What can you not cook in an air fryer? 11 things you should never put in an air fryer

Believe it or not, air fryers can't cook everything...

A close up of some waffle fries in an air fryer
(Image credit: Alamy)

If you've got one of these popular kitchen gadgets, it's important to know how to use them. So lets find out what not to put in an air fryer.

Air fryers have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, and it's no surprise given that they're cheap to run, can cook food in minutes and are easy to clean too. Whether it's fish, veg, or last night's leftovers, these clever countertop convection ovens are able to heat through and crisp up food in just minutes - and for those asking are they healthy (opens in new tab), the answer is yes!

If you've got one of the best air fryer cookbooks (opens in new tab) to help you make the most of your appliance, then you'll know that air fryers can cook just about anything. But there are a few foods that you can't air fry, and just like you might have found yourself asking can you put foil in an air fryer (opens in new tab), many are also wondering what can you not cook in an air fryer?

What can you not cook in an air fryer?

1. Wet batter

Lara Brittain, kitchen expert at Currys (opens in new tab), says, "Avoid placing wet batter in the air fryer. It won’t set the way it does when it’s submerged in oil, ultimately making a mess and the food won’t have that crunchy shell it is intended to have."

The problem is that wet batter needs to be fried in oil to seal it, so it won't crisp up in an air fryer. Instead, the batter will pool at the bottom and is likely to drip through the basket into the bottom of the air fryer. This can be both a mess to clean up and a potential fire hazard, so it's best to avoid using your air fryer for homemade batter.

You're better off trying a dry batter instead, which you can make by mixing breadcrumbs and any seasoning you like - such as garlic granules or paprika. Try this crispy fish bites (opens in new tab) recipe using a dry batter in your air fryer for homemade fish and chips.

onion rings

(Image credit: Getty Images)

2. Cheese

The problem with cheese is that it melts quickly and doesn't take long to burn in the high temperatures of an air fryer, this can then ooze onto the appliance’s interior and get stuck.

Lara says, "Avoid placing too much cheese in an air fryer – it can affect the inner workings and cause damage to the appliance."

Frozen cheese like mozzarella sticks or jalapeno poppers from the supermarket are fine, but you shouldn't cook fresh cheese in an air fryer - you'll end up with a molten puddle in the bottom of the basket and be left wondering how to clean an air fryer (opens in new tab).

Camembert

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3. Popcorn

You might be thinking your air fryer is perfect for whipping up this snack for a home movie night, but popcorn just won't work in an air fryer.

Air fryers can't reach a high enough temperature to pop the corn, and instead the kernels will just get blown around by the current of hot air - you're better of sticking to the microwave or the hob to make your popcorn. 

In addition, the kernels could get wedged inside the air fryer, which will stop it from working properly and may present a fire hazard.

A bowl of popcorn

(Image credit: Getty Images)

4. Broccoli

Vegetables that can retain their moisture can be cooked in an air fryer, but broccoli is not one of these. Instead, the florets become dry and bitter - or even take on a dusty texture - so broccoli is much better suited to roasting or steaming.

If you're looking for a green vegetable that you can cook quickly in an air fryer, then try brussels sprouts. We've got a great fried brussels sprouts (opens in new tab) recipe that you can adapt for your air fryer.

Frozen vegetables are also better suited to being air fried, because they're likely to retain some water from the ice. And if you're wondering if frozen food is healthy (opens in new tab), the good news is that frozen veggies are no less nutritious than in their fresh form.

Broccoli

(Image credit: Getty Images)

5. Rice

Rice needs to be cooked in water, but you can't put water in an air fryer. Lifestyle expert and self-described 'internet mom friend' Cathy Pedrayes (opens in new tab) shared in one of her TiKTok's (opens in new tab) why you should never put water in your air fryer, saying: "Air fryers circulate hot air, which means if you fill this with water, you risk it getting into the circuitry." 

And even if you did try to cook raw rice in your air fryer, it's unlikely the temperature would get high enough. Air fryers aren't designed to boil or steam food - but you can reheat pre-cooked rice in an air fryer or crisp it up for the last couple of minutes of cooking.

If you're after an easy and time-saving way to cook rice (opens in new tab), you could consider investing in a rice cooker - like the Instant Pot Duo Evo Plus (opens in new tab), which we gave five stars in our review (opens in new tab).

A bowl of raw rice

(Image credit: Getty Images)

6. Pasta

Much like rice, pasta needs to be cooked in boiling water, so you won't be able cook raw pasta in an air fryer. However, if you have some leftover pasta bake that you want to reheat, then this is fine to pop in the air fryer for a few minutes.

You could also try making pasta chips in your air fryer. Cook any shape of pasta you like on the stove as usual, then toss in olive oil and your favourite spices before popping in your air fryer to crisp up, leaving you with a delicious crunchy snack.

A plate of tomato pasta

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7. Roast chicken

It's unlikely that you'll be able to fit a whole roast chicken in your air fryer, and even if you can there won't be enough room for the air to circulate to cook the bird properly, so one part may over cook and become dry before the rest is cooked through.

Unless you have an air fryer with a specific setting for roasting chicken, such as the Tower Xpress 5-in-1 Air Fryer Oven (opens in new tab), then cooking a whole chicken in your air fryer is not a good idea. Instead, cook chicken in smaller pieces. 

A top tip is to place pieces of chicken skin-side up to make it extra crispy on the outside while the meat stays juicy.

A whole roast chicken on a tray

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8. Burgers

If you don't like your burgers well done then it's best not to cook them in your air fryer. These kitchen appliances are essentially mini convection ovens, and because of the way they work the middle of the burger will cook on the inside quite quickly while the exterior will still be very rare.

Similarly, it's not a good idea to cook cuts of steak or most other types of red meat in your air fryer.

Two cheeseburgers with a portion of chips

(Image credit: Getty Images)

9. Leafy greens

Kitchen expert Lara told us: "Although it is possible to cook spinach and leafy greens in an air fryer, it may cook unevenly and burn due to the air fryer’s high-speed air so be sure to check the air fryer temperature settings before using it to cook leafy greens."

Basically, if you try cooking fresh greens such as lettuce or spinach in an air fryer they will just get blown around by hot air and likely burn. 

The exception to this is kale - which can be used to make delicious kale chips - but you'll need to give the leaves a good coating of oil to weigh them down and stop them from burning.

A close up of a pile of spinach leaves

(Image credit: Getty Images)

10. Toast

Similarly, if you try putting bread in an air fryer its likely to get blown to pieces, and you'll probably end up with crumbs clogged in the chamber. This presents a difficult cleaning job, and the crumbs will continue to burn with each use of the air fryer, meaning you'll be smelling burnt toast every time you try to cook something.

Lara says, "Air fryers are not toasters, so be sure to place bread in the oven if you want it to be crispy as the air fryer will just dry out the bread and not necessarily make the toast crispy as it should be."

Besides, it's probably easier to use a good old fashioned toaster anyway!

Buttered toast on a plate

(Image credit: Getty Images)

11. Sauces

Dishes like stews and soups or other popular family meals with a lot of liquid like chilli con carne or bolognese won't work in an air fryer, because of the holes in the basket. If you want an easy way to make meals like this, you might want to invest in a slow cooker instead. 

Lara adds: "Avoid putting wet saucy foods such as Bolognese, curries or stews into an air fryer because as the hot air circulates it can cause the hot liquids to splatter and make a mess, damaging the air fryer."

Slow cookers are equally as fuss-free as air fryers, and allow you to leave food alone for hours as it cooks to perfection. If you're thinking of investing, check out our review of the best slow cookers (opens in new tab).

Similarly to soups and stews, it's also not a good idea to cook foods will a lot of marinade on them in an air fryer either, as the sauce will pool in the bottom of the basket.

A bowl of stew

(Image credit: Getty Images)

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Ellie Hutchings
Junior Features Writer

Ellie joined Goodto as a Junior Features Writer in 2022 after finishing her Master’s in Magazine Journalism at Nottingham Trent University. Previously, she completed successful work experience placements with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue and the Nottingham Post, and freelanced as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. In 2021, Ellie graduated from Cardiff University with a first-class degree in Journalism.