Butcher paper is primarily used for wrapping raw meat and sandwiches. It is also used in BBQ for smoking brisket, where it is known as the “Texas Crutch” (more on that in a bit), Parchment paper boasts a non-stick surface and has a wide variety of uses, particularly when baking.
As the only chef in my friend group, I am often bombarded with cooking-related questions. One of the top ones is “butcher paper vs. parchment paper - what's the difference?” Well, there are a few differences, which I’m going to fill you in on!
In the post below, I will explain what each kind of paper is, the different varieties, how to use these papers, and more. Let's get started!
Butcher paper is a thick paper made of kraft pulp. It is widely available, sturdy, and inexpensive. Butcher paper is very strong and doesn’t leak. Butcher paper has been approved by the FDA as a food-grade paper, so it’s safe for it to touch raw meat.
Initially, butcher paper was used to wrap raw meat. It was primarily used by boutique butcher shops and the butcher counter at the supermarket.
Butcher paper allows customers to take their meat home without worrying about any meat juices leaking through the packaging and cross-contaminating other food items. Grab some ground beef from your butcher, and 99 times out of 100, they wrap it in butcher paper.
These days, butcher paper is also used to make delicious BBQs. Meats like brisket and pork shoulder are smoked to around 160°F and then wrapped in paper. Wrapping in paper helps create a superbly tender piece of meat with a crispy crust to boot. It’s a win-win.
There are four types of butcher paper. They’re all leakproof, and they’re very similar. I use white butcher paper, but if you want to splurge on the more colorful options, go nuts. The colored papers tend to cost more, and the benefits are minimal, in my experience. If your supermarket doesn’t have butcher paper, order some online. I use the Meat Hugger brand.
Let’s get into each type:
It’s the workhorse butcher paper. Unlike other types of butcher paper, it’s an uncoated variety. As a result, it is used for wrapping sandwiches and subs, particularly in delis. White butcher paper is also commonly used for crafts or even to cover tables in public areas.
It’s food safe, so you can use it to wrap raw meat. It’s also a go-to for BBQ. Use it to wrap brisket or pork shoulder.
Pink butcher paper is frequently called peach paper due to its color. This paper is also used by pitmasters - it’s great for smoked meats.
This is very similar to pink butcher paper, except it’s usually a more high-caliber paper. It is treated with a sizing agent that makes it water-resistant. This makes it a dandy option for wrapping fresh meat.
Gardenia butcher paper serves a special purpose - it prevents outside moisture from interacting with the meat. As such, it is considered a premium type of paper. This paper is best suited to poultry and meat.
Parchment paper is a cellulose-based paper that is treated with silicone. Don't worry, it is perfectly safe to use with food. It is used to line baking trays and cookie sheets, although it is sometimes to used to wrap meat while cooking as well. (I don’t wrap meat that I’m smoking in parchment paper.) It’s a great non-stick liner.
People are more familiar with using parchment paper than butcher paper, but there is still a bit of confusion about what it is. Some people mistake it for wax paper or even freezer paper. I’m here to clear the air.
The main perks of parchment paper are that it is heat-resistant, has a non-stick surface, and is versatile.
There are two types of parchment paper:
This parchment paper is pretty easy to spot as it is white due to the bleaching process. The paper is treated with chlorine to get this shade.
As the name suggests, this paper doesn't contain bleach and is a more natural tan color. It has the same features as the bleached paper.
Now that you have some background information on both parchment paper and butcher paper, let's take a closer look at the variations:
It’s a tie. Parchment paper can withstand heat up to 450°F (232°C). Butcher paper is ideal when used for smoking at temperatures that are 225°F to 300°F (107 to 149°C). It should not be used for cooking at temps above 450˚F (232˚C).
Yes, if they come into contact with a flame, both papers will burn. Keep them away from flames when used for cooking, smoking, and baking. The good news is that neither paper will release toxic chemicals if they start to burn.
This title is given to butcher paper! It is thick and durable paper, and it will also not tear as easily as parchment paper. This is why you can wrap meat in this paper before placing it on a smoker or in an oven.
This is also why butcher paper is used for arts, crafts, tray liners, and even table coverings. Butcher paper is durable stuff.
Parchment paper retains more moisture than butcher paper - it acts more like aluminum foil when used for wrapping and cooking.
Butcher paper is more permeable than parchment paper, so it retains less moisture. Butcher paper offers the perfect level of permeability for smoking meats.
For cooking, parchment paper is more versatile. I use parchment paper every time I bake something. Ditch the spray oil and use parchment paper instead. It will leave your baking sheets shiny and like new, unlike oil. I use it to line a baking sheet when making cookies, brownies, and other baked goods.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Are you cooking your bacon in the oven? You should be. It’s mess-free, and the oven cooks the bacon evenly - no undercooked fatty spots or overcooked areas. And you better believe I use parchment paper when I bake bacon. It makes clean-up a breeze - all the bacon fat sits on the paper. Let it cool and save it for other uses.
Parchment paper can be used to wrap meat during the barbecuing or smoking process, although I don’t recommend it - butcher paper is better suited for this.
Butcher paper has more uses outside of cooking. Use it to wrap food for a picnic, for crafts, drawing, and more.
Parchment paper wins this round. Even the smallest mom-and-pop store likely carries it. Not so with butcher paper.
Butcher paper is great, but it’s a niche product that’s not available at all grocery stores. Of course, there are pitmasters and home chefs who value butcher paper, but it’s only available online or at some larger retailers.
Here’s how you actually use butcher paper or parchment paper when smoking or barbecuing meat:
You use butcher paper when smoking meats - I use white paper. Use pink paper if you’re feeling flashy.
Butcher paper is more breathable than aluminum foil, so you don't have to worry about your bark getting too soft (a cardinal sin for some). You’ll get a nice crisp bark and tender meat if you use butcher paper. It’s the best of both worlds.
Butcher paper can help you get over something known as “the stall.” The stall is notorious among pitmasters when smoking larger cuts of protein like brisket, pulled pork, and ribs. It’s when the internal temperature of the meat stops rising. It usually occurs around 160°F and can last for hours. Time stretches like taffy. The stall lasts longer than a baseball game.
But when the meat is wrapped in butcher paper the meat pushes through the stall. The temperature continues to rise, causing pitmasters everywhere to raise their spatulas and celebrate.
Here’s the thing: you don't wrap the meat in paper at the start of the cooking process. Instead, you wait until the midpoint of the process, when the meat hits the stall. Again, this is usually at 160°F but can happen between 150°F to 170°F - monitor the meat temp with a good smoking thermometer.
Once the meat temperature stops rising, take the meat out of the smoker, wrap it in butcher paper and stick it back in the cooker. I should note some in the ‘que community wrap after the meat passes the stall, so it can absorb more smoke. Try both methods and see which you like better.
Butcher paper works for grilling purposes as well. Once you have grilled your meat to perfection, quickly wrap it in butcher paper and allow it to sit until you are ready to eat.
This helps to keep the moisture locked in, rather than drying out. It also looks cool and professional.
Parchment paper isn't used to smoke meat as often as butcher paper is. It works, but I’d avoid using it unless it’s your only option.
If you’ve got to use parchment paper to wrap your smoked meat, avoid wrapping the meat right away. Wait until after the stall to remove the meat from the smoker and wrap it up in parchment paper.
Parchment paper is a lot less porous than butcher paper. That means that the meat will retain more moisture. It’s best to wait as long as possible before wrapping meats during the smoking process. Otherwise, the meat may turn out too soft and soggy.
Where parchment paper really shines for outdoor cooking is on the grill. The best way to use it is to wrap small packets of grilled foods.
Take small cuts of seasoned meat and vegetables and place them on the paper. Wrap up the food tightly. Then, place your food on the grill until it reaches the proper internal temperature.
With this grilling method, all the juices and flavors of the foods combine together, creating a truly delicious combination. This is also a great option for creating individual servings. You can customize each packet according to individual preferences.
Yes, you can, although I would avoid using it to wrap smoked meats, such as brisket and pork shoulder or pork butt. When using it for these meats, bark formation will suffer. This is due to the increased moisture from the parchment paper.
What about vice versa - can butcher paper be used instead of parchment paper?
Well, this depends on the scenario. If it is for smoking, then yes, you can substitute butcher paper for parchment paper. It’s better for wrapping at the stall (AKA the “Texas Crutch”).
When it comes to grilling, though, stick with parchment paper. That trapped moisture is great for smaller cuts of meat and veggies.
It’s a free country - you can wrap brisket in parchment paper, although butcher paper is my go-to option for brisket.
Here are some tips to follow when choosing parchment paper or butcher paper:
All butcher paper and parchment paper should be food-grade. It is a good idea to double-check your brand, though.
Since butcher paper can be used for crafts and other non-food uses, some companies may not make an effort to make their paper safe to be used with food. Always check labels ahead of time.
Not all butcher or parchment paper is created alike. Some are meticulously crafted for smoking and baking purposes, while others are less suitable.
Look at the components that have gone into making butcher paper or parchment paper. This will give you an idea of what to expect in terms of performance.
Some butcher paper can have a wax coating. Although this can make the paper non-sticky, it can also compromise its heat-resistant properties. Place this type of paper in a smoker, and the wax coating will melt. That’s a recipe for bad BBQ.
Some cheaper brands will also add various chemicals to their parchment paper. These may be released into the food once the temperature gets to a certain point. Again: bad BBQ.
The best way to avoid either of these issues is to invest in a higher-quality paper, particularly if you are smoking meat. Yes, it may cost you a bit more money, but you get what you pay for. No sense in ruining an $80 brisket by saving a few nickels on butcher paper.
The max temperature for butcher paper and parchment paper can vary by type and brand. You shouldn't automatically assume that all paper will be able to withstand the same level of heat.
Your best option is to check the heat tolerance level for each brand that you are thinking of buying. Choose the heat resistance that makes the most amount of sense for your desired cooking method.
When in doubt, buy paper that can withstand high temperatures. That way, you’ll get a versatile butcher or parchment paper that can be used for most of your outdoor cooking needs.
The main difference between butcher paper, parchment paper, and foil is permeability. Foil has the least amount of permeability among the materials. Aluminum foil is impermeable.
This makes it excellent for trapping heat and moisture. The foil locks moisture in. The downside of foil is that it softens the bark. That’s why most pitmasters I know (as well as BBQ joints and competition teams) reach for butcher paper when wrapping. It locks in most of the moisture but still gets you a crisper bark.
Parchment paper is best for baking, as well as quick grilling at higher temperatures.
Aluminum foil is also handy for baking and grilling packets of food. Unlike parchment paper or butcher paper, it can withstand any temperature your grill can throw at it. Its melting point is 1,220°F, well beyond normal grilling temperatures. Use cooking spray or oil when cooking with foil, otherwise, your food will stick to it.
As mentioned, wax paper and parchment paper are often mistaken for one another, but they can't be substituted!
This is because wax paper has a layer of paraffin wax on it. Thus, when it is exposed to heat, it will smoke. Parchment paper has been specifically designed to withstand high heat.
There it is. Everything you need to know about butcher paper vs. parchment paper. Use butcher paper for smoking meats (during or after the stall) and parchment paper for normal baking and grilling.
As you can see, it isn't a short explanation, but it is important to know how these papers differ. Choosing the right one for the right cooking method can make all the difference in how your food turns out. Happy grilling and smoking!