The Right Way to Use Aluminum Foil in the Kitchen, According to Experts

Aluminum foil might very well be one of the most versatile supplies in your kitchen. Not only can it be molded into any shape or crevice, but it can also be transformed into a liner, pouch, tent, or wrapper. Additionally, the shiny material is extremely durable, especially when compared to wrappings such as parchment paper.

But despite the versatility of aluminum foil, there are many misconceptions about using it for home cooking. So, to understand how to best use aluminum foil in the kitchen, we turned to a few food experts. Learn the difference between regular vs. heavy-duty foil, plus whether or not you can use aluminum foil in the oven, air fryer, or microwave. And of course, we answer everyone’s most pressing question: Shiny side up or down?

Functions of Aluminum Foil

Aluminum foil, sometimes called tin foil, is a very thin shiny sheet of the metal aluminum. It’s made by rolling large slabs of aluminum until they are less than 0.2 millimeters thick.

The purpose of aluminum foil depends on the application, but often, it’s used as a packaging or cover in cooking, says Ali Manning, food scientist and founder of Umami Food Consulting. That’s because aluminum foil is an excellent conductor of heat, so it can prevent heat and moisture escaping from food (which will ensure a delicious meal), according to Stephen Chavez, chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education. Aluminum foil is also used to line the bottom of baking pans during cooking, preventing food from sticking and making cleanup a breeze, says Chavez.

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Regular vs. Heavy-Duty Foil

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, aluminum foil’s two-sided finish is the result of its production process. When the material passes through rollers, two layers of foil are pressed at the same time, which reduces the risk of breakage. As a result, one side is shiny and the other is matte.

However, the different finishes do not have different functions, and they react with food in the same way. People often ask which side of aluminum foil is nonstick. The answer is that it doesn’t matter which side faces up or down when you’re cooking with traditional aluminum foil—but if you’re working with a specific nonstick variety, which has a protective coating, be sure to use the side recommended by the manufacturer.

Using Aluminum Foil in Ovens, Air Fryers, and Microwaves

You might be surprised that aluminum foil can be used in microwaves to prevent overcooking, though certain safety measures must be in place. According to the USDA, no more than a quarter of the food should be covered in foil, which should be new and smooth (i.e., free of wrinkles). Otherwise, the wrinkles can cause electrical arcs, or sparks, which are essentially mini lightning bolts that can damage your microwave oven, says Chavez. The foil should also be shaped around the food and placed away from the microwave walls, at least 1 inch or farther, according to the USDA.

Avoid Aluminum Foil When Cooking High-Salt or High-Acid Foods

Regardless of the cooking method you use, it’s crucial to ensure aluminum foil doesn’t come into contact with high-salt or high-acid foods, like tomato sauce, citrus, or vinegar, says Chavez. These ingredients will cause an unfavorable reaction with the aluminum foil, causing off-notes in the finished product, notes Manning. High-salt and high-acid foods can also cause aluminum to leach into the food, posing a potential health risk.

Aluminum is a must-have kitchen essential. Any home cook will revel in the convenience of putting a layer of aluminum foil down on a baking sheet before putting it in the oven and then discarding it when the meal is done. It makes cleanup so easy and saves so much time!

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However,  there are a few things you should know about how to use aluminum foil correctly. Read on for the best tips and tricks for using aluminum foil when cooking, and the answer to the question “Can You Put Foil in the Oven?”

What is Aluminum Foil Made Of?

  • Aluminum foil is made up of mostly aluminum with some iron and silicon added to make it more durable. It’s not to be confused with tin foil which was popular before the 20th century for packaging products but is made from tin rather than aluminum.
  • Aluminum can be found naturally in food, the air, water and medications. It’s not a nutrient, but it is safe to consume in small doses and is sometimes added to foods and medications as a preservative or coloring agent.
  • Cooking with aluminum foil may cause more aluminum to pass on to your food. The temperature you cook at, the acidity of the foods you’re cooking and certain ingredients like salts and spices may increase the amount of aluminum that passes on to your food.
  • Your body generally only absorbs a small amount of the aluminum you consume.
  • The long-term effects of consuming aluminum are unknown but it does appear to be safe, even when used for cooking.
  • Aluminum foil can withstand temperatures up to 1200 degrees Fahrenheit and the typical household oven only reaches somewhere between 500 and 600 degrees. Aluminum foil will not catch on fire inside the oven and is safe for cooking even at high temperatures.

Proper Use of Aluminum Foil in the Oven

One of the most common ways aluminum foil can be used in cooking is to completely cover your food, like in the case of baked potatoes and meats. Wrapping the food in the foil will help lock in moisture and lock in any marinade you use as well.

Be sure to wrap your meat or vegetables with the dull side of the foil touching the food.

If you decide to wrap your food in foil I would still recommend placing it in a dish before putting it in the oven. Aluminum foil tears easily and if you’re not careful you could end up with a messy spill inside your oven.

Cover Baking Dish or Pan

Aluminum can also be used as a loose lid over your baking dish or pan. This is a great way to help keep in moisture, but also protect the top of your recipe  from burning while the rest of the dish is still cooking. This is a great option for dishes with cheese on top, which, without a cover, may burn before the middle of the dish is fully cooked.

Covering a dish tightly with foil can allow your dish to steam while it cooks. This is an important trick for some recipes.

Line your Baking Dish or Pan

Aluminum is perfectly safe for lining a baking dish or cookie sheet, and it makes the cleanup afterwards so much easier! It is especially helpful to use aluminum foil for baked goods like brownies (or these matcha brownies!) because you can easily remove it from the pan after cooking.

Use as A Makeshift Baking Sheet

In a pinch you can place a sheet of aluminum foil directly onto the rack of your oven and place meat or vegetables on top to cook. Be sure to turn up the edges of the foil to catch any juices. Again, it is important to  be aware that aluminum foil can tear, and if you’re not careful you may end up with a mess inside your oven.

Aluminum is also used to make aluminum foil pans that you may see at the store and these are also safe for cooking in.

Incorrect Ways to Use Aluminum Foil

In the past it has been a common practice to line your oven surface with aluminum foil for easy cleanup. The foil is meant to catch any drips that may fall down. While this makes cleaning the oven bottom much easier, it can actually harm your oven.

While aluminum foil is heat resistant, it can still melt in high heat and get stuck to porcelain or enamel surfaces like the inside of your oven. This can cause damage that’s difficult, if not impossible, to undo.

It also reflects heat and can actually increase the heat in the oven, causing food to burn more quickly. This also makes the interior of your oven more susceptible to scratches and can damage the heating elements.

As a Cover Over Oven Racks

Some people like to place a piece of foil on the bottom oven rack to catch any drips from food cooking above. The idea is similar to placing foil directly at the bottom of the oven for convenience of cleaning up.

Unfortunately this too is a bad idea as the foil can disrupt the flow of heat in the oven and lead to less than desirable cooking results.

Covering Acidic Foods

Aluminum and acidic foods do not mix well. You should not use aluminum foil to cover anything too acidic like tomatoes, tomato sauce, oranges, cherries, lemons or vinegar. The acid in these foods causes a chemical reaction with the aluminum when heated and may leave a metallic taste in your dish.

In addition to a poor taste, the acid and aluminum may cause more aluminum to end up in your dish and as a result, in your body. As mentioned earlier, aluminum is already found in the body naturally, but large doses of aluminum can cause problems.

If you want to use foil as a cover while baking a dish with acidic ingredients, it’s a good idea to place a layer of parchment paper between your food and the foil to prevent the aluminum from reaching your food.

In general if you’re baking something that’s acidic like tomatoes or tomato sauce, it’s best to cook it in a glass or ceramic pan.

Knowing how and when to use aluminum foil is important so you can safely use this kitchen tool without worry. Read here to learn about Can You Microwave Aluminum Foil to avoid any problems with safety.

FAQs About Aluminum Foil

Which Side of the Aluminum Foil Should I Use?

The manufacturing process of aluminum foil causes one side to be dull and one side to be shiny. This is because during manufacturing, a very thin layer of plastic is applied to the aluminum foil to prevent tearing and sticking.

While it doesn’t really matter which side you use (as either side will not change the cooking process), generally it’s best for the dull side to be the side touching your food. The coating on this side protects your food from aluminum transfer as well.

If you want to promote browning, like when roasting vegetables, try keeping the shiny side up.

What is the Non-Stick Side of Aluminum Foil?

If you are using non-stick aluminum foil, the dull side is the non-stick side.

What are Some Alternatives to Aluminum Foil?

The best alternative to use for aluminum foil depends on what you are using it for. If your goal is to keep your oven clean, try placing your baking dish inside a larger baking dish during cooking. The second dish will catch any drips from your recipe and your oven will have the air flow it needs to perform its best. You should never place anything on the bottom of your oven.

You could also place a silicone mat or baking tray on the lower rack of your oven, rather than a sheet of foil. Just make sure there are at least three inches of space between the mat and the walls of your oven to allow the heat to flow freely.

Silicone oven liners should be used with caution. Never place a silicone oven liner at the bottom of your oven. They should not be used in gas ovens.

If you are looking for an alternative to line your baking pan or cookie sheet for easier cleanup, parchment paper is a good solution. Parchment paper is safe up to 425 degrees and is non-stick and non-reflective. It does well in baking dishes as it won’t scratch the surface. Be careful not to use parchment paper when broiling or over any open flame.

Can You Use Aluminum Foil in an Air Fryer?

The short answer to this question is yes, but there are some things to be aware of. Different models of air fryers may have different rules, so always be sure and check your owner’s manual before using aluminum foil in your air fryer.

Can Aluminum Foil be Used in the Freezer?

If you are wrapping up food and saving it for later, yes, aluminum foil is safe to go in the freezer. Just be aware that aluminum foil is susceptible to tears so it may not do well for long-term freezer burn protection.

Is Aluminum Safe for Consumption?

As aluminum is found naturally in our bodies, yes, it is safe to eat and will not cause any health problems. Some studies have raised red flags and safety concerns about the amount of aluminum transferred to the food that it is cooked in.

One study found that cooking foods in aluminum foil could increase the aluminum content by 89-378%. Still, there is no long term evidence that this is unsafe according to

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Oh-So-Common Misconceptions

And that’s just the beginning. To clear up the confusion once and for all, we asked Brown to break down the best uses for wax paper, parchment paper, and foil, plus answer your most Googled questions about them. And because she’s just that good, she even offered up this simple piece of advice for remembering all these tips: “Sweet treat, parchment sheet. Grill or broil, go with foil. Messy prep or sticky candy, wax paper’s handy.”

When to Use Wax Paper

“Wax paper has several great uses,” says Brown. “It is great for food prep with messy or sticky foods. When making candy or dipping sweet treats like strawberries, cookies, or pretzels in chocolate, the food lifts right off the wax paper without breaking into pieces or leaving a mess behind on your countertop or trays.” Wax paper also makes clean-up super-easy when you line the counter with wax paper for coating chicken parmesan.

The best wax paper uses include:

  • Making candy
  • Dipping foods in chocolate
  • Covering the counter when adding crumb coatings to fish or chicken pieces
  • Separating layers of cookies or treats for storage
  • Prevent splatters to keep your microwave clean
  • Rolling and storing pie crusts
  • Wrapping hard cheeses

Can you put wax paper in the oven?

“Wax paper should not be directly exposed to the heat of an oven, as it cannot withstand high temperatures that might be needed in certain cooking and baking recipes,” says Brown. “That said, it can be used as a pan liner when baking cakes, bread, or any baked food in which the dough or batter completely covers the wax paper lining.”

What are the best substitutes for wax paper?

“Given the multitude of wax paper uses, it depends on what you’re trying to do,” says Brown. “For storage, you can substitute with freezer paper or plastic wrap, for prepping, foil works well, and for baking, parchment is a great substitute.”

When to Use Parchment Paper

“Reynolds Kitchens Parchment Paper is a natural, high-density paper with a non-stick coating,” Brown explains. “Its versatility makes it perfect for baking your favorite cookies, making parchment packets, or cooking a sheet pan dinner.” Think recipes like roasted vegetables, salmon parchment packets, and classic chocolate chip cookies.

The best parchment paper uses include:

  • Baking cookies
  • Baking cakes
  • Roasting vegetables
  • Roasting fish
  • Reheating dinner leftovers

Can parchment paper go in the oven?

Parchment paper is oven safe up to 425 degrees F, and non-stick for picture-perfect baking results and easy clean-up, says Brown.

Can you put parchment paper in an air fryer?

“While both parchment and butcher paper have wet strength, butcher paper is intended for use specifically with a smoker,” says Brown. “It helps create a breathable barrier which seals in moisture and protects the crisp outer layer when cooking brisket, pork, and other meats low and slow.” Parchment paper, on the other hand, is not intended for use with grills or smokers, Brown stresses.

Can you microwave parchment paper?

Yes! “To reheat foods in the microwave, place a small sheet of parchment paper over foods in order to eliminate splatters and avoid messy cleanup,” says Brown. “For reheating vegetables or casserole leftovers, place at least ½ cup of food in a microwave-safe dish and cover with a sheet of parchment paper.”

When to Use Aluminum Foil

Foil is best used for anything grilled. “I love to make chicken wings or shrimp scampi foil packets using our non-stick foil, and ribs or even grilled pizza using our heavy-duty foil,” says Brown. Aluminum foil is safe to put in the oven, making it great for lining baking sheets. But it’s not recommended to use foil to line the bottom of the oven to catch spills and drips because it can melt in high heat and damage the oven.

The best foil uses include:

  • Cooking food on the grill
  • Roasting chicken or turkey in the oven
  • Baking brownies

Can you put aluminum foil in the microwave?

No. You should not put aluminum foil in the microwave because the material heats so quickly that it can spark and cause a fire.

Which side of the aluminum foil should you use?

If you’re using a non-stick foil, make sure you place your food on the dull, flat finish side which is the non-stick side. This is mentioned on the packaging. “With standard and heavy-duty foil, it’s perfectly fine to place your food on either side,” says Brown.

Can you put foil in an air fryer?

It’s time to dig into one of the kitchen’s biggest mysteries.

Photo: Getty Images

Aluminum foil is an indispensable item in nearly every household. It’s versatile: You can use it for everything from foil packet recipes to cleaning your grill. The handy product comes equipped with a bit of a mystery, too. One side of a sheet of aluminum foil is shiny, and the other side is dull and flat. You won’t find any information about the reason for the difference if you check the rectangular box it’s sold in either. So what gives?

Is it best to position aluminum foil with the shiny side up or down before you put that casserole in the oven? Before you tear off another sheet, here’s what you need to know.

Why Is Aluminum Foil Shiny on One Side?

When you pull a sheet of aluminum foil off the roll, there’s a notable difference between the two sides. One is so shiny that you can practically use it as a mirror. The other, well, it’s still silver but not nearly as sparkly. It turns out there’s a good reason.

According to Reynolds Wrap, the difference is a byproduct of the manufacturing process. You see, aluminum foil is milled in different layers. Heat and tension are applied to stretch the foil until it’s thin enough to become the familiar sheets you buy in stores and use at home.

The factory manufactures two sheets of metal simultaneously to ensure the sheets are strong enough to withstand breakage. The side where the foil comes into contact with another layer of foil appears dull, while the other side, which hasn’t made contact with another sheet, appears shiny. In other words, the two sides look different, but when it comes down to it, they’re both made of the same stuff.

Should You Use Aluminum Foil With the Shiny Side Up or Down?

So, now that you know the reason behind the different appearances of the two sides, you’re probably wondering if you should use aluminum foil with the shiny side up or down. Quite simply, it doesn’t matter.

Since the exact same material makes up both sides, they will perform precisely the same way. The only difference is aesthetic. So feel free to work both ways. In the end, your food will cook the same. Mystery solved.

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