Air fryers are touted for producing the texture of deep-fried food without the oil and mess. They can also cook frozen chicken tenders and tater tots quicker and make them crispier than in an oven or microwave. Once you start air frying, the possibilities seem endless—roasting vegetables, reheating leftovers, and even cooking fish. While the air fryer pulls its weight in the kitchen, there are foods you should avoid cooking in the air fryer.
To understand why, let’s explore how it works. An air fryer circulates hot air, which heats the exterior of the food quickly much like a convection oven. The food is placed in a basket that has holes underneath to allow the hot air to move through it. Since an air fryer is smaller than a traditional oven, the heating element sits right above the food and a blast of air circulates heat quickly all over.
Here are five smart tips for using the air fryer:
- Don’t walk away for too long. Food tends to cook quickly in an air fryer. You want to be there when you smell the smoke because your food is burning.
- Your food may look fully cooked from the outside, but use a thermometer to ensure it’s cooked to a safe internal temperature.
- Keep air circulating properly by not covering the holes in the basket. For easier cleanup, use parchment paper designed specifically for the air fryer.
- For even faster cooking, don’t overfill the basket.
- Air fryers get really hot, so prevent burns by using oven mitts when handling the basket.
Now that you know how an air fryer works and have tips for using one, here are 10 foods you should never put in your air fryer because they’re messy, are better cooked in the oven or stovetop, or could even be dangerous.
1. Wet Batters
Battered-and-fried foods, like store-bought frozen fish sticks, are a no-brainer in the air fryer. Avoid foods with wet batter, like if you were to make fish sticks from scratch. The batter will drip off and pool in the basket. You’ll end up with a big mess instead of the golden crust you were hoping for. Instead of a batter, coat in spices and flour, like in this Air Fryer Fried Chicken recipe.
2. Loose Leafy Greens
Avoid adding spinach, kale, and any other loose leafy green to the air fryer. The air blows the lightweight greens around in the basket, resulting in uneven cooking. The greens can get stuck in the heating element and burn. Save yourself the mess and stick to heavier vegetables that won’t fly around, like Air Fryer Crispy Cauliflower.
Popcorn is one of my all-time favorite snacks. Though you’ll find many recipes for popping corn in the air fryer, I don’t recommend them. The basket doesn’t have a cover, which means that the kernels blow around and can get stuck in the heating element. You may end up with burnt popcorn, possibly even short-circuiting the air fryer, or worse yet, causing a fire. Making popcorn is quick and easy on the stovetop or in the microwave, and a lot safer.
4. Whole Roasts
It’s tempting to try to cook a whole chicken or other whole roast in the air fryer instead of the oven. Unfortunately, air fryers aren’t meant for cooking large pieces of meat. It’ll cook unevenly—one side may be cooked through while the other is still raw and unsafe to eat. The air fryer cooks equally sized and smaller pieces best. Try Pollo Campero-Style Air Fryer Fried Chicken when you’re craving flavorful, juicy chicken.
5. Cake Donuts
Cake donuts are leavened with baking powder and baking soda, and seem like a good candidate for air frying. Yet, instead of light and fluffy donuts, you’ll get dry and dense ones. Cake donuts need to be fried in hot oil to expand to their full potential and become soft and bouncy. For homemade donuts, follow the classic method and fry them instead.
Counter space in my kitchen is limited. So I understand if you’re wondering if you need both a toaster and an air fryer. Surprisingly, the answer is yes. Even though air fryers excel at getting food crispy, the hot air dries the bread out and makes it more like a cracker than a piece of toast. The air also moves the bread around and causes uneven browning.
7. Cooking Spray
Cooking spray is a convenient choice for making cookie sheets and ceramic casserole dishes nonstick, but it should be avoided in an air fryer. The air fryer basket and grate often have a nonstick coating that cooking spray can damage. Instead of spraying the basket, spray the food. Another option is to brush vegetable oil or olive oil onto the food.
The air fryer basket may lead you to believe that food can be swimming in sauce, boiled, braised, or poached, but this is not the case. Liquids cause steam, which can damage the heating unit. The liquid will splatter as the air blows over it and will make clean-up difficult.
9. Rice and Grains
I love crispy fried rice and crunchy noodles, but dry rice and grains have no place in an air fryer since they should be cooked in a liquid, which is explicitly prohibited by air fryer manufacturers. Plus, they’ll blow around and cook unevenly.
Melty cheese is hard to resist, whether in pasta or a sandwich. Cheese can cause problems in an air fryer when it melts too quickly. You’ll likely end up with a puddle of cheese on the bottom of the basket instead of gooey goodness in your food. This recipe for Air Fryer Mozzarella Sticks provides a solution: coat the cheese in two layers of breadcrumbs and freeze before air frying.