Patting dry with paper towels is really wasteful. I would like to pat dry meat with something reusable like a kitchen towel, yet I fear some of the bacteria will remain on it and make it contaminated.

Is there a substitute for paper towels?

Also, do not confuse this question with: Do you use paper or clothe towel

This is about the safety of using a reusable drying material, not it's culinary efficacy.

  • IMO, using muslin is about the same thing a using a kitchen towel, you still have to handle it, clean it, desinfect it...
    – Max
    Mar 8, 2016 at 12:21
  • @Max: Technically yes, but I think a muslin is less likely to leave behind any fabric ("hairs", "fluff") than a kitchen towel, hence the suggestion. I've never tried it though, that's why only left it as a comment. You can cook in a muslin, which I wouldn't do with a kitchen towel. Mar 8, 2016 at 12:30
  • I've never tried it but rubbing salt over the meat should work. I don't know now if this would be less wasteful though.
    – Ross Ridge
    Mar 8, 2016 at 17:15

5 Answers 5


There are only four ways that I know of other than towels (paper or otherwise) to dry meat:

  • Air circulation
  • Time (in a relatively dry environment).
  • Heat
  • Momentum

Most people avoid the heat approach, as you'll start to cook it once it's hot enough to be safe for long-term storage of meat. Some recipes may start in a low oven to dry the surface, then remove it, let the oven pre-heat to a higher temperature, then finish cooking. (as it's difficult to give recipes that know how quickly your oven heats up).

For momentum, you basically have to flick the meat such that the water gets flung off. Which is prone to lots of problems (letting go of the meat, plus the spraying of contaminated liquid everywhere). You could use a salad spinner, but if you did, I'd recommend keeping a separate one for meats, as you don't want to risk contaminating other ingredients that would be eaten raw.

For the airflow, you can set it under a low speed fan ... avoiding high speeds so you don't end up aerosolizing the moisture and flinging it through the kitchen.

Or you can place the food in a ventilated container and leave it in your fridge overnight ... possibly with a battery powered fan in the fridge to improve airflow.

As all of these ideas have drawbacks (food safety, time, etc.), most people just accept the waste of using paper towels. There are a few times when one of the others might be used (food dehydrating, trying to get a glaze to set up (eg, peking duck), dry brining, etc.), but they're relatively rare.

  • 1
    This is a good answer but it might undersell the airflow/time solution a bit, depending where you live. In my area we have a very dry and warm climate for most of the year, so a steak (for example) straight out of a wet package set out on a cooling rack (for circulation) will usually dry sufficiently in the same time it takes to come to room temperature.
    – Air
    Mar 8, 2016 at 17:56

if you use a kitchen towel to pat-dry meat, then you have to discard (wash) it after a single usage, not really practical if it is not wash-day at your house. or if you decide to wash it (more or less) on its own, then it is a waste of water/detergent/energy.

If it is about safety, use paper towels; dry the meat, trash it.

It it convenient cheap, safe, (more) ecological if made with recycled paper.

Instead of using "white" paper towels, you could use brown paper rolls, which are cheaper and do the same work.

  • Wouldn't using brown paper rolls leave the OP with the same problem: It's wasteful? Mar 8, 2016 at 12:32
  • @WillemvanRumpt : yes, but the energy to produce them is lower ... so unless they have to ship them in from further away, there's less energy wasted.
    – Joe
    Mar 8, 2016 at 15:06
  • @Joe: Yeah, I understand, but to my mind if you're worried about the waste produced by kitchen paper, replacing it with brown paper is hardly an improvement. Although that's up to the OP to decide, of course. Mar 8, 2016 at 15:10
  • @WillemvanRumpt : and you have to consider what the cost of hot, clean water is to clean a fabric towel. There are going to be some areas where paper towels are actually less wasteful than washing a cloth one.
    – Joe
    Mar 8, 2016 at 15:26
  • @Joe: True. And you have to consider what the cost of recycling used paper is. There are scenarios where boiling water is actually less wasteful than recycling paper. Not saying it to create an argument, but the amount of variables for both operations are so complex, that it's pretty much impossible to come to any Recycled-Paper-Beats-Boiling-Water conclusion (or vice-versa). Mar 8, 2016 at 16:27

Although I haven't tried it, I think using a muslin to pat the meat dry would be a good solution. It's a nice, clean material, with little to no loss of fibers ("hairs", "fluff", don't know what term to use exactly) than a kitchen towel, and I imagine it would still get the job done.

To clean it, you would have to put it in boiling water, and (perhaps?) add a drop of bleach to it, so it's sterilized again. A good quality muslin will has plenty of life in it, and take quite a lot of abuse (including cooking, and using it as a wringer for squeezing out fluids).


I would say you have two options:

1. Buy cheap paper towels made of recycled material, and then recycle those after they've been used.

2. Plan ahead. Put an open box of baking soda in your fridge and leave it there. Remove the meat from its wrapping at least an hour to an hour and a half before you plan to put it in the pan. Place the meat on a wire rack in your fridge and let the cold, dry air remove moisture from the surface of the meat. Et voila! Bone-dry meat avec no paper towels.

  • Don't add food contaminated paper into the recycling stream -- the recyclers really hate that. You might be able to compost them in a commercial or community composting program (where they monitor it to ensure that pathogens have been cooked off), but I wouldn't suggest home composting of meat-contaminated materials. The baking soda to help keep the humidity down in the fridge is a good idea, though.
    – Joe
    Mar 10, 2016 at 2:15
  • @Joe All of my used kitchen paper products go into my composting stream along with all other food products. But I don't compost in the manner that's most familiar to American compost enthusiasts, I bokashi Mar 10, 2016 at 14:36

Brown Paper lunch bags will dry your meat. Crumple it first to soften. Even better, place the chicken in the bags and press lightly.

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