100 Techniques

Technique #22: Get Great Flavor from Foil-Packet Dinners

Steam, season, and serve using a single sheet of foil.

Published Oct. 10, 2023.

This is Technique #22 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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We wouldn’t blame you if “foil-packet dinners” conjured unsettling images of old-fashioned TV dinners, with their overcooked mystery meat, mushy vegetables, and curious combination of saltiness and blandness.

But the technique of baking food in individual foil packets, which is based on the French method of cooking food en papillote—in parchment-paper pouches—more than holds its own. It’s an efficient, mess-free path to super-flavorful meals that are simple enough to be weeknight staples, yet impressive enough to present to guests.

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The Best Proteins for Foil-Packet Meals

Delicately flavored proteins such as chicken and white fish lend themselves especially well to this technique because they absorb the flavors of the other ingredients. Nestled in a bed of cut-up vegetables or grains, these lean proteins stay very moist thanks to the steam trapped inside the sealed foil pouch, and everything cooks in the protein’s tasty juices.

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How to Prep the Vegetables and Grains

Potatoes, carrots, onion, and other sturdy vegetables make an ideal bed for the protein and, when properly sliced, will cook at the same rate.

Cooked grains or a tiny pasta like couscous are also great. The vegetables or grains both capture the juices from the protein and also insulate the chicken or fish by absorbing the direct heat from the baking sheet that the packets are baked on.

Softer vegetables like tomatoes are best laid on top of the protein so that they don’t turn to mush underneath. Since the ingredients don’t brown and need less added fat compared to other cooking methods, generous seasoning is important (or even preseasoning with salt, in the case of chicken).

Foil Packet Construction

Constructing the pouches is simple; use heavy-duty foil, and be sure to seal the pouches tightly and leave plenty of headroom. This headspace allows the steam to circulate, ensuring that everything cooks at the same rate.

All the usual cues for doneness—how the food looks, feels, smells, and sounds—are hidden inside the foil packet. Luckily, the moist environment of this cooking method makes it very forgiving. We discovered the easiest way to judge doneness was simply to poke a thermometer through the foil near the end of the cooking time to check the protein’s temperature.

Watch how easily this technique makes a weeknight meal.

Step by Step: How to Bake in Foil

Here's how to bake a complete, individual meal in a foil packet.

Step 1: Slice Vegetables

Slice vegetables into pieces that will cook through in time it takes for protein to cook: smaller or thinner pieces for sturdy vegetables like potatoes and larger pieces for softer vegetables like broccoli.

Step 2: Season Generously

Since food is cooked by steaming and less fat is needed, be sure to season ingredients generously.

Step 3: Layer Properly

Layer ingredients on sheet of foil, with sturdier vegetables or grains acting as bed for protein on top.

Step 4: Seal Packet(s)

Seal packets tightly, but allow plenty of headroom so that steam can circulate and cook packet contents evenly.

Step 5: Temp with Thermometer

To determine doneness, poke thermometer through foil.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Use your newfound knowledge of baking in foil with any of these recipes.


Chicken Baked in Foil with Potatoes and Carrots

A quick-cooked meal of chicken and vegetables sounded great. Unfortunately, our first attempts were not much better than an old-style TV dinner.
Get the Recipe

Spiced Fish and Couscous Packets

Moroccan chermoula adds bright earthiness to this simple dish.
Get the Recipe

Thai-Style Fish and Creamy Coconut Rice Packets for Two

Cooking fish en papillote, or in a packet, is ideal when cooking for two.
Get the Recipe

Grilled Cod and Summer Squash Packets

Summer squash and tomatoes cook at the same rate as the fish. An easy microwave garlic oil adds depth.
Get the Recipe

Halibut and Creamy Coconut Couscous Packets

This easy weeknight meal uses the convenient technique of cooking fish in a foil packet.
Get the Recipe

Cod Baked in Foil with Zucchini and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

For an impressive presentation and easy cleanup, bake your fish—and vegetables—in a foil packet.
Get the Recipe

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