Can parchment paper go in the oven?

Can parchment paper go in the oven

The crackling sound of culinary parchment paper is everywhere from pre-baking to post-baking! But is it anywhere in between? In other words, can parchment paper be used in the oven?

Silicone parchment paper is "safe" to use in the oven at temperatures below 450°F. It's sturdy nature (for some brands) can even withstand temperatures upto 500°F in certain situations, for example, pizza baking or high heat turkey. It may only begin to brittle around the exposed edges and subsequently smoke at temperatures higher than that! Another superlative property of parchment paper is that it can stand soaking and boiling and still not soften or separate into it's component fibers like other papers do, which is why it can be reused a number of times in the oven.

What makes parchment paper so tough in the oven?

Parchment paper is generally made from unsized paper which is a very weak paper that can absorb almost any fluid, readily and instantly. The paper is treated with an acid solution to re-modify it's fiber structure by dissolving their surface into a gelatinous mass.

Fiber is what makes up a paper. In regular unsized papers, the fibers are loosely interspersed and intertwined with lots of spaces in between them. These spaces allow water and other fluids to readily pass through the paper.

After the parchmentization process which applies acid solution to the unsized paper, the surface of the fibrous structure dissolves and converts into a jelly like substance. Water absorption and wear characteristic of the paper changes dramatically. The paper at this stage is tough, impervious to hot or cold fluid, moisture resistant to a fair degree, non-stick, odorless, tasteless and chemically pure.

To further improve some of the newly acquired characteristics of the paper, it is coated with food grade silicone which revamps it's non-stick, moisture proof and heat resistant properties.

In other cases where the parchment paper is intended to be used for storage purposes only, it may be coated on the surface with paraffin wax to improve the moisture-proof and non-stick attributes.

What can parchment paper be used for in the oven?

The applications of parchment paper in the oven are umpteen.

It can be used to prevent almost any kind of baked article from sticking to the surface of the pan. It eliminates the need for the traditional method of greasing the surface of pans with cooking spray or butter, there by cutting the undesired amounts of fats and oils attached with it.

Chicken, bacon, cheese, steak, salmon, pizza, vegetables etc. will all release from the surface of parchment paper easily without sticking. This important attribute also makes cookware cleanup a breeze! Just remove the parchment paper and rise off the pan with warm water.

Also, the heat-sealing property of parchment paper is useful for steam cooking. Certain kinds of food like chicken breast, vegetables, salmon or sea foods are enclosed in paper packets made from parchment paper and steamed in their own juice. This method of cooking also referred to as "en Papillote" method (a french word that translates to "in parchment"), adds extra flavor, tenderness and moistness to the steamed articles.

On top of that, the pliability and flexibility of parchment paper along with the non-stick and heat resisting properties, makes it a fantastic substitute for muffin cup liners. Simply cut the parchment paper in small squares and press gently into greased baking tins to form the liners.

Need more? Read under the sub-section "Uses of parchment paper": Is parchment paper the same as wax paper?

What are the safety tips for using parchment paper in the oven? 

The number one and most important safety tip is to never expose a parchment paper too close to an open flame or allow it to scratch or touch the walls of a preheated oven. It can instantly ignite and ruin whatever your'e cooking. Make sure to always use the right size of parchment paper sheets and tuck or trim whatever is left hanging from oversize papers.

In electric ovens, do not allow the parchment paper to touch the heating elements or get too close to it. The temperature of the heating element is too hot for a parchment paper to handle.

Secondly, avoid reusing clean sheets of parchment paper more than three times in the oven, especially for high heat recipes. At this point, the paper may have reached it's breaking point and can yield highly unpredictable results. Also, any sheet of parchment paper that has brittled or smoked from previous applications should not be reused in the oven.

Will parchment paper transfer harmful substances into food?

Bleached parchment paper is safe to use in the oven but the unbleached variant, especially the chlorine bleached one, is not entirely safe. During it's production process, harmful chemicals known as dioxins are created as effluents and these chemicals can persist till the final product and may leach into food during cooking. Even though the amount deposited is very little; about 1 parts per trillion or the equivalent of 1 second in 32,000 years, and the health effects are negligible, dioxins are very persistent and can still accumulate to harmful levels overtime and present health risk to people.

It's better to use unbleached parchment papers or those made from chlorine free processes.

More on dioxins: Is parchment paper safe?

Alternatives to parchment paper in the oven?

  1. Use a silicone baking mat: It has the same coating as parchment paper and packs a good release and heat resistant properties. It is more economical compared to parchment paper although you'll have to fork out a little more for it. It can be used upto two thousand times before replacement.
  2. Wax paper: If you are baking stuffs like cakes, muffins, or brownies; goods where the paper lining will be completely buried underneath the batter or food, you can use wax paper as the pan liner. The batter will keep the wax coating from melting and food articles will release easily with no stress.
  3. Aluminum foil: Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease the surface with shortening. If you use the bare aluminum surface, the baked food can stick to the surface of the foil and be annoying to separate. 
  4. Grease baking mold: No baking mat? No wax paper? No foil? No problem, simply grease the surface of the baking tray with cooking spray and dust with fine flour. The grease-flour medium would serve as a non-stick surface and your cookies will slip out easy and nice. If you still don’t have a baking tray or cooking spray, you can borrow from your neighbours :)

Can parchment paper be used in toaster ovens?

Yes, the mode of heating in a toaster oven is similar to that in a conventional oven. So the risks are almost the same. Since the inside of a toaster oven is invariably smaller compared to that in a conventional oven, care must be taken to ensure than no part of the parchment paper directly touches the heating elements or walls of the oven. This can be achieved by using pre-cut fits of parchment paper or trimming and tucking the excess edges from oversize ones.

All other safety tips mentioned for ovens, above, also apply to toaster ovens.

Can parchment paper be used in microwave ovens?

Parchment paper is largely transparent to microwave radiation and doesn't get heated when subjected to it. It can only be heated by food sources that have been heated by the microwave radiation either by direct contact or through the radiant heat given off from the food. This rarely happens due to the nature of microwave heating on foods and the 450°F silicone coating on the surface of the parchment paper.

Can parchment paper be used in air fryers?

Parchment paper can be used in air fryers to make clean up a whole lot easier. Perforations (tiny holes) should be made on the parchment paper to allow for proper circulation of heat around the cavity. You can skip this process by purchasing a pre-perforated parchment paper from amazon or your local store.

To use the parchment paper in your air fryer, cut a right sized paper to line the bottom of the fryer basket. Make sure to do all the preheating before inserting the paper, and ensure the paper does not stick beyond the edges of basket, otherwise, it may get sucked up to the heating element and you know what happens next; fire!

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