For skeptics, an air fryer may seem like an unnecessary appliance. It “fries” fried foods like a deep-fat fryer, and it bakes and roasts similar to an oven.
But while its results may be similar to those forms, it has unique capabilities, thanks to its construction, that make it the best appliance for cooking certain foods. Here are a few ingredients that, once cooked up in the air fryer, instantly converted me from skeptic to die-hard fan.
When air-fried either whole or halved lengthwise, okra’s characteristic slimy texture is greatly diminished. The outside of each pod gets slightly dehydrated by the hot air of the air fryer, which aids in achieving a crunchy exterior without the excess grease of a deep-fat fryer or the sad, torn strands stuck to the baking sheet from roasting it in an oven.
It takes a lot of oil to cook eggplant well—and then a lot of paper towels to soak up all the excess so it’s not drowning in grease, thanks to its sponge-like texture. In the air fryer, the high heat of the fan crisps the outside at the same time it almost inflates the insides. The result: a creamy interior and a crunchy exterior. It’s better than in a deep-fat fryer, and you help by saving at least one tree from getting cut down in the process.
To boil then grill, or grill then bake? How about neither? The beauty of cooking pork ribs in the air fryer is that they go in raw and come out only 35 minutes later as tender, luscious meat sticks, bringing a former weekend-only dish into weeknight territory with one click and about four beeps of the machine.
Similar to ribs, chicken wings can become part of your weeknight dinner possibilities thanks to their quick cooking time in the air fryer (only 20 minutes!). And when rubbed with baking powder and spices, they become super-duper crispy; just the thing for tossing with a flavorful sauce and serving over rice, all of which you’re able to do during the miraculously short time in which they’re air-frying.
If you’re ever craving shishito peppers, but don’t have the heirloom wok and jet engine burner of your local Japanese restaurant to attain that fire-kissed char, don’t fret! The air fryer does the job just as well and in no time at all. They’ll be done by the time you slice the lemon wedge and gather the sea salt to rain down over them while they’re piping hot.
If you’re into meal prepping or are vegan, you know the beauty of the sweet potato, that versatile spud that’s good for you and takes well to any flavor you can imagine. You also know how long they take to cook, and that, as fries, they never really get that crispy. This is not the case in an air fryer, where the circulated high heat partially dehydrates the outside to a crisp, similar to eggplant, while cooking the insides until soft. Whether cut into fries, cubes, or spears, sweet potatoes cook up much faster than in the oven.
I had almost written off fried chickpeas as something that will never actually be good—that is, until I cooked them in the air fryer. The absence of the oil needed in the oven, deep-fat fryer, or skillet actually helps them get crispier because the air fryer’s heat dries out the exterior, while what little oil gets used has a chance to imbue the beans with a beautiful golden brown color. All crunch + no mess = I’m sold.
Obviously, you can cook roast beef in the oven to great success, but it takes a lot of tinkering with time and temperature to get that perfect medium-rare inside and, like, when was the last time you made homemade roast beef?! Air frying the roast gives you more precise control over the time and temperature and, if followed to a T per the recipe in my book, will give you perfect results in just 40 minutes flat, bringing yet another time-intensive and finicky dish into the world of easy weeknight cooking.
If you dislike the texture of quinoa, then you’re correct. It’s crumbly and often mushy, but if you take it one step further and let it cool and toss with just a tablespoon of oil, the air fryer transforms it into a cracklin’-crisp grain that’s ideal as the base of a grain bowl or sprinkled over greens for a crunchy salad topping. Before, you could only achieve that texture by deep-frying, then draining all those grains; now, it only takes an extra 20 minutes while you bring the rest of your meal together and set the table.
Desserts, and especially brownies, may seem like the last thing you want to subject to the intense high heat of an air fryer, but fortunately, that same heat works to the brownie’s advantage here. No more picking the right brownie square that’s the perfect mixture of chewy and fudgy, because when you bake up brownie batter in a pan in the air fryer, the heat of the machine sets the outsides like a traditional brownie by the time the inside is cooked, but still left fudgy and gooey, creating almost its own “sauce” for the rest of the brownie. Lift it out of the machine, top it with scoops of ice cream, and dig in with two or four spoons and forget about cutting bars forever.
Do you have an air fryer? What do you like to cook in it?
For more air fryer recipe ideas, check out Ben’s book Air Fry Every Day: 75 Recipes to Fry, Roast, and Bake Using Your Air Fryer (Clarkson Potter, 2018).