Wondering what the difference between parchment and waxed paper is and when to use them? The Never Cook Naked Guys have the answer.

Rolls of parchment and wax paper.

Wax Versus Parchment Paper

Dear Never Cook Naked Guys: Is there any practical difference between using wax paper and parchment paper for baking?–Also Been Known To Confuse Wrapping Paper and Wallpaper

Dear Confused: Wax paper, which tends to be white, is coated with a thin, food-grade layer of wax to create a nonstick moisture barrier. It’s perfect for keeping sandwich bread soft in a lunchbox, cheese tasty in the fridge, pie crust or cookie dough stick-free when rolling it on the counter, and layers of square blondies and brownies blissfully separate when stacked.

Why you should never heat wax paper

However, wax paper is not heat resistant. In fact, it has a relatively low smoke point. This means it can burn when exposed to the heat of the oven. It can even set off fire alarms. Trust us.

An old red fire alarm.
: Dave Phillips

Thus, parchment paper is the baking standard. In sharp contrast to the waxy stuff, parchment is heavy-duty, grease-and-moisture resistant paper treated with acid to give it high-heat stability. It’s also often coated with silicone to give it a nonstick finish and tends to be brown although is sometimes white. Reach for parchment paper to line cake pans as well as baking sheets to make for nonstick removal as well as easy cleaning. And, if you’re a stickler for details, to cover casseroles before then crimping with foil. (The last trick prevents acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes, from dissolving the aluminum. Which it can do. Literally.)

A pan of brownies lined with parchment paper to illustrate the difference between parchment and waxed paper.
: Maren Caruso

When should I use parchment paper and when should I use wax paper?

As a general rule, use parchment whenever and wherever heat is involved, and rely on wax paper for cold- and room-temperature storage. Technically, yes, you could cut wax paper to precisely the proportions of a cake pan so that it’s not actually exposed to the heat, but do you really want to have that wax then leach into your baked layers, lending them a film of foamy, off-white, scum-like coating? We didn’t think so.

Our very clever, very clothed Never Cook Naked columnists are at your disposal, able to troubleshoot everything from questionable table etiquette to tricky cooking techniques (as well as, natch, proper cooking attire). Ask us your question in a comment below!

Originally published June 19, 2012.

About Bruce Weinstein | Mark Scarbrough

Bruce and Mark are award-winning, international best-selling cookbook authors with thirty-six published cookbooks and over 1,000,000 copies of their books in print. Bruce and Mark have published on topics as diverse as ice cream, ham, barbecue, goat, and vegetarian main courses. They are masters of the air fryer with The Essential Air Fryer Cookbook (2019), and The Instant Pot with The Instant Bible (2018) and The Instant Pot Bible: The Next Generation (2020).
Their You-Tube channel Cooking with Bruce and Mark offers hours of delicious fun and their podcast Cooking with Bruce and Mark reaches 10s of thousands with their culinary antics.
When they are not in the kitchen, Mark teaches lit classes and runs book groups throughout Litchfield County and online while Bruce teaches knitting and designs knitted patterns for both men and women. Find out more about what they’re up to at www.bruceandmark.com

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  1. Thanks for explaining the difference. I’m a beginner fantasy miniature painter trying to make a diy wet palette and the instructions were very specific about using parchment paper not wax paper. Thanks to you, now I know!

  2. A great question that many of us wondered about: wax paper versus parchment paper. It makes sense, but it was good to hear a detailed answer from the experts.

  3. I made the mistake of using wax paper instead of parchment paper many years ago. Was 14 and learning to bake. Cookies with burnt wax on the bottom are not very tasty. A whole pan of oatmeal cookies wasted. Mom was not happy about the mess it made on her cookie sheet either. Learned at that moment to use wax paper for cold and parchment for hot.

    1. A frustrating lesson to learn, especially when there are cookies involved, Vincent! I’ll bet you haven’t forgotten since.