7 Things You Should Never Cook in an Air Fryer

published Jan 27, 2022
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Air fryer machine cooking potato fried in kitchen. Lifestyle of new normal cooking.
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I’m one of the biggest air fryer fans on the planet, so I’ll pretty much air fry anything I can get my hands on. During these cooking adventures I’ve discovered many surprising things that you can cook in an air fryer — and also things that should never be air fried. The air fryer’s convection-style of cooking (meaning it circulates hot air around the food) can make some items disappointingly dry. Other foods cook unevenly in the air fryer, stick to the basket, or just create a big mess.

Here are seven things you shouldn’t cook in an air fryer — or that you should use caution with when air frying — plus tips on the right way to cook them. 

1. Wet Battered Foods, Unless You Like Smoke Alarms

What happens: Any items with a wet batter, such as beer-battered fish or tempura vegetables, will not cook well in the air fryer. When wet battered foods are deep-fried, the scorching hot oil “sets” the batter onto the item — the batter crisps and puffs up to create that deliciously crunchy coating. However, if you attempt to air fry fish or anything else dipped in batter, the batter can stick to or leak through the basket, which can make a bit of a mess and also set off alarms on some models. 

What to do instead: Stick to deep-frying wet-battered foods, or, if you must air fry, use previously frozen battered foods (such as store-bought battered shrimp and fish), as the freezing process sets the batter. Another option is to skip wet batters altogether and go with a breading instead, such as in these air fryer fish and chips, which have a wonderfully crispy breaded exterior. And, finally, if you do air fry wet-battered foods, be sure to line the air fryer basket with parchment and let as much excess batter drip off as possible, as in this air fried Oreos recipe.  

2. Muffins, Unless You Like ‘Em Crispy Outside and Rock-Hard Inside

What happens: While an air fryer’s Easy Bake Oven size might make it seem like the perfect appliance for making little treats, I learned the hard way that it’s just not right for all baked goods when I tried to air fry a batch of muffins. The air frying method dehydrated the center of the muffins rather than making them fluffy and light, so I ended up with muffins with an overly crisp exterior and a rock-hard center. 

What to do instead: If it’s a sweet treat you are after, try making these delicious air fryer donuts or air fryer chocolate chip cookies.

3. Cheese (Without a Layer of Protection), Unless You Like a Huge Mess in Your Fryer Basket

What happens: While you can technically air fry most cheeses — a wheel of air-fried Brie or air-fried halloumi is delicious — placing cheese directly on the air fryer basket will result in a huge, melty, smoky mess. 

What to do instead: If you want to put cheese directly into the air fryer, be sure to line the basket with parchment paper first. (See my article about surprising things you can air fry for full instructions for baking Brie in the air fryer.)

You can also layer cheese in a sandwich, as in this grilled cheese, or encase it in a thick breading, such as with these air fryer mozzarella sticks (don’t use a light breading on mozzarella sticks because the cheese will ooze out and create a mess; I also found this out the hard way!).

Credit: Leela Cyd

4. Eggs, Unless You Like Eating Rubber

What happens: There are many recipes online for air-fried “hard-boiled” eggs, and many people swear by it. But as Kitchn Senior Contributing Food Editor Kelli Foster explains in her honest review of air fryer hard-boiled eggs, air-fried eggs can have a chewy, rubbery texture. So why use this method for hard-boiling eggs, especially when there are so many other ways to achieve better results?

What to do instead: Skip the air fryer and cook your eggs on the stovetop or the Instant Pot, both of which are relatively fast ways to make hard-boiled eggs without the rubbery texture.

5. Rice, Unless You Like It Undercooked or Overcooked

What happens: If, like many others, you have Googled, “Can you air fry rice?” the answer, unfortunately, is no. I mean, you can, but it’s not a great idea, as tempting as it might seem. The air fryer’s dry environment is just not right for rice, which needs moisture to cook properly. Even if you use a special pan insert and additional water to steam it, the fan won’t get the water hot enough to cook your rice evenly, leaving you with rice that’s undercooked and crispy in spots — and not crispy in a good way! I discovered this when I attempted to cook rice in a cake pan covered with foil, which is a method some people swear by. For my first attempt, I used 1 cup rice with 1 1/4 cups cold water; after 30 minutes at 360°F, it was crispy in some areas on top and not cooked through in others. I tried the same method again but with boiling water. This time the rice stuck to the pan. As much as I hated to admit defeat, it was clear that the air fryer wasn’t the right tool for rice.

What to do instead: Use an Instant Pot to create perfectly cooked rice quickly or stick to one of these stovetop methods for cooking rice. It’s also worth noting that the air fryer is an excellent way to use leftover cooked rice to make fried rice. Try this air fryer fried rice recipe Andrea Nguyen shared on her website for one take. And be sure to check out our cook’s guide to rice for more about different types of rice and the best ways to cook them.

6. Baby Spinach, Unless You Like the Taste of Charred Food

What happens: This is another one I learned the hard way. On my one attempt at air frying baby spinach, the fan in the air fryer blew the little leaves around, leaving me with a mix of uncooked leaves and some that were turned into charred crisps.

What to do instead: Instead of spinach, air fry a more robust green, like curly kale. The secret to perfectly crispy kale chips is to air fry in small batches (no more than 3 packed cups per batch) and toss the basket a couple of times to promote even cooking. Kale shrinks significantly when cooked; 3 packed cups of raw kale yields about 2 1/2 loosely packed cups of cooked kale, so keep that in mind if you are cooking for a crowd. (You’ll also want to be sure to remove the thick rib that runs throughout each piece of kale, as they don’t cook so well in the air fryer — you’ll be chewing for hours!)

Here’s how to do it:

  • Preheat air fryer to 325℉ for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, toss 3 packed cups of ribbed shredded curly kale in a medium bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon of all-purpose seasoning (or seasoning of your choice). 
  • Once the air fryer is preheated, grease the basket with cooking spray. 
  • Add the seasoned kale to the basket, air fry for 3 minutes, toss, and then continue cooking for 1 minute more. Toss again, then continue for another 1 to 2 minutes, depending on how charred and crispy you like it. About 5 to 6 minutes will create lightly crisped kale chips that are still green but charred in spots.  
  • Sprinkle with a pinch more seasoning. Serve immediately. 

7. Toast, Unless You Want to Be Very, Very Thirsty

What happens: You only have to Google “air fryer toast” to see that many people recommend toasting bread in an air fryer. “It’s so easy,” they say. “It only takes three minutes!” However, unless you like eating sun-scorched cardboard, I would skip this method. I tried cooking at various temperatures from 350 to 400°F, but after three minutes, all I managed to create was hard, crispy, dry white bread. After six minutes, I threw in the towel as the toast was golden on one side and alabaster-white on the other. When I ate it, it was like eating extremely stale bread — if I wasn’t thirsty before, I definitely was after! 

What to do instead: Air frying is generally an excellent cooking method — but not for toast! Use a toaster, toaster oven, or broiler instead. Any of these methods are just as fast as the air fryer, and work much better.