For anyone who does a lot of baking and cooking, both parchment paper and waxed paper can be real lifesavers. Parchment paper's nonstick abilities allow you to line your baking pans for easy removal of your favorite cookie, brownie, and cake recipes. It's even a great tool for mess-free veggies or delicious fish dinner. Waxed paper's nonstick functions are just as helpful for rolling out pie dough. wrapping sandwiches for lunch, or lining your cookie decorating surface for easy cleanup. But what happens if you go to your drawer looking for parchment paper to discover you only have waxed paper left? Sure, they look a lot alike, but they're not always interchangeable for your kitchen needs. In fact, it's potentially hazardous to bake your cookies on waxed paper rather than parchment. Here's what you need to know about properly using both of these papers to avoid kitchen mishaps.
The Difference Between Waxed Paper and Parchment Paper
Both items are used for nonstick purposes, but the key difference between waxed paper and parchment paper (and the reason they're not interchangeable) is the coating. Parchment paper ($4, Target) is made from cotton fiber and/or pure chemical wood pulps and is treated with an ultra-thin layer of silicone, making it nonstick and heat- and moisture-resistant, too. And if the name didn't already give it away, wax paper ($2, Target) is a tissue paper coated in food-safe wax. It's also nonstick and moisture-resistant but is not as heat resistant. Although waxed paper is safe to use in a microwave (to prevent splatters or line a dish) exposing it to the heat of an oven will cause it to melt, smoke, or even catch fire. The only time you can safely use wax paper in the oven is if you're lining the bottom of a cake pan that will be completely covered with batter and therefore won't smoke. So basically, you can use waxed paper and parchment paper for all the same things apart from baking when directly exposed to heat.
Substitutes for Parchment Paper and Waxed Paper
Parchment paper can get a bit pricey, so it may not always be something you have stocked. (Parchment paper is usually in the $3-$5 range compared to wax paper in the $1-$3 range.) And because of the coating, parchment paper is also not recyclable (unless you're getting a natural, unbleached brand that's compostable). If your recipe calls for lining your pan with parchment, you can substitute nonstick cooking spray instead. Or if you're always baking, it might be a good time to invest in a reusable silicone baking mat ($20, Bed Bath & Beyond) that will give you the same nonstick results you want. As for a good waxed paper substitute, try making your own reusable food wraps out of beeswax.