Air fryers are one of the most convenient appliances you can have in your kitchen. In just a few minutes, they can produce amazing results. As they continue to gain popularity, home cooks have discovered that most air fryers can also toast, bake, and even dehydrate.
Yet, while they are extremely versatile, some foods cannot be cooked in them. So, what can you not cook in an air fryer? Before we talk about that, let's start with the basics first.
- What Is an Air Fryer?
- Benefits of Cooking in An Air Fryer
- Common Misconceptions About Air Fryers
- What Can You Not Cook in An Air Fryer?
- Other Foods to Avoid Cooking in an Air Fryer
- Why These Foods Do Not Fare Well in An Air Fryer
- Safety Concerns When Using Air Fryers
- Tips to Effectively Use An Air Fryer
- Alternatives To Air Frying Certain Foods
- The Bottom Line
What Is an Air Fryer?
An air fryer is a countertop convection oven that is either a toaster oven style or a classic basket style. The best one for you depends on how many functions you need it to do and how much food you will be cooking at a time.
How Does an Air Fryer Work?
Using convection-style heating, an air fryer circulates hot air generated by a heating element with the aid of a fan. This ingenious process evenly envelops the food in a compact chamber, resulting in swift and efficient cooking.
The outcome? A delightful crispy texture similar to what you'd expect from traditional deep frying.
What Can You Cook in an Air Fryer?
You can cook just about anything in an air fryer. The most common foods are French fries, chicken wings, and frozen veggies, but the possibilities extend far beyond that.
You can create savory tofu dishes, roast chicken, whip up delectable desserts, and air fry frozen mozzarella sticks. Many also use their air fryers to reheat leftovers or for toasting bread in the morning.
Benefits of Cooking in An Air Fryer
There are many benefits to cooking in an air fryer. The biggest advantage to using it is that they rapidly cook food. But unlike traditional cooking methods, it doesn't heat up your kitchen as much. Perhaps the most enticing benefit is its unique talent for crisping up food while locking in moisture within.
The concept of hot air enveloping food mirrors the principle of hot oil in conventional frying, yet with a healthier twist.
Originally marketed as a nutritious alternative to deep frying, air fryers rely on air rather than copious amounts of oil to cook food. Even when you do use a touch of oil in an air fryer, it's minimal. This means you can enjoy the crispy, flavorful results without the guilt of excessive fat consumption.
Common Misconceptions About Air Fryers
There are several misconceptions about air fryers that have been circulated by false information. Having personally used them extensively, I can confidently debunk many of these myths based on my firsthand experience.
Air Fryers Are Deep Fryers
Air fryers heat up food by using hot air instead of hot oil. In fact, they use little to no oil during the cooking process, while deep fryers use oil as the main medium.
You Do Not Need to Use Oil
This is a misnomer. While it is true that you don't need to use oil, using oil can, and often should, be done. A tablespoon or two of oil brushed onto the food or placed in an oven-proof container will produce crispier results and help the interior of the food retain its moisture.
You Don’t Have to Preheat an Air Fryer
While you don't technically have to preheat an air fryer or even an oven, you get the best results when you do. This is because putting food into a preheated oven means it will cook evenly because the chamber is already at the desired temperature.
What Can You Not Cook in An Air Fryer?
Foods With a Wet Batter
Wet battered foods cannot be cooked in an air fryer because the batter will just spill into the bottom of the air fryer and create smoke, ruining your dish in the process.
Air fryer baskets are perforated to allow the hot air to circulate around the food being cooked. Wet batters leak through these holes and create a huge mess. The only exception is if you are using a heat-safe dish with the batter in it.
Examples of foods with wet batter:
- Beer battered fish
- Pancake batter
- Bread dough
Leafy greens should not be cooked in an air fryer because they are lightweight and will blow around the air fryer. Even if they didn't, they would more than likely burn.
The circulating air will blow the greens out of the basket and possibly into the heating element, which can then catch fire. They are also delicate and cannot handle the intense heat of the air fryer. In the best-case scenario, they might cook unevenly; in the worst, they could char completely.
Examples of leafy greens:
- Collard greens
- Bok choy
Quick Tip: Although I do create kale chips with my air fryer. To prevent the greens from flying around, I simply put another air fryer rack on top. Voila! Kale chips.
Whole roasts should be avoided in air fryers because of their size. The meat will not cook evenly because the hot air won't have enough room to circulate properly.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when using their air fryer for the first time is overcrowding the air fryer basket. Come to think of it, even if the roast fits the air fryer, the part closest to the heating element will most likely burn.
Examples of whole roasts:
- Pot roast
- Roast chicken
- Beef brisket
- Pork loin
Fresh cheese, just like battered food, will melt and leave a gooey mess in the bottom of the air fryer. That's because cheese melts easily and becomes a stringy mess if not properly contained.
The gooey mess at the bottom of the air fryer will burn, create smoke, and become unbearable to clean. On the plus side, there are air fryer recipes to make a delicious grilled cheese sandwich.
Like leafy greens, raw rice and other grains should not be cooked in an air fryer because they are too lightweight.
The windstorm that is your air fryer will toss the grains around, not allowing them to cook and leaving you a mess to clean up. Those who want perfectly cooked rice would fare better with a rice cooker instead.
That said, an air fryer is also a good kitchen appliance to have handy if you love fried rice. You can place cooked rice in a heat-resistant pan to finish in an air fryer for a nice crisp.
Examples of raw grains:
Freshly Seasoned Foods
Seasoned foods like those with a loose seasoning rub, should not be cooked in an air fryer because the circulating air will blow the seasoning around, just like raw grains. Seasonings such as fine salt, leafy herbs, and others used for rubs should be avoided.
Other Foods to Avoid Cooking in an Air Fryer
Foods That Are Too Large
You should avoid putting large foods in an air fryer because, like roasts, they are too big. Even if they fit in your air fryer, the large portion will block airflow and the food will cook unevenly. The top portion will usually burn because it is too close to the heat source.
Examples of large foods:
- Roast chicken
- Whole duck
- Whole chicken
Foods That Are Too Delicate
Delicate foods require delicate techniques to properly cook. A lot of people mistake an air fryer for the same thing as using oil, but it's not. They use intense heat, which can ruin some foods like flaky fish or light pastries. Pastries, like several other things on this list, are also too lightweight to cook in an air fryer.
Examples of delicate foods:
- Flaky fish
- Puff pastries
Foods That Are Too Oily
Oily foods should not be cooked in an air fryer because the oil drips into the chamber and burn, which will mess up your dish. Burgers are considered oily and should be avoided for the same reason. Even if you do try, it's almost impossible to get a medium rare burger due to the air fryer's heat.
Examples of oily foods:
- Full-fat dairy products
Preparing pasta in an air fryer just makes no sense. You need plenty of water for cooking pasta in, even if you prefer it al dente.
Even if you could cook pasta in an air fryer, it would be a small batch and probably not worth your time. Trust me, you're better off firing up the stove top instead. Although, if you do want to place already cooked pasta in your air fryer to crisp it a bit, that is reasonable.
Why These Foods Do Not Fare Well in An Air Fryer
Cooking is chemistry and science, plain and simple. Just as oil and water don't mix (the exception being emulsification, but that's another story), the chemistry makeup of particular foods means they just won't cook in an air fryer because of the intense heat source and, sometimes, they melt into a gloppy mess.
Food Properties and Air Fryer Limitations
Certain food properties like fat, dairy, or oils are not air fryer friendly. Fat curdles under intense heat; dairy products like cheese melt. And when fat drips to the bottom, it can cause a fire.
Starches like raw grains or pasta require water to cook. As you can imagine, boiling water in an air fryer is not a good idea because the circulating air will splash the water around.
The Role of Moisture Content and Density
Moisture and density are two major considerations when air frying. On the one hand, if there is not enough moisture in the food, the hot air will dry it out and possibly burn your food. On the other hand, if there is too much water, it can leak into the chamber and start creating smoke.
Density is important for a couple of reasons. One, if your food of choice is too light, it will blow around the air fryer. Some weights can be used for certain items, but sometimes it's safer to just use a toaster oven or traditional oven.
If the food item is dense, like a roast, the outside will cook faster than the inside due to the direct heating from the element. This creates a charred mess with an undercooked interior.
The Issue With Food Volume and Air Circulation
Air circulation is critical to how an air fryer works. As such, a mistake people often make is overcrowding the air fryer basket or rack. This can be in the form of too much food or a single item that is too big for the air fryer to do its thing.
The air wraps around the food like oil does in a deep fryer. Improper airflow is like deep frying something with half of it sticking out of the oil; it just doesn't work. At best, you'll have food that is unevenly cooked.
Volume is also important in an air fryer because you don't want any part of the food to be too close to the heating element. This can block the heat from the air fryer chamber, and the portion of the food that is too close to the element will likely burn.
Safety Concerns When Using Air Fryers
As with any cooking device, there are some safety issues with air fryers, but nothing that a little preparation cannot fix.
Potential Risks of Overheating or Overloading
Air fryers usually overheat for two reasons: adding too much oil or overloading the basket or rack.
Most of them have a maximum temperature of 400° F. However, too much oil or food in an air fryer can raise the temperature higher than this, which causes overheating. When this happens, the air fryer will smoke or potentially catch fire.
If you choose to use oil, it is best to brush it over the food rather than place it in the air fryer in a dish. So, if you have a small air fryer and are preparing for a crowd, be prepared to cook in small batches.
Safety Measures to Follow
- Make sure the air fryer is clean and dry before using.
- Do not crowd the basket; allow enough space between the food items for air to flow.
- Keep the air fryer at least 10 to 12 inches away from the wall.
- Don't use an air fryer around moist areas, like a dishwasher that is in use.
- Make sure the cord is secured so nobody trips on it.
Tips to Effectively Use An Air Fryer
An air fryer will quickly become your favorite kitchen appliance, and there are a few tips to help you learn how to safely and effectively use one.
Understanding Your Air Fryer's Capacity
As you see, this is a common topic, and for good reason. Overcrowding an air fryer is a common mistake, and it is often made because the person bought the wrong size air fryer.
In that case, I suggest buying an air fryer one size larger than you think you'll need to be on the safe side.
If you only plan to cook for two to four people at a time, a 4.5-quart size is probably all you'll need. But I would go with a 6- or an 8-quart, as there may come a time when more food is needed. Plus, you won't have to worry about overcrowding the basket.
Preheating For Optimum Results
Preheating an air fryer takes between three and five minutes, which is usually less time than your prep work. To be fair, an air fryer doesn't have to be preheated, but it's the best way to go. The reason for this is even heating.
If you place food in a cold air fryer, different parts of the food will cook at different times as the air fryer heats up. Placing food in a preheated air fryer eliminates these problems because all of the food will be exposed to the same temperature at the same time.
If you preheat the air fryer, you can almost guarantee your food will cook to the correct temperature every time. To make sure, use a meat thermometer, especially on pork or chicken.
Ensuring Proper Food Preparation Before Air Frying
Proper food preparation is important for the quality of the finished product and for the safety of the air fryer. If you are using oil, brush on or toss the food in a bowl with a just enough oil, making sure it is not dripping before adding it to the basket.
Avoid using sauce unless you are using an oven-safe dish with no handles. Basically, avoid any prep involving dripping liquid, or else you will have smoke in your air fryer and your food.
Avoid rubs and dry seasoning because the air will blow them around the air fryer, leaving you with a big mess to clean up afterward. You can season the food once it's cooked, but don't use loose herbs, fine salt, or similar herbs and powdered spices.
Alternatives To Air Frying Certain Foods
Though air frying is a healthier alternative, certain foods are just better or safer cooked the traditional way. Pasta and most cheese dishes, for example. If you're making pasta, the stovetop method is the best way to go. For larger pieces of food, like roasts, the oven or an electric grill is a great choice.
Delicate items like fish and cakes need delicate techniques to cook properly and should not be cooked in an air fryer. As much as I love my air fryer, I just can't use it for every dish.
There are modern appliances that can expedite your preparation time and make you look like an executive chef. The Instant Pot is by far my favorite.
It has been around since the air fryer, and it amazes me as much as my air fryer. There are a ton of delicious recipes you can make, and I have yet to have any sort of issue. The best part? The food always comes out perfect!
Compared to an oven, I prefer a slow cooker for roasts because an oven produces a lot of heat. Sous vide is an interesting form of preparation where you place your food in an airtight bag and cook it in water. The beauty of sous vide is that the food will never go above the desired temperature.
The Bottom Line
Air fryers are awesome, but they have limitations. Due to the makeup of some food, they simply cannot be cooked in an air fryer. Fortunately, the list is short, and there are other easy ways to cook these particular foods.
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