Air fryers have gained massive popularity due to the convenience and ease of making a wide range of quick meals. Cooking experts recommend using an air fryer to prepare frozen food, bake cookies, and even "fry" bacon. For the uninitiated, an air fryer isn’t actually a fryer at all but more like a countertop convection oven using a bit of oil. The device circulates hot air using an internal fan for faster cooking times than most standard convection or household ovens.
In addition to quicker results, air fryers are designed to be a healthier alternative to regular deep fryers. The air fryer’s health benefits are the result of the reduction of harmful compounds regular deep fryers produce when heating oil to high temperatures. In reality, the eliminated compounds might actually be replaced by other harmful chemicals if food is charred or burned. Reducing heavy oil in general, however, does put people on the path to healthier eating. The Cleveland Clinic found most people reduce their calorie intake by 70 percent to 80 percent on average when using air fryers.
Despite the ingenuity of the device, you’ll want to avoid using an air fryer for some specific foods out there. Results may vary, but some foods will dry instead of fry, overcook, or just create a mess. Home cooks with health and convenience in mind can also get creative to make some of the following foods on the "no" list into a delicious air-fried dish.
1. Fried food with wet batter
Beer batter on fried fish, corn dogs, and coated wings will crisp into a delicious shell when you fry in oil. The hot oil bath in a deep fryer sets the wet outer layer by rapidly drying the batter into the signature crispy coating. Air fryers aren’t meant to handle wet batter or coating, though, regardless of what the name might suggest. Inside a dry air fryer, there isn’t anything to set the wet batter. Instead, traditional batter will just drip off while the food cooks. You might be prepping tasty corn dogs for the family, but you’ll actually just end up with a mess.
Still craving the crunch with the air fryer? Cooks need to get creative with an air fryer making fried chicken, fish sticks, or schnitzel by instead adapting to the strengths of the machine. Simply dry coat by dredging your food in cornmeal or breadcrumbs as an alternative to a typical wet mixture. Then, add the spices and herbs before tossing in the air fryer basket.
You may be dying to cook broccoli in your air fryer, but air fryers can allow food to get dry. Broccoli without any oil might even turn to dust. As if it wasn’t hard enough to get children to eat their vegetables. In comparison, Stephanie Pixley, deputy food editor of America’s Test Kitchen, found brussels sprouts are air-fryer friendly by retaining enough moisture. Broccoli, on the other hand, just doesn’t crisp in the same way.
But fortunately, air fryer broccoli isn’t a total lost cause. Air fryers roast vegetables much quicker than most household ovens. For this reason, recipes need to be adapted to withstand the high heat and forced air designed to cook the food in an air fryer. Chew Out Loud recommends cutting the florets into similar-sized pieces, so smaller pieces won’t cook faster than others and dry out. Toss the broccoli with powdered spices instead of fresh to avoid burning. The real secret is to then add one tablespoon of water to the bottom of the air fryer. The air fryer broccoli bites are more likely to stay tender and avoid burning. You’ll have broccoli much quicker this way — and without the unpleasant aftertaste.
3. Entire roasts or whole chickens
If you’re wondering if air fryers are just a gimmick, rest assured, this kitchen tool cooks much more than french fries and finger foods. Its abilities are limited, however, when it comes to full roasts and entire chickens. The basket or cooking racks, depending on the model, are smaller in their capacity than an oven — so a roast might not fit. Stephanie Pixley, deputy food editor of America’s Test Kitchen, explains the side of the roast closest to heat source will dry out or burn well before the other side cooks thoroughly. Chicken will end up dried out with a rock-solid exterior in an air fryer.
The issue is you’re likely overcrowding the air fryer basket if you add an entire chicken or roast. Hot air needs to circulate in order for an air fryer to work. To correctly cook chicken in an air fryer, you’ll need to cook a few pieces at a time instead of placing the entire bird inside at once. You’ll want to keep the breasts facing down, then end with the skin facing up since air fryers heat from above. This trick will help make sure your skin is crisp and the meat stays juicy. You can also poke holes in the thighs and drumsticks to help the fat to render.
4. Most cheese
Melting a classic grilled cheese or making homemade jalapeño poppers in an air fryer can cause issues. Flash-melting some Midwest cheese curds would be delicious, but similar to wet batter, the melt makes a big mess. Fresh cheese is especially problematic for an air fryer.
Cheese is one food cooks need to make some adaptations for. Frozen cheese help prevent the cheese from melting and burning quickly under the heat blast.
One recipe explains if you fold the slices of cheese inside the bread, an air fryer grilled cheese won’t burn. The bread also might need to be weighed down so the bread doesn’t slide off. In other words, it’s a bit of extra work when the air fryer is designed to be simple and easy. Grilled cheese might be a classic that should remain on the stovetop. For air fryer cheeseburgers, MommyHatesCooking.com uses aluminum foil to prevent spillover and prevent a stuck-on mess at the end of the night. The aluminum foil will need to be rolled up to allow air to continue to circulate. A bit of non-stick cooking spray also allows for easier removal from the foil.
Hamburgers are a classic favorite, and everyone has a preference on how to prepare it. Many cooks pride themselves on their grill skills whether they’re presenting the Midwest smash burger or insisting a patty cooked to perfection should wear only ketchup. The grill might be the best place for your medium-rare creations if that’s really non-negotiable for you. Chef Ken Wiss told Mental Floss to squeeze the sides of the burger instead of the top to know when it’s done. A true medium-rare patty will show some springy resistance.
Cooking a medium-rare burger in an air fryer is complicated because an air fryer’s forced-air method isn’t designed for the nuances of the burger. A medium-rare burger’s ideal temperature is 130 degrees Fahrenheit, resulting in a pink and warm interior. Business Insider reports reaching medium-rare on the inside of the patty doesn’t take long in the air fryer. The exterior of the burger, however, won’t have time to brown. Burgers are one place where char is delicious, if not a necessity for some diners. But air fryers can easily produce a well-done burger. If that’s what you’re going for, by all means, cook your burger in your air fryer. We won’t judge.
Air fryers are designed to dry cook food by easily circulating hot air in the chamber. Similar to a convection oven, food is then evenly cooked at a high heat. Rice and other grains that need to be submerged in boiling water can’t be cooked inside an air fryer. You might ask, why can’t you cook grains in an air fryer pan insert instead? The Food Network reports the heating coil and fan will never get the temperature inside the machine hot enough to boil the water. Tepid water won’t allow the grains to cook properly.
Rice, pasta, and other grains can be cooked in the air fryer with a little oil and then crisped. All the liquid-heavy grains need to be cooked on a stovetop or rice cooker first. Rice cookers are another time-saving device that takes the guesswork out of a dinner-table staple. It offers the same benefits of being able to set and forget. The duo method could be a time saver if you’re looking for a simple meal without having to stand vigilant over the stove. Add some egg, sriracha, and veggies for a stir-fry for additional some pizazz.
7. Raw veggies
Certain veggies are real winners with an air fryer. Others are a real dud. Similar to how an air fryer broccoli recipe needs to play to the device’s strengths, other raw veggies present a similar challenge. An air fryer doesn’t have the same crisping superpower over raw produce. The Krazy Coupon Lady explains that the results tend to be soggy and unappetizing regardless of the temperature. If raw vegetables are added to a stir-fry or other dish, then the results are much more consistent.
Air Fryer Reviewed has reported that frozen vegetables are a better option for an air fryer. Frozen vegetables might retain more moisture from the ice, and they have an advantage, considering the air fryer tends to over-dehydrate foods with a low oil or moisture content. Frozen veggies are also often iced soon after being harvested and usually picked at peak ripeness. This means frozen veggies can be a lot fresher than raw produce in the grocery aisle. You also don’t have to worry about the nutritional value. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports frozen foods retain their vitamins and minerals in some cases better than fresh foods. Now, you can add frozen foods as one more healthy time-saver in your toolbox.
8. Dry seasonings
Despite the varied design, all air fryers operate by circulating hot air. A fan moves heat into the chamber so rapidly it’s like a little wind tunnel. Dry rubs using fine spices such as pepper, salt, and ingredients that are leafy or light need to be used sparingly. Loose seasoning will whip around the container instead of sticking to and flavoring the food. Continued over-seasoning might even clog the machine. Plus, it’s a waste of your spices.
The solution to dry-spiced foods in an air fryer? Just Cook recommends seasoned food to be coated in a bit of oil or mustard to help spices stick. Even veggies with a dry surface need to be moistened before seasoning to keep dried spices from flying off or falling through the basket. Plus, a bit of oil helps vegetables get a sear, and spices contribute a satisfying flavor. Even salt and pepper can go a long way for deeper flavor when you’re eating healthy.
9. Olive oil
Air fryers are full of contradictions, but they can provide a simple and fun way to cook a meal. No, an air fryer isn’t technically a "fryer" in the traditional sense. Nor do they require that you forgo oil altogether. Simply Recipes recommends using an alternative to olive oil when air frying because other oils have a lower smoke point. One reason for skipping out on oils with low smoke points is that your food can develop a weird aftertaste. The jury is still out if smoking oil also could cause health risks. When frying, vegetable oil, canola oil, and peanut oil are all high smoke point oils, which helps avoid this issue. Additionally, Prevention reports cooking with light olive oil instead of virgin olive oil is a better option.
Skipping olive oil altogether has its own downside. Healthy oils are a necessary food staple. The Cleveland Clinic points out missing out on healthy fats in olive oil can actually mean you’re missing out on health benefits. While a low-fat and air-fried diet can sound rather enticing, the clinic reports you’d don’t want to miss out on the benefits of the good fats that come from a variety of plant-based oils. It’s easy to forget that in moderate quantities, high-quality fat is a requirement for brain and hormone health. So, don’t be afraid to add some oil with a higher smoke point than olive oil.
10. Delicate leafy greens
Greens in an air fryer need to be selected carefully. Vegetarian Mamma recommends avoiding delicate, leafy greens or any foods without some weight to them. The forced heat from the air fryer pushes air around rapidly, so any food that might get picked up by that air could hit the heating element. Thanks to air fryers cooking your food at high temperatures, it’s extremely easy to burn food that doesn’t cook evenly or stay put. The National Cancer Institute reports that burnt or smoked food may be carcinogenic. Though air frying may be convenient, you likely don’t want to dig into greens that not only taste bad but might also yield poor health outcomes.
One exception to the leafy greens rule would be some hearty kale chips. One recipe calls for a light coating of oil, a sprinkle of salt, and additional seasonings of your choice. The kale can be ripped into pieces and spread in one even layer. Using a metal air fryer rack is the author’s solution for greens that catch flight. For a larger snacking portion, air-fried kale chips might need to be prepared in batches. The kale chips should be cooked at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for four to five minutes and shaken halfway through to avoid overcooking. It’s recommended to keep a close eye for burn potential after three minutes.
11. Too much food
The size of the air fryer presents certain limitations. Extra-large air fryers clock in at 16 quarts, but the average is just two to three quarts. NBC News reported a standard air fryer just won’t cut it for a family-sized meal. A 2.75-quart air fryer held a half-pound of shrimp in the bottom of the fryer’s basket, including room for the necessary flow of air to circulate and brown the food. The reporter explained it resulted in a light lunch for two people. Feeding a family would mean cooking a second batch and more wait time. For some cooks, this additional cook time defeats the purpose. Cooking batches might be a good tactic if the set-and-forget method still makes mealtime easier, though.
The size also comes into play when air frying bacon in family-sized quantities. One review found oil from a large batch of bacon overflowed from the inside of the basket. In the end, conventional air fryers might be better suited for couples, as well as for snacks, sides, and of course, homemade dessert.
12. Chicken wings
Chicken wings aren’t a foolproof recipe for an air fryer. Taste writer Terrence Doyle reports a disappointing experience with making air fryer chicken wings. The air fryer’s windstorm of heat dehydrated the poultry into a cracked and leathery mess. You’ll find plenty of recipes that say otherwise about cooking air fryer chicken wings. But remember that the air fryer manual may or may not be the best resource when it comes to recipes for your favorite meals.
Cooks need to stay attentive to avoid common pitfalls when cooking air fryer chicken wings. CookingLight‘s Andrea Nguyen recommends rethinking the concept of frying when using this time-saving device. To create the crispy wings, coat with some egg and a spritz of oil to encourage the coating to adhere to the exterior. It’s also a healthier choice. MyFitnessPal reports a deep-fried chicken thigh will set you back around 250 calories and 19 grams of fat. But an air fried one only has 135 calories and five grams of fat. Extra herbs can replace the flavor you’ll miss from deep frying.
Theoretically, the combination of hot, blowing air and a big open space would made an air fryer the ideal place to make toast. Sounds just like a toaster oven with the added deliciousness of the word "fryer" next to it, right? Not so fast, says one expert.
"Toast is a major no-no because it blows around so it doesn’t do a good job," David Jarvis, the Executive Chef for air fryer maker Nu Wave, told Mashed. "Some people will say it can toast fine, but it’s not a toaster oven, and air fryers don’t work well for that."
He went on to tell us that putting toast on an electric grill might be a good alternative if you’re hellbent on making toast in something other than a toaster. Even a traditional oven could work. But the combination of a small chamber and a high-powered fan means your toast ends up blowing all over the place and spreading crumbs throughout the chamber. And that is ultimately not the ideal way to brown your bread.
Perhaps you recall a memory from childhood where your mom put oil and popcorn kernels in a pot you typically used for spaghetti, and a few minutes of shuffling later, she created a big, greasy bowl of popcorn. Because, yes, in the days before microwave popcorn and Jiffy Pop, popcorn was traditionally made in a small chamber with added heat. Which sounds a lot like an air fryer. But David Jarvis, the Executive Chef for air fryer maker Nu Wave, told Mashed not to confuse the old way of making popcorn with making it in an air fryer.
"You have to get up to 400 degrees for popcorn to pop, and most air fryers don’t get that high of heat," he said. "That’s one we’re just not able to do."
He did point out, however, that NuWave sells a drum accessory that might allow for popcorn popping, as it increases the heat around whatever’s inside. That all said, if you’ve got a microwave, making popcorn there should be an easier route. Or just go back to the stove.
15. Salmon or other fish
Bon Appétit points out that overcooking salmon is a massively common mistake, turning the costly fish into "expensive cat food." But the same article also recommends checking the fish regularly to make sure it’s done but not cooked too much. This sounds like a lot of work, and if you’re more of the "set it and forget it type," you might be tempted to throw salmon in an air fryer and let it work its magic.
But it’s not so easy, David Jarvis, Executive Chef for air fryer maker Nu Wave, told Mashed. "A lot of times, the idea of an air fryer is, you turn it on, press start, put in a time, and walk away," he says. "We don’t think it’s that simple." He stressed that ignoring salmon will lead it to get as overcooked as it might in a pan, and if you’re air frying so you can multi-task while you cook, salmon is not a good idea.
16. Most cuts of steak
It’s not just roasts and chickens that don’t do well in air fryers. Thicker cuts of steak can also be a disaster if you try and cook them this way. Much like burgers tend to end up well done in an air fryer, so do steaks find difficulty coming out a perfect medium rare.
"People tend not to understand how much time they should take before they turn it over," David Jarvis, the Executive Chef for air fryer maker Nu Wave, told Mashed. "People will go, watch TV, go out in the yard and play with their kids, and meanwhile, your product is not being monitored. It gets over brown on top and soft and mushy on the bottom."
Jarvis reiterated that an air fryer is not a magic cooking box and that meat still needs to be checked during the cooking process. He recommended a meat thermometer if you’re going to attempt to cook steak. But pointed out that’s it’s tougher to grill perfectly in air fryer than some might imagine.
Baking in an air fryer is a mixed bag. Insider, for example, lists cookies among the best things to make in an air fryer, quoting America’s Test Kitchen Deputy Food Editor Stephanie Pixley as saying she enjoys keeping ready-made frozen cookies on hand so she can have a few without making a whole batch. That said, while cookies might be ideal, bigger baked goods like cake are not.
"Think of a cake, you put batter in a container, so now you’re gonna have to cover it so it’s not blowing around or turning black," David Jarvis, Executive Chef for air fryer maker Nu Wave, told Mashed. "Meanwhile, it’s still raw inside. So it’s a challenge."
Jarvis admits that well-seasoned air frying aficionados can make cake in an air fryer, but it’s a far more advanced concept than, say, fish sticks. He suggests starting out with something simple and moving your way up to baking.
Theoretically, a thin, fatty meat like bacon would be ideal for the convection-style cooking of an air fryer. Hot air heats the grease enough to cook the meat to the same glorious crispiness you’d get on a griddle. And while the finished product might come out well, what it leaves inside the air fryer can diminish the entire experience.
The experts at Food Network warn that while all that hot, blowing air might make for perfectly crispy bacon, it also makes for a perfect mess inside the air fryer. Because the air moves around at such high speeds, it also blows the bacon fat all over the inside of the fryer, leaving a nasty scene on the sides of the chamber. They recommend using turkey bacon or some other, leaner option (like plant-based or vegan bacon), to help reduce your post-meal clean-up time.
19. Dehydrated food
Though they may look vaguely similar, do not confuse your air fryer with the food dehydrator you were this close to buying on late night TV. While they both use air and electricity to cook, air fryers circulate air at far higher speeds than a food dehydrator, and the typically small pieces of beef, fruit, or whatever you’re trying to dehydrate won’t do nearly as well in an air fryer.
"Air fryers will do it," David Jarvis, Executive Chef for air fryer maker Nu Wave, told Mashed when asked about dehydrating food. "But a lot of what you dehydrate are small pieces, and unless you have a way to hold them down, they’ll blow the product around."
Imagine a tornado that picked up an entire truckload of plantain chips, and you’re getting the idea of what the inside of your air fryer will look like if you try dehydrating food. Though Jarvis advises the air fryer isn’t the best technique for dehydrating food, if you insist on doing it, he is adamant you find a way to keep your food in place while the air is blowing.