What Can You Cook in an Air Fryer? 7 Fast and Fun Treats

Pork chopped and french fries with cucumbers

It seems like every year, the volume of kitchen gadgets on the market keeps growing. Buying the latest and greatest new kitchen toys, like an air fryer, sounds great but comes with a lot of questions. What can you cook in an air fryer, anyway?

As it turns out, air fryers are useful for frying everything from meat to vegetables to pastries and more. The goal of an air fryer is to make fried foods more healthy. So this might not be the tool you use to cook fried Oreos in — but they’re not out of the question, either.

In my quest to answer “What can you cook in an air fryer?” I found out lots of great recipes and exciting ideas. I even discovered some new facts about how air fryers work. I’ve put it all together here so you can get the most out of your fancy new fryer. Read on to learn how to make your favorite fried foods into healthy eating choices!

What Is an Air Fryer?

Air fryers have joined the ranks of neat countertop kitchen appliances, from Instant Pots to bullet blenders, that promise to expand your culinary world. Modern kitchen appliances have expanded well beyond the microwave to include a range of cooking options so you can make food faster, better, and healthier.

Air fryers do precisely what they sound like: fry foods using air, rather than hot oil. Hot air moving at high speeds cooks your food using convection while leaving the tasty, crispy exterior that we usually associate with fried foods. Countertop air frying has only been available for about 10 years, so it’s a relatively novel idea.

However, the term “air fryer” is a little misleading: even though this appliance primarily relies on air to cook your food, it still requires you to use oil — just not as much. You’ll find that some recipes still need a fair amount of oil to taste good, so this isn’t a perfect solution to oil frying, just an improvement. But you can use higher-quality oil in your air fryer since you don’t need as much, which makes this method more appealing.

How Do Air Fryers Work?

In order to answer “What can you cook in an air fryer?” it helps to understand how they work. This method works well for some foods, but won’t give you the best results for everything.

If you’ve ever used a countertop convection oven, an air fryer essentially works the same way. The small appliance cooks food faster than a traditional oven does, using a combination of heat and a fan.

The heat and the fan are at the top of the fryer. You’ll put your food in a basket, as you would for deep frying, inside the machine. But unlike deep frying, the air does most of the work of cooking here, rather than the oil.

When the air is hot enough and moving fast enough around the food, it’ll produce a crisp, fried exterior. That’s the main difference between an air fryer and a regular convection oven: how fast the air moves.

The Maillard reaction

Fast-moving hot air can fry foods thanks to a reaction called the Maillard reaction. This chemical reaction is often associated with browning foods, but it’s not the only reaction that results in browning.

At temperatures of about 280-330 degrees Fahrenheit, this reaction between sugars and amino acids begins. Even more so than browning, the Maillard reaction is responsible for creating flavor. If you’ve ever walked into a kitchen laden with the delicious aroma of fried, roasted, or baked food, you have the Maillard reaction to thank. The interaction between sugars and amino acids creates the smells and tastes we love about cooked food.

However, not all cooked food undergoes this reaction. It requires a combination of high temperatures and dry surfaces. Steamed, boiled, and poached foods don’t experience the Maillard reaction, which is why they never smell the same as foods cooked using higher temperatures and less moisture (think grilling, frying, and more).

This reaction can interact with food in many different complex ways, but when it comes to air frying, it’s pretty straightforward: you get all the deliciousness of frying thanks to this effect. Health costs are fewer thanks to the minimum of oil.

Using less oil also means making less of a mess than traditional frying, so air fryers hold an appeal even for those who aren’t health-conscious. With some models, you can even put the air fryer basket right into the dishwasher.

Even better, air fryers are one of the easiest countertop appliances to use — just plug it in and go. Like microwave cooking, you need no special skills to use the appliance.

The Problem with Deep Frying

Deep fry of potato fries

Image via: Pixabay

Are air fryers really that much better than deep fryers, though?

In a deep fryer, the high heat levels cause the oil to oxidize, which makes it even less healthy. The high heat also leaches almost all the nutrients out of your food, so you’re left with nutrient-deficient foods soaked in the most unhealthy kind of oil.

Air fryers use lower temperatures and less oil to produce a Maillard reaction and a crisp exterior on your food. You’ll retain more nutrients with this cooking method, and soak your food in less oil. And even if you were to add the same amount of oil, lower heat means less oxidizing, making it healthier overall.

Plus, air fryers make it easy to use healthier and more expensive oils, like avocado and olive oil, which are “good fats.” Deep-frying oils are cheaper, less healthy — think massive quantities. With healthier oils that will only oxidize a little bit, you remove most of the health concerns associated with fried foods.

What Can You Cook in an Air Fryer? Our Favorite Ideas

With these benefits in mind, it’s easy to see the value of air-frying your foods. Here are some of our favorite air-fried dishes to try!

Without further ado, here is the answer to your question of “what can you cook in an air fryer?”

Doughnuts

Doughnuts are one of the foods most traditionally associated with unhealthiness — but you can change the game with an air fryer. Use pre-made dough to speed up the process while getting results just as good as regular frying.

Frozen foods

You know those frozen, fried foods you usually make in the oven (or if you’re really lazy, the microwave)? Think chicken nuggets, pizza rolls, fries, onion rings, and more. You can get better results from your air fryer than you would from the oven — and definitely the microwave — with these. And, although they’re not exactly healthy to begin with, at least you’re not making them worse.

Ravioli

One of the best things about asking “What can you cook in an air fryer?” is all the creative answers you can come up with. Just think about how elevated your ravioli will become when it has a crispy, air-fried exterior!

Baked goods

Baking may not immediately come to mind when you ask “What can you cook with an air fryer?” But an air fryer can do double duty as a countertop oven, as well as a fryer. This means it offers a quick, easy way to make rolls, bagels, brownies, cookies, and other baked goods.

Chips

We all love the idea of homemade chips, but somehow, the ones baked in the oven rarely seem to come out right. Enter the air fryer, where chips made with anything from potatoes to kale tend to come out beautifully.

Egg rolls

What can you cook in an air fryer? How about, eggrolls!

Egg rolls are notoriously hard to get right when cooked at home, leading many people to wait until they have the chance to visit a restaurant. But in an air fryer, you can get that perfectly crisp, not overcooked, egg roll exterior every time.

Chicken wings

If you love wings, but can’t stand the thought of swapping out fried wings for healthier oven-baked ones, an air fryer makes the perfect compromise. Plus, they’ll cook faster with less cleanup needed using this method.

What Can You Cook in an Air Fryer? Not These! Foods to Avoid

Cheese with grapes all above it

Image via: Pixabay

What can you cook in an air fryer? The answer might seem to be pretty much everything — but there are still a few foods that won’t work. Here’s what to avoid.

Battered foods

If you want a crispy battered coating, an air fryer sadly won’t cut it. In an air fryer, the batter won’t stick to the food while the hot air circulates, so you’ll end up with a mess. You can find some breading recipes that work for air fryers, but they’ll be a little different from the traditional batter.

Raw veggies

Frozen veggies do great in an air fryer, but raw ones rarely come out well. They tend to get soggy, instead of crisping up nicely.

Melty foods

Melty items like cheese also won’t work in an air fryer. Since they can’t be effectively battered, they’ll just melt in the hot air, making a mess that’s no fun to clean up. For anything that’s prone to melting, stick to traditional frying.

Is an Air Fryer Right for You?

Air fryer word typed in a typewriter

Image via: Pixabay

So, what can you cook in an air fryer? With the exception of a few specific things, the sky (or your imagination) is the limit. Thanks to this hybrid oven-fryer tool, you have a whole new world of culinary options on your hands.

Air fryers can be pricey, and they’re certainly not essential in the kitchen. But if you find yourself deep-frying things often, or wishing for a quick, easy alternative to your oven, an air fryer might just be the perfect investment.

What would you like to try cooking in an air fryer? Leave a comment and let us know!

Last update on 2021-09-18 at 06:40 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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