Whether you’re baking cookies, roasting vegetables, or making the sweetest of candy, pan stickage is something you want to avoid. Both silicone baking mats and parchment paper can be used to coat pans, provide a non-stick surface, and cut down on cleaning time, but which one should you stock in your kitchen?
Silicone mats and parchment paper basically do the same thing, but they have a lot differences. Not only are they made of different base materials, but they also vary in cost, reusability, and clean-up.
Silicone Baking Mats
Silicone baking mats are flexible, reusable mats made out of food grade silicone and fiberglass. They come in various sizes and shapes to fit your many pans, and cost around $20-$30.
Parchment paper is a cellulose-based paper that has an ultra-thin silicone coating to make it non-stick. It’s relatively cheap, and sold in either packs of sheet or rolls for around $5.
Silicone Mats Are a Bit More Non-Stick, But Won’t Crisp Your Food as Well
Nothing, but nothing, sticks to these guys, and they’re what I turn to when I’m making super delicate cookies or really sticky candy. I’ve made lollipops, pralines, and tuiles on these, and never had an sticky situations cramp my style. They’re more expensive than parchment initially, but they’re washable, which means you can use them over and over, roasting and baking until your hungry heart is content. They also make an excellent surface for kneading sticky dough, and cling to your counter or marble slab without slipping around.
They don’t, however, provide a good surface for browning, so if you’re looking to make cookies with crisp, browned bottoms, parchment is the better choice. Also, if you have many different types of pans in which you wish to use the mats, you will need many different mats in many different shapes and sizes.
I’ve also found them a bit tricky to get truly clean. Though pieces of food don’t stick to them, they always have a bit of a greasy feel, even after multiple washings, and tend to pick up any little hairs and dusty particulates that may be floating around. You also have to lay them flat or hang them up to dry them, which isn’t a huge deal, but does take up a certain amount of space.
Parchment Paper is Convenient and Customizable, But a Bit More Wasteful
Beyond providing a non-stick, disposable cooking surface, parchment paper has a multitude of other uses . Not only can you cut it to fit any pan, but you can fold it into neat little pouches to cook meals en papillote (that’s French for “in parchment”). You can also use it to line muffin tins, make impromptu piping bags, and roll it into cones for easy funneling. The paper is also more absorbent than the silicone mats, and promotes better crisping with cookies, or greasy cheese crisps.
It does, however, create a certain amount of waste, as you simply throw each sheet away once you’re done with it. This also makes for easier clean up, as there’s nothing to wash, but it’s a little less green than reusable mats.
Verdict: Parchment Paper Is More Useful Overall
No kitchen should be without parchment paper and, if you only stock your kitchen with one of these, that is what you should get. Not only can you cut it to fit any pan, but it has many uses beyond providing a nonstick surface, and it makes the crispiest cookies around.
If however, you make a ton of sticky candy or super delicate cookies, it’s worth having at least one silicone baking mat, as they are truly non-stick champions. It’s also the greenest option of the two, which can be helpful if you’re trying to cut down on kitchen waste. I can, however, imagine my life (and kitchen) without my silicone baking mat, and I cannot say the same for parchment paper.