Do you need special pans for an air fryer, or can you make do with what you already have in your kitchen?
As an expert chef, I've spent years exploring the best tools and techniques for perfecting meals, and the air fryer oven is revolutionary.
It promises to cook your food to crispy perfection with minimal oil, but there’s a burning question that many home cooks and food enthusiasts have: the matter of the pans.
In this guide, I will explore whether specific pans are necessary and, if so, which ones work best.
Join me as we get to the bottom of this kitchen conundrum!
- What Is an Air Fryer?
- Benefits of Using an Air Fryer
- Are Special Pans Required for Air Fryers?
- Why Use Special Pans in Your Air Fryer?
- Types of Special Pans Used in an Air Fryer
- Wet Foods
- Helpful Tips For Using Special Pans In An Air Fryer
- Best Size Pan for an Air Fryer
- What Are the Best Pans to Use in an Air Fryer?
- What Pans to Avoid Using in an Air Fryer
- Considerations Before Buying Special Pans
- The Bottom Line on Special Pans and Air Fryer Success
What Is an Air Fryer?
Simply put, an air fryer is a small convection oven that uses hot air instead of hot oil or fat to simulate frying. The small chamber, air circulation, and high heat combine to produce a healthier alternative to traditional fried foods.
There are three types of air fryers. The style you choose will determine how much you can do with each one. It will also determine its distinct features.
1. Classic Basket Style
The classic basket-style air fryer has a single basket where you place food directly inside to cook. It's a simple design that is easy to learn and produces great results.
2. Dual Basket Style
This is the big brother to the classic single-basket style air fryer. As the name implies, it comes with two baskets, so you can fry larger batches of food or air fry two different items simultaneously.
3. Toaster Oven Style
The toaster oven-style air fryer looks different from its contemporaries. It is rectangular in shape and resembles a toaster oven.
Additionally, it uses racks instead of baskets in the cooking chamber and comes with an array of additional functions like baking, dehydrating, pizza oven, and more.
Benefits of Using an Air Fryer
- Healthier Cooking Option: The health benefits are the biggest attraction of an air fryer. It uses hot air to cook food, offering a much healthier alternative to traditional deep frying, which submerges food in oil.
- Signature Crispiness: Despite using convection heating like a standard oven, the smaller cooking chamber of an air fryer produces that signature crispiness we all love, without the excess oil.
- Faster Cooking Time: Air fryers tend to cook food faster than traditional ovens and deep fryers. They preheat in less than 5 minutes and will typically cook most foods in 20-30 minutes.
- Energy Efficiency: Due to their smaller size, air fryers heat up quickly and thus consume less energy compared to traditional ovens.
- Less Heat in the Kitchen: Their compact dimension and rapid cooking pace mean that air fryers have a lesser impact on raising the surrounding temperature, keeping your kitchen cooler.
- Easy to Clean: Air fryers typically have non-stick, removable parts that are dishwasher-safe, making cleanup a breeze after you’ve enjoyed your meal.
- Space Saving: Their compact size is perfect for smaller kitchens, dorm rooms, or for those who simply don’t want another large appliance taking up counter space.
- Versatility: Air fryers aren't just for frying; they can roast, grill, and bake, offering a range of options for preparing your meals.
- Consistent Results: Due to the precise timers and temperatures, air fryers allow for more consistent and repeatable results, ensuring your dish turns out perfect every time.
Are Special Pans Required for Air Fryers?
Most foods that are cooked in an air fryer, such as frozen foods, French fries, and meat, do not require special pans. Wet foods and dishes that contain sauces or batters require a special pan so that they do not drip into the air fryer or shape baked goods like muffins or cupcakes.
While there are specific pans for air fryers, you can also use the pans you already have in the kitchen.
Since air fryers are small convection ovens, any pan that is safe to use in a traditional oven is safe to use in an air fryer. The biggest consideration for choosing the right pan for your air fryer is what you desire the end result to be.
If you are baking muffins or cupcakes, for instance, it is important to use a muffin pan in order to cook them properly. Likewise, if you are using a batter or other wet ingredients, you will need a pan deep enough in order to prevent them from spilling into the air fryer.
Types of Special Pans Used in an Air Fryer
- Muffin pans
- Mini loaf pans
- Cast iron
- Dehydrator racks
- Rotisserie racks
- Vegetable steamer for air fryer baskets
- Baking sheet
Why Use Special Pans in Your Air Fryer?
There are many benefits to using special pans in an air fryer, including proper heat distribution and faster cooking times, especially if the air fryer is preheated before you start cooking food.
Reason #1: Uniform Heat Distribution
Adding food to a preheated pan means that the pan is at the same temperature across all points on its surface, which cooks the food more evenly.
Reason #2: Efficient Heat Retention
Utilizing a pan in the air fryer allows it to effectively retain heat as compared to cooking on a rack, which makes the cooking time shorter.
The heat is then transferred to the food in even layers, which is crucial when cooking proteins, especially chicken and fish so that they don't dry out or become tough.
Reason #3: Cleaner Cooking Experience
Using a pan also keeps the air fryer cleaner and easier to maintain. This is particularly important for avoiding potential fire hazards.
Reason #4: Better Food Quality
Opting for dark baking sheets with short sides in an air fryer crisps food better because they get hotter and retain heat better than a rack or a light-colored pan. Pans or aluminum foil helps a lot in keeping food, particularly fish, from sticking to the air fryer basket or rack.
Reason #5: Preventing Drips and Smoke
Using a deeper pan, like a loaf pan, also prevents food drips from spilling into the air fryer. Drippings, and fat in particular, produce smoke that can potentially ruin the flavor of your food.
Reason #6: Easy Maintenance
These pans help in efficiently catching burnt-on residues, making it easy to clean and maintain your air fryer. Keeping an air fryer clean prolongs the life of the air fryer and prevents possible fire hazards the next time you use it.
Reason #7: Protecting Your Air Fryer
Accumulated grease on racks and baskets can impede proper heat circulation within the air fryer, which leads to uneven cooking of your food and possible wear and tear with every use.
Types of Special Pans Used in an Air Fryer
Non-stick Air Fryer Trays
These are among my favorite pans to use because they provide all the benefits of a baking sheet but are specifically designed for air fryers.
They are slotted and often come with a detachable drip pan, that allows the air to circulate around the food without creating a mess.
Silicone molds are pliable, heat resistant, and dishwasher safe. Using these molds will dramatically cut down on your cleaning time, and they won't warp or melt in an air fryer.
Air Fryer Baking Pans
A non-stick, dark, air fryer baking pan is preferred since it retains heat better than a lighter pan.
Baking pizza is a blast, and baking pizza in your air fryer is even more fun. They make ceramic stones specifically for air fryers, and the end results are fantastic.
The most common size baking dishes for air fryers are 6, 7 or 8 inches. However, the interior dimensions and shape of your air fryer determine which pan is the right size for you to use.
An air fryer basket is perforated for heat distribution, and wet foods will leak through the basket and into the air fryer.
To cook wet food in an air fryer, you must use an air fryer-safe pan with high enough walls to contain the liquid from spilling over.
Helpful Tips For Using Special Pans In An Air Fryer
As long as a pan is oven safe and fits your air fryer, it is appropriate to use. Along with the shape and fit, safety and proper measurement are the two major considerations.
The air fryer needs circulating hot air to cook properly, so the pans have to fit in the air fryer in such a way as not to block airflow. Air fryer-safe pans should also not be too tall, or it will block the heating element.
Tip #1: Measure the Interior of the Air Fryer
When determining if a pan fits an air fryer, don't base the size of the air fryer on its overall size. Two air fryers that can hold the same amount of food can have different size interiors.
The shape of the air fryer is also an important consideration so you know what shape of the pan you will need.
Tip #2: Use Oven-Safe Dishware
Only use dishwares that are oven safe, just as you would in a standard oven. If the dishware is not oven safe, it could warp or even melt and ruin the food and your air fryer.
Tip #3: Don’t Block the Airflow
Whichever pan you use in your air fryer, make sure that there is plenty of airflow around the pan. If not, the food will cook unevenly, and you can possibly damage the air fryer.
Tip #4: Don’t Block the Heating Element
The heating element and the fan that circulates the hot air are at the top of the air fryer. Make sure the pan is not so tall that the heating element is blocked, or you could damage your air fryer.
Best Size Pan for an Air Fryer
The biggest obstacle in choosing a pan for your air fryer is finding the correct shape and size. If you are buying a pan offline, you may want to measure the interior of the air fryer with a tape measurer for best results.
The best size pan for an air fryer is one that is tall enough to contain the food without blocking the heating element, leaves enough room for air circulation, and is oven safe.
Mini loaf pans are great and most air fryers will hold two if needed. There are other options that work just as well.
What Are the Best Pans to Use in an Air Fryer?
When choosing pans to use in your air fryer, it’s essential to consider both the material and the size of the pan. Here's my breakdown of the best materials to use and why they're effective:
- Metal Pans: These can be muffin pans, cake pans, or sheet pans. Metal is excellent for conducting heat quickly and evenly.
- Non-stick Dark Pans: These pans are fantastic for achieving a nice, crispy texture on your food without it sticking to the pan. They absorb heat well, which helps to cook food more quickly.
- Cast Iron: Cast iron pans are perfect for recipes that require high heat and crispiness. They retain heat exceptionally well and are great for searing meats.
- Silicone Molds: Ideal for delicate items like muffins and cakes, as they allow for easy removal after cooking. They don’t conduct heat the way metal pans do, so cooking times may need to be adjusted.
- Aluminum Pans: These pans heat up quickly and cook food evenly. They are lightweight and disposable options are available, making cleanup a breeze.
- Ceramic: Ceramic pans are great for cooking food at a consistent temperature. They are also non-reactive, which means they won’t alter the taste of acidic foods like tomatoes.
- Tempered Glass: While heavier, these pans are excellent for casseroles and dishes that require a longer cooking time at a steady heat.
Cooking in an air fryer is no different than cooking in an oven, except for the size. So, just as you would consider what size and material to use in an oven, the same factors apply to air fryers.
A Note on Air Fryer Styles
If I'm using an air fryer for anything other than air frying, I prefer the toaster or oven-style air fryers. They're bigger than the air fryer basket style and can hold a larger quantity of food and larger pans.
With these models, I can also look through the glass door to ensure the air fryer has enough "breathing room" to cook with. This is essential as proper air circulation is key to achieving that perfect, crispy finish we love in air-fried foods.
Related: Can you put metal in an air fryer?
What Pans to Avoid Using in an Air Fryer
When using an air fryer, safety is paramount. It's essential to ensure that your pans can withstand the high heat generated by these appliances. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
The first thing to look for in an air fryer pan is whether it is air fryer safe. Look for an oven-safe label.
If it doesn't have one and you're not sure if it's oven safe, choose a different pan. Since air fryers cook with high heat, any pan not rated for high temperatures will warp or melt.
Be Cautious with Handles
Pans with handles can be a risky choice, especially if those handles are screwed in and have wooden or plastic grips. These materials can melt at high temperatures.
Ceramic casserole dishes and cast iron pans typically have smaller handles that are part of a composite body, making them a safer bet.
Avoid Teflon and Non-Stick Coatings
Fire is the number one safety issue, but smoke and hazardous fumes are another. Teflon pans should never go in an air fryer.
They have a maximum temperature range of 300°F, and if heated past this point, the material can leach out harmful toxins.
Steer Clear of Paper and Plastic
- Paper Muffin Cups: No paper products should ever go into an air fryer, as they can catch on fire.
- Plastic: Plastic melts at 212°F, which is way below the minimum cooking temperature of an air fryer. The plastic will melt, ruining both your food and your air fryer.
Rethink Light Colored Pans
A light-colored baking dish should be avoided, especially if you are baking cakes. Darker pans absorb and distribute heat more evenly than lighter pans and do not burn the food as fast.
With these guidelines, you can ensure that you’re using the safest and most effective pans in your air fryer, avoiding potential damage to both your appliance and your meals.
Considerations Before Buying Special Pans
Purchasing special pans for your air fryer is an investment in your culinary endeavors, so it’s essential to make thoughtful choices. Here are some factors to consider:
Assess Your Cooking Style and Preferences
Before you buy, consider what types of dishes you'll be making most often in your air fryer. Your cooking preferences are pivotal; you don't want to invest in pans that will just take up storage room if they rarely see the light of day.
For instance, a nonstick air fryer tray can be a versatile first choice, as it’s suitable for a wide variety of foods.
Start with What You Already Own
There is a wide range of specialty pans designed for air fryers available, but starting with a pan you already own can be a wise move.
It allows you to learn which types of pans you'll use the most and can help you save money initially. If you find that you frequently cook chicken or fish, a baking dish may be your go-to.
Quality of Material
The durability and effectiveness of different materials vary. Whether it's non-stick, cast iron, or ceramic, choose a material that suits your cooking style and is built to last.
Price Considerations Price
is always an important factor when thinking about new cookware. If you already have oven-safe dishes that fit in your air fryer, try using these a few times before making a big purchase.
You might discover they are perfectly suited to your needs, saving you from spending unnecessarily. Using these dishes first can also give you a sense of which pans you prefer, helping you make a more informed decision when you are ready to buy.
Size and Fit
Make sure the pans you are considering will fit comfortably in your air fryer. They should be small enough to allow for proper air circulation but large enough to cook a sufficient quantity of food.
The Bottom Line on Special Pans and Air Fryer Success
Special pans for your air fryer oven can greatly enhance your cooking experience, providing even heat distribution and simplifying cleanup, but they aren't always a necessity. Consider your cooking style, the pans you already own, and your budget before making a purchase.
By starting with what you have and understanding your own cooking habits, you can make a thoughtful and cost-effective decision. Remember, the key is to choose pans that are safe and suitable for high temperatures.
Ready to become an air fryer pro? Be sure to check our blog for more invaluable air fryer tips to elevate your culinary game!
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