Aluminum foil has been a go-to in our household for baking for as long as I can remember. Although it’s relatively expensive, the convenience factor more than makes up for it.
Whether we’re baking cookies, fries, or just about anything else, we simply throw our food on some foil, throw it in the oven, and wait until it’s done. Once the food’s cooked, we pull it out (no oven mitt needed), then simply toss the foil in the trash.
Would it make more sense to use a washable, reusable cookie sheet or baking pan? Probably. But, with two kids and full-time jobs, we do what we can to save time, and it doesn’t get much easier than that.
That’s not to say that we always choose to use foil, but any time our lives get a little too busy, we don’t hesitate to take shortcuts. After all, we all have more important things to do than wash dishes, am I right?
While I’ve already established that you most definitely can put tinfoil in the oven, should you do it? And, is it safe?
Let’s dig into the details to find out.
Make sure to also find out whether or not it’s smart to use aluminum foil in a slow cooker.
Can You Put Tin Foil in the Oven?
These days, what some people call tin foil is actually aluminum foil. For the remainder of this article, you can assume that I am referring to aluminum, not that it really makes much of a difference.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, yes, you can safely put foil in the oven. However, there are appropriate and not-so-appropriate uses that I will discuss below. There are also valid safety concerns to consider, which are not so clear cut.
Before jumping into some common uses for foil, here are a few other items you might be wondering about, some of which are surprisingly safe to use in your oven.
Common Ways to Use Foil in the Oven
There are several ways in which foil has traditionally been used in the oven. Some are good, while others not so much. Let’s take a quick look at each of the common methods.
1 – On the Bottom of the Oven
One common way that used to be a very popular method for using foil in the oven is to line the bottom of the oven itself. It’s thought that this is a good way to keep your oven clean by catching any food or liquid that falls from above.
In theory, this makes sense. However, this practice is highly discouraged. Lining the bottom of your oven with foil causes a couple of issues.
First, the aluminum foil can stick to the porcelain surface, which not only can be difficult to remove, but can cause damage over time.
Next, the foil reflects heat, which can not only cause uneven cooking, but can also potentially damage the heating elements in your oven. This is obviously not worth the risk.
2 – On the Bottom Oven Rack
Similar to the first method, another common practice is to line the bottom rack of the oven with foil. The idea behind this method is the same: to catch food and liquids that drop from the upper racks.
This method of using foil in the oven isn’t nearly as dangerous as the first method. However, it still has its problems. The main issue that this will cause is uneven heating.
For an oven to work properly, it needs unimpeded airflow and even heating. By covering the bottom rack with aluminum foil, you won’t allow these things to happen. This can lead to unevenly cooked foods.
3 – Wrapped Around Food
Another common practice is to wrap foods in foil. Wrapping meat and vegetables in foil helps to retain moisture. It also helps keep liquids in when marinating.
For the most part, there’s nothing wrong with wrapping your food in foil. However, there are some safety concerns to keep in mind, which I’ll cover further down.
4 – Directly on the Rack
A method that I’m all too familiar with is putting aluminum foil directly on the rack. Unlike the second method mentioned above, the purpose of this method is to put the food directly on the foil itself.
This practice is completely acceptable and makes the cleanup process a breeze. However, when putting food directly onto foil, you run the risk of the foil ripping, leading to liquids seeping through.
You’ll also want to avoid putting food directly onto foil, then putting the foil directly onto an oven rack, when the food doesn’t have a lot of structure. For example, baking cookies this way would not be ideal.
5 – On Top of a Baking Sheet
The last method that I’ll mention is another one that we use from time to time, and that is to put a layer of aluminum foil on top of a baking sheet.
The idea behind this is pretty simple. By putting your food on top of a foil sheet, instead of directly on the pan, you’re able to simply crumple up and toss the foil when you’re done, without dirtying up the baking sheet. It effectively solves the issue with the fourth method mentioned above.
Is It Safe to Use Foil in the Oven?
Aluminum can be found all over in our environment and is even in our food, both naturally and through additives. With that being said, our bodies are well-equipped to handle low levels of it.
The problem arises when you’re exposed to high levels of aluminum. When baking with foil, you do run the risk of getting aluminum in your body via small pieces tearing off or from small amounts leaching into the food.
Studies have show that certain factors contribute to the amount of aluminum that can potentially contaminate your food. Acidic foods, certain spices, and high cooking temperatures have all been found to increase the likelihood of aluminum making it’s way into the food being cooked on the foil.
One study tested various meats wrapped in foil and found an increase in the concentration of aluminum increased by up to over 375% in one scenario.
The Pros and Cons
We’ve determined that aluminum foil is safe to use in the oven, but is it worth the risk of increasing the concentration of aluminum in your food? Let’s take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of using foil in your oven.
- Makes cleanup quick and easy
- Allows you to bake without a pan or baking sheet
- Can potentially catch drips, if placed on the lowest rack
- Can be used to retain moisture
- Potentially eliminates the need for an oven mitt
- Aluminum can potentially leach into your food
- The surface is non-stick, so you’ll need to use grease or oil
- Foil tears easily, potentially leading to liquids leaking though
- Not ideal for foods that don’t have a solid structure
- Can damage the oven when used to line the bottom
- Can alter the results of your baked goods
Whether or not the pros outweigh the cons is a personal preference. In our case, we try not to use foil, unless we’re busy and feel like we could really use the extra time afforded by the easy cleanup process.
Alternatives to Baking with Foil
If you’ve decided that it doesn’t make sense to use aluminum foil for cooking, you do have some alternatives to choose from.
Baking Pan / Cookie Sheet
Using a baking pan or cookie sheet will lead to similar results as using aluminum foil, but without the risk of it falling apart. A baking pan with raised edges is also much better for keeping liquids from spilling out into your oven.
Like foil, parchment paper can be used as a layer on top of a baking sheet. The benefit is the same: quick and easy cleanup. Unlike foil though, parchment paper has a non-stick surface.
Instead of wrapping foods in foil, you can use a dutch oven to keep the moisture in. A dutch oven is typically made of iron or ceramic and has a lid that fits tightly, keeping moisture from escaping.
Silicone Oven Liner
If you insist on lining the bottom of your oven to catch spills and drips, consider using a silicon oven liner. Unlike aluminum foil, silicon liners don’t reflect heat. They also won’t get stuck to the bottom of your oven and are typically dishwasher safe.
The Oven Rack
The last option that I’ll mention is to use the oven rack itself. This will only work for certain types of food, like pizza. This of course is one of the reasons that some people line the bottom of their ovens with foil, which is not something you should do.
As stated above, you most definitely can put aluminum foil in the oven (as long as you’re not coating the bottom of the oven itself). However, there are some valid safety concerns to consider.
To be on the safe side, use an alternative when possible, and at least avoid using foil when cooking at high temperatures or cooking acidic foods.