air fryer potatoes

Using an Air Fryer – The Best Foods to Air Fry and Mistakes to Avoid

The popularity of air fryers has been steadily growing over the past few years. Morning television programs feature unique ways to use air fryers, Google is chock full of air fryer recipes, and Oprah even featured an air fryer in her “Favorite Things” list at one point.

However, the explosion of air fryer cooking has also led to both a wariness to cook certain foods with the device and, on the flip side, a plethora of problematic food choices that don’t jive with how an air fryer actually works.

Below is a quick overview of some quick tips for making the most of an air fryer and how to avoid having to throw your air fryer in the trash because you thought air-frying mozzarella sticks was a genius idea.

Great Foods To Cook in an Air Fryer

Steak

Why? With a little practice, you can get a beautifully cooked steak in the air fryer allowing you to skip the smoke and flames from the grill.

I like to leave my steaks uncovered in the fridge for an hour or two before cooking so the surface of them is dry.

Once dry, I rub them with a little olive oil and a generous amount of salt and pepper. The olive oil helps them get a really good sear. The salt and pepper gives a simple, yet satisfying flavor.

To make sure they cook evenly, flip them over about halfway through. That way both sides have contact with the hot surface of the basket. But beware of using too much dry rub, as I’ll explain below.

Potatoes

While air-frying french fries seems like a no-brainer, cooking potatoes any number of ways is made easier—and tastier— with an air fryer. You’ll get a crispy outside and soft potato inside. 

A potato’s starchiness works really well with this appliance. 

Breaded Chicken

Another food made for air-frying. Anything with a coating is easily made with an air fryer—whether breaded for a crunchy fried chicken or simply baked with some seasoning. The air fryer is terrific for keeping chicken juicy and tender.

air fryer chicken drumsticks

Donuts

Why not? Air-fried donuts may be slightly more like a fried cake, but still delicious and your waistline will thank you for skipping the deep fryer. 

For air fryer donuts, I add a bit more flour than egg.

It’s almost like bread dough, plus some sugar of course. This way the consistency is like dough that’s been kneaded a bit and shouldn’t be too sticky or wet. If you don’t want to make dough from scratch, pre-made biscuits are a great alternative which allows you more time to spend getting creative with your glaze when they are done.  

Fish

Baked simply or breaded and fried, the hot air gets the outside nice and crispy without overcooking the inside of whatever fish you may be cooking.

Foods to Avoid with an Air Fryer

Anything with a Wet Batter

If you try to cook corndogs or tempura in an air fryer, you will have an extensive mess on your hands. Wet batter goes everywhere in an air fryer and without a proper oil bath, the batter won’t set, which means it won’t be the fried item you imagined as an end result. 

Fresh Root Vegetables

Veggies like carrots or parsnips will end up mushy by the time they are fully cooked in an air fryer. No one will be pleased with mushy carrots.

Fresh Greens 

Greens like spinach and kale will literally fly all over the place and cook unevenly in an air fryer. Stick to the normal oven if you’re looking for kale chips. 

Over-Seasoned Proteins

If you think that cooking a well-crusted pork loin in an air fryer will be easy, you’ll likely end up with a lot of spices blown off your meat unless the spice blend is somehow glued to the protein.

Anything over-seasoned follows the rule above. Even veggies that have a fairly dry surface should be moistened before seasoning so that dried spices don’t go flying away or fall through the basket. A light brush of olive oil or mustard can help spices stick.

In general, when using an air fryer, try not to over season. If you add spices and seasoning immediately after cooking, it’s usually just as good.

Cheese

An air fryer is not actually a fryer, so there isn’t the instant outer crust you would get from actually deep frying cheese for say something like a mozzarella stick. Instead, you’ll get a gooey, cheesy mess inside your fryer.

Soup

Haha. Of course you wouldn’t try to cook soup in an air fryer…would you? 

Some parts of this advice first appeared in a recent Insider story, “7 things you should cook in an air fryer and 7 things you shouldn’t.”

Yankel Polak

Yankel Polak is the Head Chef at ButcherBox.