Never Cook These Things in a Deep Fryer
Some food blogger enthusiasts consider the air fryer to be an intuitive appliance that can cook just about anything and everything. For some members of my family, this is an incomprehensible black box that exists only to take up counter space. (“What should I use it for?” they ask, prompting me to spam them with my content .) The truth lies somewhere in between: an air fryer does a lot of things very well, but not without limitations.
Understanding what can and cannot be used in an air fryer requires understanding how an air fryer works. I can’t speak for every model, but most fryers, whether it’s a basket or a toaster, have a heating element and a powerful fan that sits above the food. The fan disperses the heat while removing moisture, creating a crispy, crispy and well browned crust. This is not a deep fryer, but a tiny forced convection oven, and some dishes cook better than others.
Despite its name, an air fryer is not a real air fryer. It can make a previously fried and fried item crispy – whether it’s yesterday’s Popeye or a frozen dinosaur-shaped chicken nugget – but adding a piece of raw chicken (or anything) to it with drops in batter (or something else) does not will give the desired results.
The fast-moving air will immediately blow away the dough, creating a real mess and leaving you with a naked chicken, a splattered basket and – in the worst case – a dirty, smelly heating element.
Skip foods that are underweight
Small, light foods will be blown about by strong fryer winds. I even saw the toast move a couple of inches. Sometimes it doesn’t matter much (my toast didn’t suffer from a slight push), but it can be annoying if, for example, a delicate coating of crumbs or herbs is blown off a chicken fillet. (In any case, you should avoid roasting fresh herbs outdoors—they tend to burn.)
Choose foods with some weight, or at least ones that won’t be spoiled by a little movement in the middle of cooking, and avoid protecting foods with foil, which is completely useless in a deep fryer because it won’t stay in place.
Don’t choose foods that are too big
An air fryer is only effective if hot air can circulate around the food, and items that cover all (or nearly all) of the pan prevent this. Consider this story about two pizzas: one mini and one “holiday”.
When I first purchased my six liter air fryer, I was thrilled to be able to fry Totino’s Party Pizza (one of my favorite frozen pizzas). Unfortunately, things didn’t go well: the pizza barely fit in the basket and blocked the circulation of hot air, while the top of the pizza was blown with direct heat from the heating element. This resulted in an overcooked, almost burnt filling and a crumbly, soft crust. Considering that nearly half of Party Pizza’s appeal is its crispy cracker crust, this was disappointing.
About a week later I tried air frying two mini pizzas (about four inches in diameter) from Trader Joe’s. The hot air could move and circulate around the pizza and it came out perfect. (Moral of the story: Buy a smaller pizza or cut a pizza for a pre-fry party.)
Avoid deep meals
Thick, layered dishes such as casseroles or pies present many problems. Even if you find a pie or casserole dish that’s small enough that hot air can properly circulate around the vessel, the lack of a heating element at the bottom of the fryer means your top layer cooks much faster than the bottom layer, resulting in a cold, damp bottom. and wet crusts.
Adding glass or ceramic utensils to the mix certainly won’t help. As A. A. Newton explained in her article on air frying pies, physics is not on our side here:
Anyone who has taken an introductory physics course can understand where this is going. (Though I barely outran mine.) The circulating air heats some things efficiently, but the large amount of damp material and glass that many pie plates are made of doesn’t do that much. Deep frying a cake is like heating up a swimming pool by pointing a hair dryer at the surface: the top inch or two might get a little warm, but you can forget about the sides and bottom.
This does not mean that you should completely abandon air-frying baked goods. Just expect the bottom to be slightly less finished than the top. (Here’s why these emergency cookies work so well: the contrast between the crispy crust and gooey insides is divine.)
Avoid non-flipping foods
There’s a reason most deep fryers yell and honk when you flip food or shake the basket about halfway through cooking. This exposes both sides of your food to the heating element, ensuring a uniform crisp on the outside and even heating of the insides.
Knowing this, you will be able to adapt your favorite dishes to the airfryer. If you just need to make an air fried pie, consider making hand pies that aren’t so big as to obstruct air circulation and that can be flipped to get a crispy crust on all sides.
Avoid excess moisture
Air frying soup is a bad idea. Wind sprays liquid all over the place which can cause problems with your heating element and a faulty heating element is a liability. A spoonful of water to keep vegetables moist while frying is fine, but don’t add more (for health and safety reasons).