Any baker who’s substituted wax paper for parchment paper in a pinch can tell you that about halfway through their chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, a strange smell—and soon after, smoke—arose from the oven. And that smell and smoke were the wax itself, overheating in the oven. And if you’ve ever been that baker who’s used wax paper in a pinch, you then and there discovered that wax and parchment paper are two very different things.
The basic difference between wax paper and parchment paper is in how they are each coated. Wax paper is coated with a wax to give it smooth, nonstick surface—but it is not heat-safe. Parchment paper, on the other hand, has a type of silicone coating, which gives it slickness and a heat-resistant surface (of up to around 420°F).
Much to the last-minute baker’s chagrin, you really shouldn’t substitute wax paper for parchment paper when tossing things into a hot oven. You’ll end up with the inevitable smell and smoke of melting wax … which will also permeate into your foods.
Instead, if find yourself reaching for parchment paper only to find an empty tube, but you’ve got a fresh batch of cookie dough waiting to be baked, go for good ol’ grease. Line your baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease it well with butter or olive oil. The fat will sadly encourage the cookies or other batter to spread while baking, but it will at least do the trick. And the aluminum foil on the baking sheet provides easy cleanup later, as you don’t have to scrub the burnt bits off of the baking sheet.
But parchment paper is useful for so many other things besides just baking cookies. And wax paper, while inappropriate for using at high temps in the oven, has its own place in the kitchen, as well. Here’s a great breakdown of the best uses for each:
What to use parchment paper for:
- Line baking sheets for baking cookies and similar treats.
- Line cake pans and bread loaf pans before pouring batter in (make for easy pull-out once done).
- Make dishes en papillote (a French technique of blanketing food inside paper and baking it).
- Anything in the oven up to 420°F.
- Make impromptu pastry bags (just roll up the paper into a triangular funnel, fill with frosting, and go nuts).
What to use wax paper for:
- Use in place of plastic wrap for storing cheese, cut fruits, and other foods in the fridge.
- Use in place of plastic bags for wrapping sandwiches.
- Layer in between burgers and raw meats when storing in the freezer.
- Layer it over foods in the microwave to prevent splattering (unlike plastic wrap, which can melt in the microwave).
- Random cleaning tip: We’ve heard you can use wax paper in place of Swiffer cloths on your Swiffer stick to clean the floors.