't withstand oven temperatures greater than 425 degrees, so it can't be used on a grill. It's also more expensive than nonstick foil.

So why would you ever use pan-lining paper? For aesthetic reasons. The white paper just looks great against food. If I were steaming fish and vegetables in "en papillote" packets for guests to open at the table, I'd use pan-lining paper. One of my favorite quick-meal strategies is to roast a butterflied chicken with root vegetables around it. It's gorgeous against a white backdrop of pan-lining paper.

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