Wrapping Up the Debate: Butcher Paper vs Parchment Paper

June 2, 2022

Butcher paper is a wrapping for raw meat while parchment paper boasts a non stick surface.

As the only chef in my friend group, I am often bombarded with cooking related questions and one of the top ones is butcher paper vs. parchment paper - what's the difference? Well, there are a few, actually.

In the post below, I will explain what each kind of paper is, what types they branch off into, how to use these papers, and more!

Let's get started!

What is Butcher Paper?

Butcher paper is a thick paper that is made of kraft pulp. It is treated with caustic soda, sulfide, and sizing agents. This makes the paper very strong and prevents leakage as well. Butcher paper has been approved by the FDA and as food grade paper, making it safe for it to come into direct contact with meat.

bbq platter all set

Initially, butcher paper was merely designed to wrap around raw meat. It was primarily used by butcher shops, allowing customers to take their meat home without worrying about any blood or juices leaking through.

These days, however, it is also used to make delicious BBQ. Wrapping the raw meat and then smoking or grilling it creates a tender cut of meat with a crispy crust to boot.

The Types of Butcher Paper

There are four types of butcher paper:

White Butcher Paper

Unlike other types of butcher paper, this is 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.      

Pink Butcher Paper

Pink butcher paper is frequently called peach paper due to its color. Traditionally, it has been used to wrap meat products as it masks the color of the raw flesh. This paper is also used by pitmasters everywhere, though. Peach paper is great for smoked meats.

Peach Treated Butcher Paper

This is very similar to pink butcher paper, except this is a more high caliber paper. It is treated with a sizing agent that makes it water resistant. This makes it a superior option for wrapping fresh meat.

Gardenia Butcher Paper

The 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. The coloring of the paper is best suited to poultry and meat.

What is Parchment Paper?

People are far more familiar with parchment paper as it is used more often in cooking and for baked goods. Despite this, there is quite a bit of confusion about what it is, particularly as it tends to be mistaken for wax paper or even freezer paper.

This is a cellulose-based paper that is treated with silicone and sulfuric acid. Don't worry, it is still perfectly safe to use with food. It is used to line baking trays and any cooking utensils, although it is sometimes to used to wrap meat while cooking as well.

The main perks of parchment paper is that it is highly heat-resistant, it has a non-stick surface, and is versatile.

Parchment Paper vs. Wax Paper

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 on it. Thus, when it is exposed to heat, it will melt. Parchment paper has been specifically designed to withstand high heat.

Types of Parchment Paper

There are two types of parchment paper:

Bleached Parchment Paper

This parchment paper is pretty easy to spot as it is white - this is due to the bleaching process. The paper is treated with chlorine to get this shade. It is the cheaper option.

Unbleached Parchment Paper

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, however.

Butcher Paper vs. Parchment Paper: The Differences

Now that you have some background information on both parchment paper and butcher paper, let's take a closer look at the variations:

Which is More Heat Resistant?

This can be a little tricky to answer because the exact level of heat resistance can depend on the branch of the butcher or parchment paper. Still, parchment paper tends to win out here as it can withstand heat up to 400°F (204°C). With butcher paper the max temperatures may be closer to 225 - 275°F (107 - 135°C).

bbq on fancy paper

Will butcher paper or parchment paper burn?

Well, if they aren't exposed to direct heat, it is unlikely that either type of paper will catch fire. At worst, you can expect them to blacken and become more brittle. Contrary to popular belief, neither paper will release toxic chemicals when this happens either.

It is best not to place meat wrapped in butcher paper on a grill. If the paper gets too close to the flames, it may catch fire.

Despite this, if you are popping your meat in the oven and they are wrapped in parchment paper or butcher paper, monitor the temperature at all times.

Which Paper is Thicker?

This title is given to butcher paper! It has been designed to be thick and durable and it will also not tear as easily. This is why you can wrap raw meat in this paper before placing it on a smoker or in an oven.

It is also because of this feature that brown butcher paper is used for arts, crafts, tray liners, and even table coverings so often.

Which Retains More Moisture?

Butcher paper is more permeable than parchment paper. This means that parchment paper is great for trapping moisture inside during the cooking process. However, this permeability isn't always a downside for butcher paper. In fact, it encourages breathability which can be great with certain types of dishes.

Which is More Versatile?

Parchment paper is certainly more versatile, largely due to its ability to withstand higher heat. It can certainly be used to wrap meat during the barbecuing or smoking process. It is typically used to line the baking sheet though to create a non stick barrier between the baking tray and the food.

Which is More Readily Available?

Once again, parchment paper wins the round. For the longest time, butcher paper has been used by butchers and restaurants. It isn't something that the public turns utilizes too often. Of course, there are pitmasters who value the features of this paper, but they are outnumbered by other cooks.

There is also the fact that parchment paper is more versatile and can be used for a greater number of things. This makes it easier to find in local supermarkets.

Why Do You Need to Wrap Meat? How Butcher Paper and Parchment Paper is Used

Of course, what you are probably curious about is how you actually use butcher paper or parchment paper when smoking or barbecuing meat.

Using Butcher Paper

You use butcher paper when smoking meats - pink butcher paper is the way to go. The paper works to trap moisture inside the meat, making it more tender, with just the right amount of smokey flavor.

At the same time, pink butcher is more breathable so you don't have to worry about your meat getting soggy. Furthermore, a gorgeous, tasty bark forms on the outer layer, providing you with the best of both worlds.

Using peach paper is especially encouraged when smoking brisket. It will take your dish to the next level.

In some cases, butcher paper can also help you get over something known as the meat stall. This is when the internal temperature of the meat only goes up to a certain point. This stall can make it difficult to ensure that the middle of the meat is cooked all the way through, especially without burning the top.

When the meat is wrapped in pink butcher paper, though, the heat is trapped inside the paper, causing the temperature to rise and cook the meat thoroughly.

The thing to keep in mind, though, is that you don't wrap the meat in the peach paper at the start of the cooking process. Instead, you wait until the midpoint of the process or until the meat is nearly finished smoking.

Then, you take it out of the smoker, wrap it in the butcher paper and place it back in.

Butcher paper works for grilling purposes as well, just not in the way that you would imagine. Once you have grilled your meat to perfect, quickly wrap it in butcher paper and allow it to sit until you are ready to eat.

This helps to keep the moisture locked on in, rather than drying out. It can also give the meat a chance to absorb any juices that may have been exuded during the grilling process.

Using Parchment Paper

Parchment paper isn't to smoke meat as often as butcher paper is, but you absolutely can use it. The heat resistance of parchment paper makes it suitable for a smoker.

As with butcher paper, you should avoid wrapping meat right away. Instead, wait until the meat stall to remove the meat from the smoker and wrap it up in parchment paper.

You should be aware that parchment paper is a lot less porous than butcher paper, causing it to retain even more moisture. As such, it is best to wait a little longer before wrapping meats during the smoking process. Otherwise, the meat may turn out to be a little too soggy.

Where parchment paper really shines, though, is on the grill. The best way to use it is as a wrapper for small packets of grilled foods.

Take small cuts of seasoned meat and vegetables and place on the paper. Then, create small wrappers out of them, making sure to fold in any corners tightly. Then, place it on the grill until done.

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.

Can I Use Parchment Paper Instead of Butcher Paper?

As stated, parchment paper is so much easier to find than butcher paper. Due to this, if a recipe calls for butcher paper and you can't find any, is it OK to substitute it with parchment paper?

Yes, you can! Parchment paper can withstand even more heat than butcher paper and can easily be used in all the same ways. When using it, though, you should keep in mind that the meat may not form the same level of bark. This is due to the increased moisture caused by the parchment paper.

grilling over aluminium foil

Then, what about vice versa - can butcher paper be used instead of parchment paper?

Well, this does depend on the scenario. If it is for smoking, then yes, you can substitute butcher paper for parchment paper. This may be possible for the oven as well as long as the temperature stays low enough.

When it comes to grilling, though, you shouldn't take the chance. It is simply too high of a risk that the paper will catch fire and burn.

Can I Wrap a Brisket in Parchment Paper?

It is possible for you to wrap brisket in parchment paper, although butcher paper would be the preferred option. The parchment paper will work to maintain moisture throughout the cut of meat.

You can wrap brisket in parchment paper during or after the cooking process, depending on the level of tenderness that you are looking for.

Choosing Butcher Paper and Parchment Paper

Here are some tips to follow when choosing parchment paper or butcher paper:

Look for the Food Grade Assurance

Technically, all butcher paper and parchment paper should be food grade. It is a good idea to double check this, though, especially with butcher paper.

As stated earlier, butcher paper can be used for crafts or as a liner for trays. Thus, some companies may not make an effort to make their paper safe to be used with food, particularly at higher temperatures. Always check this fact ahead of time.

Check the Components

It should be said that not all butcher or parchment paper is created alike. Some are meticulously crafted for smoking and baking purposes, while others are less suitable.

It is important to always 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.

For instance, 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.

Some cheaper brands will also add various chemicals to their parchment paper. These may be released into the air or food once the temperature gets to a certain point.

The best way to avoid either of these issues is to invest in a higher quality paper, particularly if you are planning on smoking meat. Yes, it may cost you more money, but it will be worth it in the long run. Not to mention, you can avert any cooking disasters as well, giving you peace of mind.

Check the Max Temperature

The max temperature for butcher paper and parchment paper can vary by type and brand. Due to this, 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 level for each and every 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, go for the highest temperature imaginable. This way, you will get a versatile butcher or parchment paper that can be used for a wider variety of dishes.

Butcher Paper vs Parchment Paper vs Aluminum Foil

There is a good chance that when it comes to grilling or baking that you are most used to using heavy duty aluminum foil. In this case, you may be wondering what the difference in these materials are.

The main difference between butcher paper and parchment paper and foil is permeability. Foil has the least amount of permeability among the materials.

This makes it excellent for trapping in heat and moisture as not much is dissipated. The issue with this, though, is that you don't get a thick crust on your meat, which is often a must-have with smoking and grilling.

There is also a greater risk of your meat getting soggy. With foil, you have to be careful to not let the meat cook or sit too long in it.

This is what you need to know about butcher paper vs. parchment paper. 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!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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