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The Home Cook’s Guide to Butcher Paper

It keeps raw meat fresh for longer and yields a superior bark during smoking. Plus, all the cool pitmasters you follow have it.

Whether you need to wrap thick-cut sirloin for refrigeration or brisket for slow-smoking, butcher paper is a great choice of wrapping paper that lets the food items inside it breathe, extending their storage time and yielding a flavorsome bark during cooking.

That being said, I found it surprisingly hard to get clear answers to some of the most basic questions about butcher paper on the Internet. So I set about to do some research and write them up myself.

Here’s everything you need to know about this type of wrapping paper.

What is butcher paper?

Butcher paper, as the name suggests, is a food-grade paper used mainly by butchers, fishmongers, pitmasters, and deli staff from all across the country to store, display, wrap, and smoke meats in.

Butcher paper is a type of kraft paper, and the two come from the same base material called “virgin wood pulp.” Butcher paper is considered safe for coming into contact with raw meats, whereas kraft paper is used for packing groceries and lining countertops.

Don’t confuse butcher paper with parchment paper (non-stick), wax paper (waxed on one side), or freezer paper (specially coated to protect foods wrapped in it from freezer burn).

What is butcher paper made from?

Butcher paper is made from the unbleached, uncoated, and unwaxed virgin pulp—the kind that comes directly from trees and doesn’t contain any recycled paper—which is why it’s safe to use for wrapping raw cuts of meat as well as smoked slabs.

Butcher paper can be white, pink, or brown. White butcher paper is commonly used for wrapping raw meats and sandwiches, pink butcher paper (also known as “peach butcher paper”) for smoked meats, and brown butcher paper for displaying meats on counters.

What’s the difference between white, pink, and brown butcher paper?

Since all butcher paper is made from virgin pulp, the color of pink and brown butcher paper usually comes from dyes. Some, but not all, rolls of white butcher paper may be coated or waxed on one side, whereas pink and brown butcher paper rolls aren’t.

Certain rolls of butcher paper may be treated with a substance called “sizing,” which makes them more durable and less absorbent while still allowing the food items wrapped inside them to breathe. It should be clearly stated somewhere on the label when that’s the case, so read through.

Is butcher paper safe to use in the oven?

According to the U.S. safety data sheet of a popular brand of butcher paper, butcher paper should never be heated above 450ºF. Otherwise, it can smolder or catch fire, ruining the meat that’s wrapped inside it and posing a major fire hazard.

Who carries butcher paper?

If you live in the United States, then Kroger, Target, Walmart, Home Depot, and Hobby Lobby carry a number of butcher paper roll brands, colors, and sizes.

Well-stocked grocery stores tend to carry white, pink, or brown butcher paper. Look for it in the same aisle as the aluminum foil and parchment paper rolls. Sometimes, store staff will place it next to the bags of charcoal and charcoal starters in the outdoor cooking section.

Personally, I prefer to stock up on butcher paper by ordering it online (you’ll find my picks below), as not all stores carry my go-to brand.

What’s the best butcher paper brand?

When in doubt, get Bryco Goods’ white, pink, or brown paper rolls (whichever color you like the most). They’re made in the USA, FDA-approved, and offer superior strength compared to other rolls I’ve tested.

These can be hard to find when shopping in person, so I recommend that you stock up from Amazon instead. Alternatively, local restaurant supply stores in your state might have them (look them up and call them up).

Why use butcher paper?

When smoking meats, many consider butcher paper to be the better alternative to aluminum foil, as it lets smoke penetrate while allowing the meat to breathe so that it cooks faster and crisps up. They say that using butcher paper yields a better bark, and I tend to agree.

Since butcher paper comes from raw, wood-based material that hasn’t been chemically treated, it’s considered by cooks to be “non-toxic.” Unlike wax paper, it won’t seep waxy flavors onto your meats. Unlike tin foil, it won’t impart them with a metallic taste.

When (and when not) to use butcher paper?

According to a YouTuber who goes by Mad Scientist BBQ, beef brisket is best smoked in butcher paper and pork butt in aluminum foil.

“The reason why we use butcher paper for beef and foil for pork,” he says, “isn’t arbitrary.” In the case of beef brisket, the butcher paper will absorb the moisture from the meat and evaporate it away. Else, it will wash away the bark—that crisp, flavorsome crust on the outside of the slab.

He claims that, when smoking pork butt, you’re looking for the opposite effect. Keeping the rub slightly soggy helps you flavor the pork once you start pulling it: “When you shred it, all of that flavor will go into flavoring the meat on the inside that doesn’t get smoked.”

Which side of butcher paper goes up?

If you’re using uncoated butcher paper, which side comes into contact with your food doesn’t really matter. When using coated butcher paper, which you can infer by the fact that one side is shinier than the other, the shiny side is the one that must come into contact with the food.

What is a good substitute for butcher paper?

Parchment paper is the best substitute, albeit chemically treated and not as sturdy, for butcher paper. It lets the meat breathe and allows some of the juices in it to evaporate, forming a good bark. However, because of the way it’s been treated, it’s just not as good at it as butcher paper.

Aluminum foil is another substitute for butcher paper. It does the job for pork, where bark formation isn’t necessarily a must, but performs the job poorly for beef, as it traps the moisture in and makes the meat soggy. To counter that, consider poking holes in the foil (with the help of a toothpick) when smoking meat.

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Written by

Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.