It happens at the worst moment. You are just about to begin prepping food and getting your goods ready for the oven when you open a drawer and realize you’re all out of parchment paper. Drat.
This can be frustrating because parchment paper is handy for so many different uses. Or, maybe you just prefer to use something else, because let’s be real… parchment paper can get a bit pricey, and because you’re on a budget, you don't always have it on hand. This is understandable as well.
Parchment paper has been an essential kitchen staple for professional chefs and bakers for ages. These days, if you love to cook at home, it's almost a given that you have been introduced to parchment paper and love it too.
What Is Parchment Paper?
Parchment paper is basically paper that has been coated with silicone. It can come in bleached or unbleached varieties, and the silicone makes the paper non-stick and heat-resistant, as well as water-resistant.
This makes it extremely versatile, so it is great for baking projects, layering in between desserts and candies, covering your workspace as you do messy things like roll out your dough, and you can even use it for decorating purposes, by rolling it into a little piping cornet to apply icing.
If that’s not handy enough, you can also bend it into a little funnel to move dry ingredients like spices back and forth, you can use it to steam cook things like chicken and fish, and it's a great product to line your pan with, when you just want to cook something without making a huge mess.
Parchment paper is like the anti-mess weapon of the kitchen, and it makes for easy clean-up in many different ways. For added convenience, you can even buy parchment paper that is already pre-cut into sizes that you need.
But what about those days when you run out of your beloved parchment paper, and you have no time to run to the store? Or you simply haven’t been introduced to the wonders of parchment paper, yet find you need it for some new baking project?
When the unthinkable happens, why not try using one of these alternatives?
Wax paper is similar to parchment paper in that it has a thin coating on each side which makes it moisture-resistant and nonstick. It works well as a less expensive substitute to parchment, especially if you’re using it for things like covering your counters for a messy project, or using it to layer between desserts or line the inside of dishes.
It’s also a smart and cheap way to keep the mess down. You can cover your countertops with it the same as you would with parchment paper, and use it when measuring out dry ingredients.
If you measure out your ingredients over the wax paper, you can then take it one step further and funnel any excess ingredient back into its container. You can either save the wax paper for another use later or toss it.
The biggest difference between parchment paper and wax paper is that wax paper is not heat-resistant. This means you cannot use it for baking, or even use it in the oven at all because the wax could melt and even catch fire inside your oven.
Think of parchment paper as useful for projects that involve heat, and wax paper more useful for projects that don't involve heat. It all depends on your intended usage.
Silpat Baking Mat
For a substitute for parchment paper that you can use to bake too, you might consider a Silpat Baking Mat. These mats are more expensive than parchment paper, but the upside is they can last for years.
They are made of silicone and are flexible and heat-resistant. This makes them a great nonstick surface for less messy baking projects, like baking cookies or bread rolls.
However, you can't use these mats to steam things in the oven or funnel ingredients. Also note that these mats cannot be adjusted for different projects without having to buy many different sizes, whereas parchment and wax paper you can cut to the sizes that you need.
Aluminum foil is a viable substitute for parchment paper too, but again, depends on your intended usage. Foil is basically a very thin piece of aluminum. It can be great for lining the dishes and pans you are cooking with so that cleanup is easier.
However, unlike parchment paper and wax paper, foil doesn't have anything that makes it nonstick. This means that you could end up with bits of foil stuck to your food when all is said and done.
But like parchment paper, foil can be used for steaming things like chicken, fish, and veggies in the oven, and also used for covering dishes so they stay warm, wrapping up sandwiches, and wrapping up meat that you intend to freeze for a short period of time.
You can use foil to make those little funnels to funnel ingredients, and even use it to line your stove plates to help keep them clean. Another way some may use foil is to line the inside of the oven in an attempt to help with the mess factor. However, this is not recommended, because it can cause damage to your oven and also prevent a proper circulation of air which affects how your food cooks.
The bottom line is that you can use foil for many of the same things you would use parchment paper for, but it doesn’t mean you always should.
If parchment paper is for hot use, and waxed paper is for cold use, think of foil more as your alternative for insulating use. Another nice thing about aluminum foil is that it can be recycled. Wax paper cannot.
Finally, keep in mind that the purposes of parchment paper are often twofold. One, it’s used to keep food from sticking. Two, it’s used to lift foods that may be too delicate.
Moral of the story: if you absolutely must use foil for cooking or baking, cut it to the size that you need and make sure you grease it well so that your food doesn't stick.
When all else fails, you can go the old-fashioned route and grease your pans or baking molds. You can do this using a cooking spray like coconut oil or olive oil, or you can really go the old-fashioned route, and spread your grease around using a paper towel.
You can do this with butter as well (a stick works great), it all depends on you and the type of grease you prefer. After you have greased your pan or baking mold, you will then want to sprinkle a bit of flour all over the pan and shake and roll it around so that the flour sticks to the grease. You want the flour to stick evenly and then tap out the excess into your sink.
Never Use Paper Grocery Bags
Sometimes, someone may say just use a paper grocery bag instead of parchment paper. This is a very bad idea, because of the high likelihood of the bag catching fire in the oven. This can even happen with temperatures that are relatively low.
Not only that, but paper bags are made of fibrous material that will affect how your food cooks and they have zero nonstick properties. You can’t even grease it because the grease will just soak into the paper and be rendered useless.
And if you need more discouragement, keep in mind that many grocery bags have ink in them, which can become toxic when it mixes with your food. The only thing that you could try using a paper grocery bag for is to wrap food for storing.
But again, not the best solution by far. Again . . . do not use a paper grocery bag as a parchment paper replacement. There are much better alternatives.
Random Parchment Paper Substitutes
Other ideas that might work if you mainly use parchment paper for wrapping food is to try wrapping your food in banana leaves, soaked corn husks, or even dried, soaked bamboo leaves. Obviously, these are not items you would just have lying around, so if you wanted to use these in lieu of parchment paper, you would have to plan ahead of time.
As you can see, parchment paper is extremely useful for many different things. In fact, the more you use it, the more you will find ways to use it! But sometimes, parchment paper is just not readily available, whatever the reason. This is when you need a parchment paper alternative.
Hopefully, these recommendations have given you some good ideas to experiment with. Just keep in mind their differences, and make sure that whatever you intend to use it for is safe and doable.
And do not, we repeat, do not use any of these alternatives in the oven if they are not intended to hold up to the heat because you will put yourself at risk of starting a fire and endangering yourself and your home. On that note, happy cooking.