Parchment paper comes in handy for a lot of cooking applications. We always keep some on hand next to the aluminum foil and plastic wrap. But can you smoke parchment paper? Let’s find out together.
Can You Smoke Parchment Paper?
Parchment paper is heat-resistant up to 425 degrees, but you’ll need to be careful if you use it on the smoker. The paper will shrink as it heats up, making it more prone to tearing. What’s more, if it catches on fire, it could release toxins that will contaminate your food.
What is Parchment Paper?
Parchment paper is a thin yet durable type of paper that’s often used in baking. It works well for lining cake pans and baking sheets, thereby preventing the food from sticking to the pan.
The paper is able to withstand temps up to around 425 degrees, which is why you can use it for baking without worrying. Many chefs also use parchment paper to create one-packet meals, steaming fish and veggies together so that both are perfectly cooked.
Can You Smoke Parchment Paper? A Guide
Since parchment paper is strong and heat-resistant, you would think that it could be used in the smoker without any problems. But the real answer is more complicated than that.
It’s fine to put parchment paper in the smoker as long as the temperature isn’t set too high. The standard temp range for smoked meats is 200 to 275, which is well below the threshold of 425.
The issue is that the paper isn’t equipped to deal with direct heat. It will catch fire and burn just like any other type of paper if it’s exposed to open flames or hot coals.
Obviously, that’s going to be a problem in a smoker environment, since one or both of these elements are usually involved. The resulting smoke can even contain hazardous chemicals, which would then contaminate your food.
There are a few practical concerns to think about as well. While parchment paper is fairly sturdy, it will rip or fall apart if you move it around too much. The long exposure to heat will also cause it to shrink, thereby increasing the risk of tearing.
None of this means that you can’t use parchment paper for smoking. On the contrary, we think it’s superior to the alternatives (see below) in many ways. But you need to make sure it doesn’t catch on fire during the smoke.
When wrapping meat, butcher paper is the next best thing to parchment paper. It’s treated to resist moisture as well as heat, and will create a good seal around the meat while still allowing it to “breathe.”
If the paper is advertised as “butcher paper,” it should be FDA-approved to be used in direct contact with food products. Make sure you’re buying the right type of paper—as we’ve established, some kinds might not be suitable.
You can buy butcher paper in several different colors. Brown butcher paper retains the color of the wood pulp from which it’s processed, while the white version has undergone a bleaching procedure. Pink or peach butcher paper is processed with no bleach or artificial coloring.
Aluminum foil is another alternative to parchment paper. It can withstand high temperatures and is sturdy enough to stay together when you manipulate the meat on the cooking grate. Because it’s so flexible, it creates a tight seal around the food.
The main problem with aluminum foil is that it traps all the heat and moisture inside the package. That speeds up the cooking process, but it can also soften the bark on your smoked meats. If you prefer a nice crunchy bark, foil might not be the way to go.
There’s also the fact that foil creates an impermeable barrier between the meat and the smoke. Though you should only wrap meat after it’s already had a chance to absorb the smoke for a few hours, this is a deal-breaker for us.
Never attempt to put wax paper on the smoker. The wax will melt when it’s exposed to the heat, which will ruin the food. When selecting butcher paper, make absolutely sure that it hasn’t been treated with wax before you use it to wrap smoked meats.
Smoking the Meat “Naked”
Did you know you don’t have to wrap your meat at all? The step can shave a couple of hours off the total cooking time, but it’s not strictly necessary.
The whole point of the wrapping technique is to help large cuts of meat power through what’s known as the “stall.” That’s the point at which the meat appears to stop cooking, sometimes for as long as several hours.
What happens is that the meat releases liquid as it cooks. This moisture collects on the surface of the meat, where it eventually evaporates.
When the heat from the smoker is no longer sufficient to combat the cooling effect of the moisture, the internal temperature of the meat hits a wall. This usually happens at around the 150-degree mark, but it can occur at various stages of the smoke.
When the meat is encased in foil or paper, the moisture has trouble escaping. That creates a miniature oven inside the smoker environment, which helps the meat reach the desired internal temperature that much more quickly.
Using a wrapper does make it easier to predict when your meat will be finished cooking. That’s a huge benefit, especially if you’re entertaining a lot of people.
That said, we prefer to skip the wrapper whenever possible. If you can wait out the stall, you’ll be rewarded with wonderfully smoky, flavorful meat encased in a crisp bark.
How To Make a Foil Packet for Wood Chips
Even if you opt to leave the meat unwrapped for the duration of the smoke, that doesn’t necessarily eliminate the need for aluminum foil. When making packets for wood chips, aluminum foil is the ideal material.
To make the packet, start with a square sheet of foil. This might measure 18 by 18 inches or 12 by 12 inches, depending on the size of the box. Lay the sheet flat on a work surface.
Place a handful of your chosen wood chips in the center of the foil. Then fold the four sides of the foil over the chips, taking care to ensure that the wood is fully encased in the packet.
Use a fork or knife to poke several small holes in top of the packet. These will allow the smoke to escape as the chips burn.
When you’re ready to start cooking, set the foil pack directly on the coals, or on top of the burner if you’re using a gas grill. Smoke the food as you normally would.
When smoke stops coming out of the packet, you can assume that all the wood has burned up. Replace the packets as needed. You can make a few of them in advance if you’d like, but it only takes a few minutes to put together a new one.
One more thing: Don’t bother to soak the wood chips before you use them for smoking. When the wood is wet, it produces steam rather than flavorful smoke. The dampness might even cool down the coals on a charcoal grill. It’s better if the chips are as dry as possible.
While it’s fine to use parchment paper for smoking, there are a couple of alternatives. Feel free to use butcher paper to wrap your brisket and pork butt, and save the parchment paper for baking or making fish en papillote.