Crispy pork in oven air fryer

The air fryer made its debut at the 2010 Internationale Funkausstellung exhibition in Berlin. Released by Philips, the innovative kitchen appliance was an instant hit. Indeed, it was so much so that IFA’s organizers listed it in the top five inventions presented at the event (via Exnovate). Once you’ve used one, you can see how there are good reasons why air fryers have taken the culinary world by storm. They not only speed up cooking time but require a fraction of the oil used to deep fry food, making them a healthier alternative to traditional cooking methods (via Medical News Today).

Air fryers do their magic by rapidly circulating hot air around food to create the texture and flavor of fried foods. In the case of meat dishes, this often means a perfectly-cooked cut that’s juicy and tender on the inside and crispy on the outside, minus the oil traditionally used for frying (via Taste of Home). Just like some other modern kitchen appliances, however, air fryers sometimes just don’t cut it as a substitute for traditional cooking methods. In fact, they can make some foods disappointingly dry and tasteless. Meat is no exception. With this in mind, these are the best types of meat to cook in an air fryer, ranked from worst to first.

13. Steaks

Steaks in an air fryer

Cooking the perfect steak on a pan or grill can be tricky. After all, overcooking or undercooking that ribeye can happen in a matter of minutes or even seconds. The difficulty level goes up a notch or two when it comes to preparing steaks in an air fryer. While air fryers might do the job if you like your steak well done, things aren’t as easy for those who enjoy their steaks at other, less intense doneness levels. For instance, after cooking a steak in an air fryer, the taste tester from Guga Foods noticed a gray band at the edges of the cut, a sure sign of improperly cooked meat. What’s more, they also saw that it had produced a completely overcooked cap.

One of the things that make steaks so appealing is the browning that takes place when the meat is seared on a pan. This wonderful crust is a result of the Maillard reaction, an interaction between proteins and carbohydrates that occurs when foods like beef are cooked at high temperatures. Not only is this outer layer delicious, but it also purportedly seals in the meat’s juices to make the final steak beautifully tender (via Kansas Beef).

Unfortunately, the Maillard reaction is impossible to replicate in an air fryer. After test cooking a steak in an air fryer, Cooking Light noted that the resulting steak couldn’t hold up to the beautifully crusty result you can get from a proper sear in a heavy-duty cast iron pan.

12. Whole roasts or entire chickens

Chicken in an air fryer

When it comes to space, air fryers leave much to be desired. That is, there simply isn’t much room on the inside of the gadget. So, cooking an entire roast or chicken in an air fryer might be tricky. This is why families often have to make multiple batches of food in an air fryer to feed the entire clan. That said, according to The Taste of Home an air fryer basket that can hold over 6 quarts should provide just enough room to roast an entire chicken. However, most home air fryers range between 3.7 and 5.8 quarts, per Everyday Family Cooking.

Even if the chicken or roast happens to fit in your air fryer, there’s a decently high risk that it won’t cook evenly. That’s because air fryers work by circulating hot air around the food. Overfilling your air fryer with an entire roast or chicken is likely to limit the circulation of that air, causing the meat to steam rather than roast. Who wants steamed chicken? An overly crowded air fryer can also mean that the meat won’t cook evenly, with the device burning and drying out the side of the chicken closest to the heat source before the other side of the bird is even safe to eat.

So, if you’ve got a whole chicken and an air fryer, what to do? In that case, it’s best to cut the meat into smaller pieces to prevent overcrowding (via America’s Test Kitchen).

11. Bacon

Bacon on a wooden board

Preparing bacon in an air fryer might seem like a healthier option than frying it in the pan where the cured meat is cooked in its own fat. Chef Abbie Gellman explains that when meat is cooked in an air fryer, the extra grease drips to the bottom, leaving leaner strips of bacon. This means fewer calories and saturated fat per serving. However, while you may be expecting an air fryer to cook up crispy, lean bacon without all that grease, you may need to temper those expectations.

After air frying bacon for around three minutes at 350 degrees, Elizabeth Laseter from Cooking Light saw thick white smoke spewing out of her machine, something she said is apparently quite typical for meat with a high fat content.

Cooking bacon in an air fryer can also be incredibly messy, given that the circulating hot air in the device can cause bacon grease to splatter. Laseter also noted that it didn’t take long before her air fryer’s drawer was overflowing with bacon grease, forcing her to stop the air frying process a number of times to clean up the mess. According to Well Plated, one way to prevent this might be by placing a piece of bread in the air fryer basket to absorb the grease. But perhaps you’re better off saving the bacon for another cooking method entirely.

10. Burger patties

Raw burger patties

Just like steaks, burger patties are best when made to your exact taste. After all, a medium-rare burger patty is a world apart from one that has been prepared well-done. And just like with steaks, while an air fryer might do when it comes to well-done beef patties, the device’s forced-air cooking method isn’t ideal for preparing made-to-order burgers. America’s Test Kitchen deputy food editor, Stephanie Pixley, summed up the problem for Insider. She said that since cooking a medium-rare burger patty in an air fryer takes mere minutes, the patty won’t have enough time to brown on the outside.

If pan-frying or grilling your burger patty isn’t an option, an air fryer can still do a decent job, provided that you follow a number of steps. First, opting for an 80/20 meat-to-fat blend of ground beef will ensure that the patties remain juicy without filling your air fryer tray with a shocking amount of grease. In addition, press down the center of each beef patty with your finger. This should stop it from swelling in the middle and cooking unevenly. And while the patties should be cooked between 9 and 12 minutes depending on thickness, always be sure to check them early in order to prevent overcooking (via Spend With Pennies).

9. Chicken wings

Chicken wings in air fryer

No self-respecting carnivore would pass up crispy chicken wings, even if they are sometimes on the greasy side. Luckily, air-fried chicken wings present a lighter alternative to their deep-fried counterparts. They are also faster to prepare, making them ideal for anyone in a time crunch. And with a little know-how, they can turn out just as crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside as conventionally made wings, but without the added calories associated with deep-frying (via The Kitchn).

Since chicken wings have a high skin-to-meat ratio, the trick to cooking them well in an air fryer lies in rendering the fat properly. Doing so will make the wings crispy rather than overly dry or soggy. To ensure mouth-watering results, Erin Clarke of Well Plated recommends cooking chicken wings at two different temperatures — 360 degrees to render the fat and 390 degrees to crisp the outside.

Doing otherwise could create a kitchen disaster. Terrence Doyle from Taste followed the recipe that came with her air fryer, cooking her wings at 390 degrees for 20 minutes. She reported that the results were sadly dry and leathery, making a real waste of the chicken.

8. Beef or lamb ribs

Lamb ribs in air fryer

While you can expect air fried ribs to be tender on the inside and crispy on the outside, they are unlikely to have the much-desired fall-off-the-bone factor of their oven-baked counterparts, as Izzy Cooking notes. Nevertheless, air-fried ribs are still flavorful and much faster to make than in the oven. In fact, ribs generally take only around 20 minutes in an air fryer compared to hours in the oven for beef or lamb (via Inspired Taste and All Recipes).

When it comes to beef, a rack of ribs may need to be cut into smaller pieces due to limited space inside your air fryer. It’s also important to remove the membrane from the back of the ribs to ensure more tender results. Once you season or marinate the ribs, remember to lay them in an even layer and cook at 360 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. And be sure to turn them halfway through the process to ensure that they cook evenly (via Hint of Healthy).

7. Beef jerky

Beef jerky

If you don’t happen to have a dehydrator or a smoker at home, you can still prepare perfectly good beef jerky using your air fryer with the right know-how. While you should normally opt for cuts with a good amount of marbling when cooking beef in an air fryer, the right cut is quite different when you intend to make jerky. In that case, look for leaner cuts such as top round roast or eye of round (via Kansas Beef). This is because the leaner the beef, the easier it is to dehydrate it, given that it’s already starting off with relatively low moisture content.

While some air fryers feature a dehydration setting, this isn’t the case for all machines. If yours doesn’t have one, simply turn it to a very low-temperature setting (via My Budget Recipes). For best results, make sure that the strips are uniformly sized. When it comes to air-fried beef jerky, the thicker the strips, the chewier the end product. Cutting the strips with the grain, rather than against it, will also result in a chewier jerky.

6. Pork belly

Pork belly in air fryer

Like so many cuts of meat, perfectly cooked pork belly should be juicy and tender on the inside and crispy and golden brown on the outside. What’s more, with the help of an air fryer, cooking a mouth-watering pork belly needn’t take the better part of the day. Just like bacon, pork belly is rather fatty so making it in an air fryer is a great way to lower your calorie intake. After all, it’s almost always better if any excess fat ends up in a drip tray rather than on your plate.

The most challenging part of cooking pork belly in an air fryer is getting the skin to crisp and bubble. According to Keeping It Relle, the trick to the perfect crackling lies in ensuring that the cut of meat is properly dry before you begin cooking. This can be achieved by refrigerating the pork belly for between 12 and 24 hours, letting the arid conditions of your fridge do the work for you. A little salt can also be placed on the cut to draw out moisture. And while seasoning the belly before cooking is fine, you should avoid marinating the meat. Liquid marinades can prevent pork belly from developing that much-desired crackling. That said, glazing the meat after the skin has gotten good and crispy is usually fine.

5. Meatballs

Meatballs in an air fryer

Whether you like them on their own as a bite on the run or served in a more leisurely fashion over various types of rice or pasta, meatballs make both a great snack and a full meal. The extra wonderful news is that they’re also ultra-easy to prepare in an air fryer. Golden and crispy on the outside and packed with flavor on the inside, air-fried meatballs are also a healthier option than their pan-fried counterparts. The health-conscious can further opt for turkey or chicken rather than beef meatballs since they tend to be leaner, as Just Cook recommends.

To make melt-in-the-mouth meatballs, it’s best to coat the air fryer basket in non-stick spray and cook them in a single layer. This will allow the hot air to circulate around the food and cook everything quickly and evenly. Meatballs should be cooked at 400 degrees for 7 to 9 minutes (via Well Plated). While some recipes call for flipping the meatballs halfway through the cooking process, others recommend giving the basket a simple shake to ensure that the meat cooks evenly (via Air Fryer World).

4. Meatloaf

Meatloaf on a plate

Oven-cooked and air-fried meatloaves are pretty similar in taste and texture. The main difference between the two dishes is actually the cooking time. According to My Forking Life, preparing a meatloaf in an air fryer can cut the cooking time in half, going from 90 to around 45 minutes. In addition, meatloaves cooked in an air fryer tend to be leaner and less greasy than their conventionally-prepared counterparts. That’s because air fryers allow the fat from the meat to drip into the cooking basket. For best results, select 80/20 ground beef (via Everyday Family Cooking).

Getting your meatloaf ready for an air fryer doesn’t differ much from the traditional prep method. Simply mix ground beef (you can also use ground turkey or pork), egg, breadcrumbs, onion, milk, and seasoning. Fashion the mixture into a loaf and cook at 380 degrees for 16 to 18 minutes. Then, top the loaf with a glaze before cooking it for another 2 to 3 minutes. If the crust starts to darken before the meatloaf is fully cooked, place some foil over the meat to stop it from burning on the outside (via Air Frying Foodie).

3. Turkey breasts

Crispy turkey breast

While you’re unlikely to fit an entire turkey into a conventional air fryer, the device is perfect for preparing juicy turkey breasts that are perfectly brown and crispy on the outside. And just like chicken breasts, turkey breasts are a lean and healthy option, particularly for those people who are counting calories and watching their fat intake. When cooking turkey breasts in an air fryer, says Air Fryer World, all you need is a light spray of oil to help the skin crisp.

For lip-smacking results, rub the turkey breasts with a little seasoning before placing them in an air fryer. Cook the breasts at 360 degrees for around 40 minutes, depending on their size, flipping the meat halfway through the process (via Air Fryer Eats). Since air fryers tend to heat from the top of the gadget down, cook the breasts skin side down first. Then, flip them over to let them finish cooking skin side up. This will ensure perfectly cooked skin on your poultry (via America’s Test Kitchen).

2. Pork chops

Raw pork chops

When it comes to finger-licking pork chops, the air fryer gives conventional cooking methods a run for their money. Like so many other foods, air-fried pork chops are also a healthier option than their fried or grilled compatriots, since they don’t require the addition of much oil or butter during the cooking process (via Fork to Spoon).

When it comes to cooking pork chops in an air fryer, size matters. For best results, select cuts that are between 1 ½ to 2 inches thick. If you opt for anything thinner, it’s likely to dry out and become unpleasantly tough. Also, since thicker cuts take longer to cook, they are more likely to come out of the air fryer with a beautiful char in addition to a juicy inside, says Dutch Ovens Cookware. Pork chops can be easy to overcook, however, so be sure to get the timing on your air fryer just right — this should be around 12 minutes for a 2-inch thick chop, according to Recipe Teacher.

1. Chicken breasts

Chicken breasts in air fryer

Scrumptious chicken breasts and air fryers are, when wielded correctly, a match made in heaven. According to the founder of Cook Smarts Jess Dang, air-fried chicken breasts are much juicier than those cooked in the oven or on a stovetop. That’s because the compact nature of air fryers leaves little room for the juices to evaporate out of the meat. Stephanie Pixley, the deputy food editor of America’s Test Kitchen, recommends glazing chicken breasts before popping them in an air fryer for an extra hit of flavor (via Insider).

Briana Riddock from Cooking Light put the air fryer and unbreaded chicken breast combo to the test with very satisfactory results. The chicken came out browned and crispy on the outside and beautifully moist on the inside. She then tried air-frying breaded chicken, which also yielded very positive results, with the breading deliciously crispy and absolutely no sogginess to bog down the experience.