12 Best Things to Make in an Air Fryer
Air fryers are a must for everyday cooking—especially if you know the foods guaranteed to turn out perfectly every time
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Foods that cook perfectly in an air fryer
It’s safe to say that people are obsessed with their air fryers, and it’s easy to see why. “I love air fryer cooking because it doesn’t heat up your house like using the oven, and it doesn’t need an excess of oil like deep-frying does,” says Cathy Yoder, founder of Fabulessly Frugal. If you’re lukewarm about yours, it’s likely because you’re making the wrong foods in it. But if you know the best foods to cook in an air fryer, you’ll definitely change your tune.
We asked cooking experts to share the foods pretty much guaranteed to turn out perfectly every time, along with their favorite easy and tasty tips to prepare them. Along the way, we’ll help you avoid the most common air fryer mistakes—and make cleanup a breeze.
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Air fryer chicken breasts
A go-to protein choice for countless families, air fryer chicken breasts don’t disappoint. “Chicken breasts are great in the air fryer,” says Parrish Ritchie, author of The Big Book of Air Fryer Recipes. “Boneless skinless or bone-in, they come out fabulously juicy, full of flavor and ready in minutes.” Indeed, the quick cooking time ensures the breasts don’t dry out before they are cooked all the way through. All you have to do is marinate the chicken or sprinkle on some spices, and you’re good to go. Ritchie is partial to a combination of Italian dressing, lime juice and honey: “So good and easy!”
Pro tip: For perfectly cooked chicken, Yoder recommends pounding down the thicker end of the breasts so they are a consistent thickness throughout. Also make sure to turn them halfway through cooking.
Air fryer whole chicken
“This one is incredibly delicious, and something not a lot of people know that you can make in the air fryer,” says Yoder, author of Air Fryer Recipes: 150+ Yummy Air Fryer Recipes. “It’s way better than the rotisserie chicken you can buy at the store.” What’s more, buying a whole chicken is more cost effective than buying individual pieces or a precooked bird. For best results, Yoder suggests rubbing your chicken with a spice rub and a tablespoon or so of oil, and then cooking it, turning once, until it reaches about 165 degrees.
One note: The size chicken you use will depend on the size of your air fryer, so make sure you know your air fryer’s dimensions before buying your bird. But if it fits, a whole chicken is one of the best things to make in an air fryer.
Air fryer Brussels sprouts
If you think you don’t like Brussels sprouts, it’s just because you’ve never had air fryer Brussels sprouts, says Ritchie. “Try them—I promise it will change your mind!” Cooking this green vegetable in the air fryer will yield sprouts that are tender in the middle and indulgently crispy on the outside. “I like to toss mine with a little oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and they come out perfect every time,” Ritchie shares. “A little balsamic drizzle when they are done, and they will be your new favorite veggie.”
Brussels sprouts take about 10 to 15 minutes in the air fryer, which is less than half the time they’d take in the oven. Cutting large ones in half will help them cook even faster. Simply toss them in the basket a few times, and you’ll end up with perfectly cooked sprouts.
Air fryer salmon
As simple and tasty as it is, salmon can be tricky to cook just right in the oven or on the stove top. It can fall apart all too easily or stick to the pan if you’re not careful. Air fryer salmon, on the other hand, is a cinch, which is why this healthy fish is one of the best things to make in an air fryer. “Do a little soy sauce and brown sugar marinade for a few minutes before cooking in the air fryer, and you will have a delicious, flaky piece of salmon in minutes,” says Ritchie. “I also like to meal-prep salmon in the air fryer for quick lunches or dinners all week.” Once you have some cooked, you can add cold salmon to salads and bowls, or reheat it and serve with roasted or air-fried veggies for supper.
Air fryer pork chops
“I swear you will never have a more juicy, perfectly cooked pork chop as you will in the air fryer,” says Ritchie. That’s all thanks to the speedy cook time and even heat circulation, which ensures your chops won’t dry out like they often do in the oven while you’re waiting for them to cook through. Yoder’s favorite marinade for air fryer pork chops features honey, ketchup, soy sauce and garlic. And if you’re crunched for time, Ritchie suggests a timeless approach. “To be honest, I really like to just use that good old Shake and Bake and pop them in the air fryer to get them nice and crispy. Such a comforting meal.”
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Air fryer bacon
“Cooking bacon in the air fryer is way easier than any other method, and it is easier to clean up,” says Yoder. That’s because it eliminates the possibility of grease splatters on your stove top, and you’re more likely to get your strips cooked to crispy perfection. And while it’s still bacon, some experts say it’s healthier when air-fried, since it’s not soaking in grease during the cooking process.
Yoder’s pro tip for cooking air fryer bacon: “Place a little water or slices of bread underneath the air fryer basket to catch the excess grease. This way, your air fryer won’t start smoking.” Indeed, if the fat drips onto the hot metal surface of the bottom of the air fryer, it may burn, smoke or smell. Water or bread will absorb the fat and prevent this from happening.
For perfect, mouthwatering bacon, place your strips in a single layer with space between each so the heat circulates around them evenly. If they’re too long, slice the bacon in half crosswise to squeeze more into the basket.
Air fryer potatoes
Whether you’re making air fryer baked potatoes, roasted potatoes, hash browns or French fries, they’ll all come out crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside. Compare that with potatoes cooked in the oven or on the stove top, which are difficult to cook evenly.
The only thing you might be disappointed about? “Baked potatoes take about the same amount of time in the air fryer as in the oven, unfortunately,” says Yoder. If you’re short on time or just want to speed things up, she recommends popping the whole potatoes in the microwave for three to five minutes to get the cooking process started. After that, you’ll only need about half the typical baking time in the air fryer, about 30 minutes. The same goes for the cooking time needed for other variations on potatoes … but the air fryer makes up for it by producing a perfect cook every time.
Air fryer frozen broccoli
Some fresh vegetables, including broccoli, can turn out too dry or too soggy after being cooked in an air fryer. But frozen florets are a whole different story. “Frozen broccoli is amazing in the air fryer,” says Yoder. “You will never want to go back to steamed broccoli again.” In an air fryer, the broccoli defrosts and cooks at the same time, making them deliciously crisp-tender instead of limp. To give your stalks slightly crispy tops, spritz them with some olive oil before the last minute or so of cooking. When it comes to broccoli or anything else, here’s how long food lasts after you pull it out of the freezer.
Air fryer shrimp
“Shrimp is already a quick-cooking protein, but in the air fryer, you get a super fast meal,” says Ritchie. Since shrimp cook so quickly, you can use fresh or frozen shrimp in the air fryer—but for frozen, it’s essential to check whether you have frozen raw or frozen cooked shrimp. Frozen raw will need nine to ten minutes to cook, while frozen cooked shrimp will be done in five to six minutes.
“While I like to simply season my air fryer shrimp with a little Old Bay and lemon before cooking, they are also amazing with a little coconut breading,” Ritchie adds.
Air fryer tofu
If you’re looking for tasty ways to sneak more plant-based foods into your diet, look no further than air fryer tofu. “The air fryer can produce some seriously crispy tofu,” says Ritchie. “It is perfect for dipping in sauce or adding to a rice bowl or burrito.”
To turn tofu into one of the best things to make in an air fryer, she recommends using extra firm or super firm tofu, seasoning or marinating it with your favorite flavorings and then tossing it in cornstarch. Choosing firmer tofu means it won’t go limp in the air fryer, while the cornstarch supplies the crunch. “Spritz your air fryer basket and your tofu with a little oil, and cook the cubes until crispy,” adds Ritchie.
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Air fryer corn on the cob
“Corn on the cob is another very tasty food that can be roasted to perfection in the air fryer,” says Yoder. Indeed, air fryer corn boasts the tenderness you get from boiling and the firm bite you get from the grill all in one—plus, it’s faster than both of those more traditional cooking methods. For best results, Yoder suggests leaving a little room between ears of corn so the air can circulate evenly, breaking them in half if you need to. “Then, just season it with a little salt, pepper and butter,” as usual, she adds.
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Air fryer Oreos
While you can certainly bake in your air fryer and whip up tasty treats like cookies, donuts and bars, both Ritchie and Yoder recommend using the air fryer to transform this childhood favorite into a healthier version of the deep-fried Oreos you would get at the fair. “Air-fried Oreos are a favorite,” says Ritchie. “Just wrap an Oreo in crescent roll dough, and in about four minutes you have a decadent dessert.”
courtesy Anne Fritz
The best air fryers
It’s clear that air fryers offer a simple, mess-free, good-for-you way to cook countless ingredients, but which one should you get? Our editors tested all the top-rated models, keeping an eye on features including size, capacity, cook settings and special add-ons, to determine the best air fryers on the market. See below for three of the best.
- Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro: Best overall air fryer
- Cuisinart Convection Toaster Oven Air Fryer: Best multifunction air fryer
- Cosori Air Fryer Max XL: Best value
Still debating whether an air fryer is right for you? Check out how one couple found a whole new way of eating after using an air fryer every day for two weeks—and get more ideas for the best things to cook in an air fryer.
- Cathy Yoder, founder of Fabulessly Frugal and author of Air Fryer Recipes: 150+ Yummy Air Fryer Recipes
- Parrish Ritchie, author of The Big Book of Air Fryer Recipes