1

I see a lot of recipes for tinfoil packet meals: various vegetables or meats and aromatics wrapped in tinfoil and baked/roasted. What is the benefit of roasting using a tinfoil packet compared to just roasting in a normal roasting pan?

4

The packet keeps in most of the moisture, and also changes the way the food is heated - less radiation and convection, more conduction. These two factors change the taste of the food. It gets better heated throughout, less browning, and on the whole, it is more similar to what cooks call "wet heat" than "dry heat" despite being in an oven. This is what makes "packaged" recipes culinary different from the same food, simply roasted. It used to be even more important back in the age of wood fired ovens, which gave much less even heat. Note that tinfoil is just one of the options - you can wrap in other inedible substances like banana leaves, or edible ones, like making dolmas or meat pies.

A second very important difference is the matter of presentation, taking a piece of wrapped food gets perceived differently than taking a few spoonfuls of roasted vegetables out of a pan. Many en papillote preparations are more aesthetically pleasing than the ones that use tinfoil, but even the foil ones are, if not prettier, at least different.

Then you get into edge cases like the problem of baking a lump of cheese without losing all the fat, and so on. But for most foods, open roasting is an option, and wrapped roasting gets done because it is a different option, not because it is how it has to be done.

2

There are a couple benefits:

  • Ease of clean-up. This is the most likely scenario. I, personally, find that Americans like to waste a lot of resources to avoid clean-up tasks, and this is one of the ways.

  • Mess prevention. Roasting in pans can have spills and drips that this helps avoid.

  • Controlled environment. By using packets you can get some stock or other flavorful liquid in there and only use a little. The cooking environment will stay moist with only a little liquid.

  • Contain the flavors. I have not tested this but the smaller the enclosed space the less aromatic compounds you lose when cooking. I don't really buy this, because those compounds are moving as the temperature increases...but there is a little logic to it.

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    I'd add one more: customizable. If you have someone who's allergic to peppers, you can make a separate packet that doesn't have any. – Joe Aug 30 '18 at 19:42
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A lot of foil packet preparations are done so the entire meal can be done on a grill.

It's much more convenient to do all the cooking with one device, rather than, say roasting vegetables in the oven and cooking meat outside on the grill.

  • I roast vegetables on the grill without the packet method all the time. – bruglesco Aug 31 '18 at 4:14
  • @bruglesco : it depends on how far the bars are spaced on your grill. (I prefer a grill basket myself). But they're almost always useful for cooking on a campfire so you don't need to haul in heavy pots and pans – Joe Aug 31 '18 at 19:23
  • @Joe but the answer doesnt mention campfire cooking. That I would upvote. – bruglesco Sep 1 '18 at 3:18

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