What can you not cook in an air fryer? 15 things you should never put in your air fryer

If you've been wondering what not to cook in your air fryer, we've put together this handy list of foods that you should avoid putting in the appliance.

An air fryer in front of a collage of rice, grated cheese, broccoli, popcorn and pasta
(Image credit: Future)

If you've got one of these popular kitchen gadgets, you be wondering if there's anything that air fryers can't cook...

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. If you're the lucky owner of one of the best air fryers out there, you probably already know about the foods you can cook in an air fryer, and have a go-to list of the best air fryer recipes that you can whip up for the family in no time.

And while it's true that you can make just about anything in an air fryer, there are a few foods that you can't air fry. Just like you might have found yourself wondering if you can put foil in an air fryer, many are also wondering what food you can't cook in an air fryer. We've done the research for you, so you won't have to worry about making a mess of your trusty kitchen gadget - as long as you avoid putting these 15 foods in your air fryer...

What can you not cook in an air fryer?

1. Wet batter

Lara Brittain, kitchen expert at Currys, 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 recipe using a dry batter in your air fryer for homemade fish and chips.

onion rings

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2. 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 shared in one of her TiKTok's 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, you could consider investing in a rice cooker - like the Instant Pot Duo Evo Plus, which we gave five stars in our review.

A bowl of raw rice

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3. 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.


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4. 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

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5. 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 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, the good news is that frozen veggies are no less nutritious than in their fresh form.


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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 it in your air fryer to crisp up, leaving you with a delicious crunchy snack.

A plate of tomato pasta

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7. 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

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8. 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 overcook 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, 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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9. 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.

Veggie burgers, however, will cook just as well in an air fryer as in an oven, and you won't need to remember to flip them over part way through cooking, thanks to the circulation of hot air.

Two cheeseburgers with a portion of chips

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10. Steak

Similarly to burgers, it's not a good idea to cook cuts of steak or most other types of red meat in your air fryer. Much like burgers tend to end up well done in an air fryer, so do steaks, meaning it's difficult to cook a steak rare or medium rare with an air fryer.

It's especially difficult to cook seared steak in an air fryer, because it involves exposing the outside of the meat to extremely high temperatures (using hot oil) to make a juicy and flavourful steak. 

However, most air fryers can't reach high enough temperatures to sear meat (around 230C), and even if they could, you wouldn't be able to place the meat close enough to the heating element for it to have the same effect.

A close up of slice steak with rosemary and roasted garlic

(Image credit: Getty Images)

11. 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

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12. Sauces

Lara told us: "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."

Unfortunately, that means a lot of family favourites like bolognese and chilli con carne can't be made in an air fryer. Similarly, 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.

Slow cookers are equally as fuss-free as air fryers, and allow you to leave food alone for hours as it cooks to perfection. You might want to consider investing in a slow cooker as an alternative if you love saucy meals - why not check out our review of the best slow cookers?

A bowl of stew

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13. Soups

Equally, dishes like stews and soups won't work in an air fryer, because of the holes in the basket. The liquid will just seep through into the base, and even if you remove the basket you run the risk of the soup burning on the sides and creating a bit of a mess. 

However, that doesn't mean you can't prep your soup ingredients using your air fryer. Thinking about making a roasted red pepper soup? Why not air fry the red pepper instead, before blending with stock and cream

In fact, one content creator has shared exactly how you can use your air fryer to make soup. Nathan Anthony - aka Bored of Lunch - promises his viral recipe will be "the easiest soup you'll make in your life."

A bowl of carrot soup with a basil and cream garnish

(Image credit: Getty Images)

14. Seasoning

Just like with marinades, foods covered in dry seasoning are better cooked in an oven than in an air fryer. This is because the seasoning can be blown off the food by the hot air or fall through the air fryer basket. 

While finer, ground seasoning that can be rubbed into food should be fine, more coarse varieties such as chilli flakes are most likely to be blown around, meaning they won't stick to your food, may burn, and will make it difficult to clean your air fryer too.

Instead, try seasoning your food once it’s out of the air fryer, or add some oil to your seasoning and brush it onto the food to help it stick. 

Four spoons filled with different herbs and spices

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15. Too much food at once

Putting too much food in your air fryer at once means that not everything will cook properly, because the hot air won't circulate evenly around the food. Your food will appear to take longer to cook, with some areas remaining raw and/or soggy, but other areas will be cooking as normal and will end up burnt if you leave them in the air fryer for too long. 

If you have more food to cook than room in your air fryer, try cooking in batches instead. This might not be practical for larger families, so if you've got lots of mouths to feed you might want to consider investing in an air fryer with a larger basket.

Goodto's Deputy Editor, Heidi Scrimgeour, recommends the 15L Proscenic T31 Air Fryer Oven for families.

Proscenic T31 Air Fryer Oven | £179 - Amazon

Proscenic T31 Air Fryer Oven | £179 - Amazon

Heidi says, "After a long day at work with five hungry stomachs to fill, I can’t face fiddling around with a gadget or - worse - risking a burnt offering. But the preset buttons take all that hassle out of using an air fryer. Press the corresponding button and bingo, dinner is almost ready. And if you prefer to set your own temperature or cooking time, simply ignore the preset buttons and turn the dial to control it manually."

If you're looking for some of the best air fryer recipes, take a look at these air fryer pork chops, air fryer Korean chicken wings and air fryer stuffed aubergine. We've got a recipe for air fryer fish tacos too, and you might be surprised to find out that you can even poach eggs in an air fryer.

Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.