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Best things to cook in an air fryer: What can I cook in an air fryer?

Best Multi Cooker - Ninja Speedi

Looking to try some new recipes? We’ve broken down the best things to cook in the air fryer to keep meals fun and flavourful

Air fryers are quickly becoming an essential part of a kitchen setup. By using hot air to cook food, much like a convection oven, air fryers are a healthier alternative to deep frying and can heat meals in a more efficient way. It’s no wonder people are obsessed with them.

There is plenty of advice out there on the best air fryer to buy and how to best use one, but what foods get the best results? Traditionally, an air fryer works well to create a crispy, golden brown outer layer on foods such as chicken nuggets and hash browns. But this doesn’t mean it is limited to these foods, and you’d be surprised at just how versatile your air fryer can be.

In this article, we’ll break down the best foods you can cook in an air fryer – as well as some to avoid – and show you how you can incorporate them into some delicious dishes. We’ll also go over the best ways to cook air fryer-friendly foods and any nutritional benefits that come with them.

How does an air fryer work?

Today, most electric ovens you can buy are convection (fan) and have a large heating element at the top and bottom of the appliance. This is paired with a small fan at the back to blow hot air around the cavity. Air fryers work in a similar way to this, in that they have a heating element at the top and a large fan that typically sits above the element.

black air fryer on kitchen counter

What sets them apart is size. As air fryers are a lot smaller than ovens, the speed and intensity of the fan is greater, allowing hot air to circulate very quickly and heat up your food. This means foods will usually cook much faster than in a traditional oven and why it is often suggested you cook items at a lower temperature in both air fryers and fan-assisted convection ovens.

You can read more about air fryers in our full “What is an air fryer?” guide.

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How long does food take to cook in an air fryer?

This is wholly dependent on what you are cooking, but as a rule of thumb, air fryers tend to cook food faster than in an oven. Our guide has suggestions which can be cooked in as little as 10 to 15 minutes, but we’ve also included ideas with longer cooking times of up to 40 minutes for more complex meals.

These are just guidelines, though, as cook times can vary based on individual recipes and personal preference.

What should I not cook in my air fryer?

As an air fryer is much like an oven, there’s not much it can’t cook. However, there are some obvious things you should avoid, for the sake of food quality, safety and cleanup. Here are some of the foods that we don’t recommend you cook in your air fryer:

Foods covered in wet batters – Choose foods with a drier batter instead, as these won’t spread and burn.

Foods covered in too much cheese – Having hot, wet cheese in your air fryer tray will be difficult to clean. It could damage the air fryer if it burns and gets stuck on the basket or heating element.

Leafy vegetables – As these are already quite dry, they can come shrivelled in the air fryer and quickly burn. They are better either boiled or pan-fried.

Rice or pasta – If you are reheating pre-cooked carbs or adding protein, vegetables or seasonings, your air fryer can work a treat. However, these foods can only be initially cooked in boiling water. It’s not recommended to add liquids to your air fryer as steam can be created, which will cause damage to the heating element and other parts of your fryer.

The main takeaway from this is that if you wouldn’t cook it in your oven, then it’s probably not suitable for your air fryer.

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Do I need to add oil?

You can, but you don’t have to.

It is commonly believed that cooking with oil is the only way to make food crispy, however, crispiness occurs when heat is transferred to food at a rapid rate. Even though deep frying with oil transfers the most heat (because oil carries heat better than air) and thus the most crispiness, air fryers do an excellent job of crisping up your food without any oil.

However, you are free to use a splash of oil to add some extra crispness or if a recipe calls for it.

What are the best things to cook in an air fryer?

1. Potatoes

ninja air fryer with drawer open to show cooked chipsIn any shape or form, potatoes crisp up beautifully in an air fryer and can be a delicious addition to any meal, whether that be burger and chips or roast Maris Pipers. You can even pop those oven chips in from the freezer with some chicken nuggets, and dinner is ready in no time.

Another benefit to cooking potatoes in the air fryer is not having to boil them first, saving you the extra time cooking and cleaning up afterwards. Having rinsed your potatoes, you may want to pat them dry before putting them into the air fryer, as an excess amount of water on your food could cause it to be steamed, rather than cooked. For the best chips, we recommend this recipe that involves shaking in some salt, rosemary and black pepper. If you’re looking to crisp them up further, adding some cornflour into the mix works wonders.

Potatoes are high in potassium and vitamin C, making them a welcome addition to your diet. They are also an excellent source of carbohydrates, which are key for providing glucose, and thus energy, to your muscles. They are also, most importantly, delicious.

2. Chicken

Tefal Easy Fry 10-In-1 Multifunctional Air Fryer Oven on counterClassic crispy chicken wings are a popular air fryer recipe and we have to agree that chicken is a brilliant choice for this kitchen appliance. The air fryer can maintain a succulent interior while browning the outside of the chicken, making it crispy and golden.

It isn’t just wings, however. Your air fryer can do a fantastic job of cooking every part of the chicken. Beyond wings, our favourites are breasts and drumsticks, particularly with this honey glaze, but there is no limit – there are plenty of air fryers that will allow you to roast a whole chicken as fast, and in some cases faster, than your oven.

Chicken can be added to anything from a classic roast dinner to a nutritious salad. It is also high in protein, which is crucial in building and repairing muscle, and contains nutrients such as vitamin B12 and choline, which are essential for brain function.

3. Fish

fish in air fryer drawer in glazeSimilarly, fish is another excellent choice for your air fryer. While it is ideal for creating a crispy exterior, such as the one you might enjoy with fish and chips, choices such as salmon, sea bass, prawns and squid can all work beautifully in the air fryer.

Much like chicken, fish can be added to a variety of meals. You can opt for a traditional asian-style salmon with honey and soy sauce, or this BBC Good Food recipe which marinates the salmon with mixed herbs, and is sure to get your mouth watering. Alternatively, air frying calamari is a sure way to achieve a crispy, golden brown exterior, and works wonderfully as a side dish with a dip like tzatziki.

As well as tasting great, fish is high in protein and some types, such as salmon and squid, contain high levels of omega-3. In fact, it is recommended by the NHS that we eat at least two portions of fish a week, with at least one of being an oily fish.

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4. Eggs

different types of eggs on kitchen counterWhether they are hard-boiled in sandwiches, scrambled with avocado or fried as part of a full English breakfast, it is hard to go wrong with eggs, and your air fryer can do them all.

It is important to note that unless you are making soft or hard-boiled eggs (whereby the eggs can be popped into the air fryer drawer with their shell), you will need a small, heatproof dish or a ramekin to put your eggs in. Trying to cook eggs out of their shell directly into the air fryer could damage the nonstick coating and this could be transferred to your food. Likewise, be aware of the temperature you are cooking your eggs at, as cooking your eggs too high could cause them to explode and cause damage to the air fryer.

For both scrambled and poached eggs, you will need to line your dish or ramekin with butter or oil, and then crack the eggs inside. To poach, add around 3-4 tablespoons of water, and pop in the drawer until you have reached your desired yolk texture. For scrambled, whisk the eggs before putting them in the air fryer, and cook for 4 minutes, stirring halfway through. If you want to fry your eggs, simply crack the egg in the ramekin with some oil or butter. When your eggs are ready, it is recommended to use some tongs or oven mitts to get the dishes out of the drawer, to avoid burning yourself.

Eggs contain selenium, potassium and B vitamins, and have been linked to improving overall heart health. Try them out in your air fryer and you’ll likely be impressed by the results.

5. Tofu

tofu glazed in a bowl on a blue towel with chopsticksDon’t eat meat or animal products? Fear not, as we would go as far as to say tofu is one of the best things you can cook in your air fryer. As an ingredient, it doesn’t get any more versatile than tofu; and your air fryer can give it that crispy, flavourful outer layer while keeping it soft inside.

In the air fryer, marinated tofu works best – we recommend this teriyaki tofu served up with some rice and veggies, or even something as simple as a lime and coriander marinade works wonderfully.

You can also achieve that crispy outer layer by opting for a firm or extra firm tofu, and tossing it with cornstarch along with your desired seasonings. Tofu can take as little as 15 minutes in the air fryer, just make sure you are giving the drawer a shake every now and then to ensure every bite is cooked to perfection.

Tofu is low in both saturated fat and sodium, and is rich in calcium and iron. It is an excellent addition to a vegetarian or vegan diet, as a solid source of plant-based protein. It can be just as delicious as meat, if not better, especially with the help of the air fryer.

6. Cake

muffins on a plate with an air fryer and a plant in backgroundDessert, anyone? Now that we have covered main meals, nothing ends the night like a slice of homemade cake. And yes, the air fryer is excellent at making them.

Whether it is a classic Victoria sponge, a lemon drizzle or even something chocolatey paired with vanilla ice cream, cakes are a tasty and much-loved dessert.

You can use an ordinary cake tin in your air fryer, provided it fits, but you might need to cover the top with tin foil at the start, as normal air fryers only cook from above. This can cause your cake to brown too quickly at the top. It is also recommended that once your cake is done, you use tongs or oven mitts when removing the tin from the drawer to avoid burning yourself.

It is also worth noting that you’ll likely have to decrease the temperature at which you would normally cook cakes in the oven, due to the intense heat of an air fryer. Air fryer cakes typically cook at around 150℃, but always check the recipe you’re using for exact timings and temperatures. As you would with an oven-baked cake, you can check if it’s done by putting a toothpick into the cooking mix. If it comes out without any batter on it, it’s ready to enjoy.

When it comes to cakes, we recommend keeping things simple on your first go. Then you can expand your repertoire as you learn more about how your specific air fryer model handles them.

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