The Top 11 Frozen Foods to Cook in Your Air Fryer

updated Jan 15, 2021
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Credit: Meghan Splawn

Were you among the hoards of people who got a new air fryer over the holidays? Well, you’re in luck because here at Kitchn, we have a lot of ideas on how to use them.

While we food writers are busy creating recipes for all sorts of foods to make in our favorite new appliance, the air fryer, we tend to overlook one of its most well-suited applications: heating up frozen snack-y foods. The kind of food you might order as an appetizer at an Applebee’s or a TGIFridays, or maybe the local pub joint down the block. Bar food! Which is — when the dust settles — really just great fried food.

When we buy that frozen bag of wings or poppers or fries, we usually have the choice of cooking them in the oven (fine), cooking them in the microwave (sometimes fine, sometimes quite disappointing), or deep-frying them (sometimes hard to justify and always awfully messy). This is where the air fryer shines — you can get all of the crispiness and flavor, little or no additional fat, near-instant gratification, and easy cleanup. What’s not to love about that?

Credit: Katie Workman

Illustrating the popularity of the air fryer, some frozen foods now have instructions for using this appliance right on the package, and I think we will see more of this in the months to come. Meanwhile, for a general rule of thumb, set the air fryer at 400°F and start checking smaller items at around eight minutes, larger items around 10 minutes, and give the basket a nice shimmy and shake halfway through the cooking to redistribute the food, and give it a chance to brown and crisp up evenly.

Related: I Tried the Instant Pot’s New Air Fryer Vortex Plus — Here’s How It Went

And one more thing to note: In general I find that foods fried in the air fryer are significantly better when eaten while hot. They tend to harden up a bit as they cool, not unlike foods cooked in more traditional ways, but in a more pronounced way. So have your hungry fans nearby, and your dipping sauces at the ready when the buzzer goes off.

Got it? And now, here are some of the the best frozen groceries that I have been air frying this fall.

1. Brazi Bites Empanadas

These tapioca dough pastries are flaky on the outside, savory on the inside, and a lovely change of pace from other stuffed snacks. Try beef and bean, black bean and cheddar, chickpea veggie, or chicken and cheese. 

Credit: Katie Workman

2. Super Pretzels

I was curious to see what might happen when a soft pretzel was cooked in an air fryer.  It was interesting — the crust was definitely a little crispier than when cooked in a conventional oven (and certainly crisper than when cooked in a microwave), but the inside was still nice and soft. I will be doing this again.

Credit: Katie Workman

3. Hot Pockets

Laugh if you must, but you might not be laughing so hard after you’ve experienced a Five Cheese Pizza Hot Pocket cooked in an air fryer (skip the crisping sleeve). Parmesan, romano, cheddar, provolone, and mozzarella in a crispy crust was so good that it made me mad. And, if you’ve never heard Jim Gaffigan’s famous Hot Pockets comedy set, you have missed out on an iconic part of American Food Humor.

Credit: Katie Workman

4. Farm Rich Mozzarella Sticks

Crispy on the outside, molten cheesy loveliness on the inside, mozzarella sticks are one of the best reasons to own an air fryer. I spent a certain amount of time determining whether I liked them better with marinara sauce or salsa for dipping. I will have to get back to you on this.

5. Farm Rich Loaded Potato Skins

Potato skins are my biggest bar-food weakness, and something I never make at home. (At least I never used to.) Make sure to scoop up those bits of shredded cheese and bacon that may have fallen to the bottom of the bag and replenish the potato skins so they are cheesy and full. In the air fryer, they browned up really nicely, and had great textural play. Farm Rich’s Cheddar Cheese Sticks, Crispy Dill Pickles, and Cheddar Cheese Curds are on deck to try soon!

6. Bell & Evans Breaded Chicken Breast Nuggets

I will say that these are terrific chicken nuggets from the get-go — whole breast meat pieces, air-chilled, antibiotic-free, flash fried in soybean oil before freezing. They’re just an above-average nugget. And they perform like champs in the air fryer, with moist, satisfying chicken inside, and a lovely lightly breaded exterior, which crisp up a bit more when they rest post air-fryer for just a quick minute. They taste like good restaurant-caliber chicken nuggets.

Related: These 5 Recipes Will Forever Change the Way You Think About Frozen Chicken Tenders

7. P.F. Chang’s Firecracker Chicken Dumplings

The filling for these is juicy and flavorful and nicely packed, and the air fryer gives the exterior dough wrapper a nice firm-chewy-crispy texture with some definitive browned spots. My only quibble with these is that I tend to eat the whole bag, and it’s supposed to be an appetizer for two. 

Credit: Katie Workman

8. P.F. Chang’s Chicken Egg Rolls

The crust gets really nice and layered and flaky in the air fryer. The inside is really well-seasoned — so much so that I almost always forget to warm the sweet and sour sauce for dipping. 

9. Ore-Ida Extra Crispy Tater Tots

Oh, you knew I was going to recommend tater tots in the air fryer. Go all in and grab the extra-crispy kind, because YES, let’s double down. I’ve cooked them at seven minutes (cooked through) and nine minutes; they’re good at both, but do the full nine.  You do have to let them sit for just a minute no matter what, so you don’t burn your mouth, and also because that’s the time it takes for the extra-crispy crust to firm up.

10. Alexia Onion Rings

And yeah, you also knew there were going to be onion rings. (Life should come with a side of onion rings.) These are made with panko breading and sea salt, and they’re best when they’re cooked for about seven minutes so that they’re golden-brown but not dark brown.

11. Seapak Jumbo Butterfly Shrimp

Seapak boasts a commitment to sustainability on their packaging, which is one reason to pick this brand. Another is that their breaded jumbo shrimp, the size of a silver dollar, get pretty delicious after a 10-minute spin in the air fryer. (I let them brown up a little past golden.) Seapak makes a lot of frozen seafood products, and I’d like to get more of them into the air fryer.

Credit: Katie Workman

A Few Other Frozen Foods I Want to Try in the Air Fryer

  • El Monterey Beef & Cheese Taquitos
  • Alexia Crispy Rosemary, Crispy Truffle and Sweet Potato Fries
  • Goya Chicken Croquettes
  • TGIFridays Sweet and Smoky and Buffalo Style Boneless Chicken Bites
  • TGIFridays Cream Cheese Stuffed Jalapeño Poppers
  • Tower Isles Jamaican Style Mild or Hot Beef Cocktail Patties

What are some of your favorite frozen groceries to fry in the air fryer?