An air fryer is simply a version of a convection oven, which is different from a conventional oven and offers a few advantages. Traditionally, a heating element is located on both the top and bottom of an oven, distributing heat to the food to cook. In a convection oven, an interior fan is installed which circulates the heat around the cooking food. This both speeds up cooking time and results in food that’s more evenly browned.
So in spite of its name, an air fryer does not fry food, but it does impart a lovely crisp and is perfect for recipes that are baked, fried, or grilled. Due to its quick preheating time, convenient size, and user-friendly design, air fryers have evolved into a go-to appliance for cooking frozen foods. But for as straightforward as frozen foods are, they can turn soggy or decisively unappetizing if not prepared well. Here’s how to make frozen foods delicious every time using your air fryer.
Adjust Both Temperature and Cook Time
Because an air fryer is essentially a convection oven, the recommended cook time listed on the package will be too long. In addition, heat settings on many air fryers reach a maximum of 400 F, so you’ll need to factor this into how you prepare your food. That said, there are some general guidelines that are useful to know.
If the package recommends a heat setting that your air fryer can reach, reduce the heat by 10 to 25 degrees and begin by cutting the time in half. This way, you can check on your food and make a judgment call on how much longer it needs to cook.
When and How to Use Grease
Just as you would lightly coat your sheet pan, skillet, or grill with oil or fat, it helps to do the same in an air fryer. That said, only a light coat is necessary and if you’re making food that already has some fat, you might not need it at all. Another important consideration is the kind of product you use to grease your air fryer. Many air fryers are made with a non-stick coating, so using a spray that has propellants or other additives can erode the coating over time. Instead, use a brush to coat both your basket and food in an oil or fat of your choice.
Avoid Overcrowding Your Basket
Preparing frozen food in the air fryer is overall a very convenient way to cook. However, don’t be tempted to overstuff your air fryer’s basket because the heat may not cook your food evenly, resulting in a less than tasty snack or meal. Instead, for foods that are breaded or wrapped (like mozzarella sticks or egg rolls) fill your basket about halfway and shake your basket about halfway through cooking. Though, if your food is open-faced or uncoated (like potato skins or chicken wings) place food in a single layer down in the basket.
Preheat Your Air Fryer
Frozen food is naturally more prone to becoming mushy as it thaws because it will release water. Though the good news is, jumping this hurdle isn’t difficult. Simply preheat your air fryer beforehand because the high heat will more quickly evaporate the water in your frozen food. Some air fryers don’t have a preheat setting, but you can still pop your basket open and estimate its temperature or use an oven-safe thermometer for a more exact reading.
Not All Frozen Foods Are Treated Equal
Among frozen foods, there are many options that cook perfectly in the air fryer. For example, anything pre-cooked, breaded, wrapped, or bite-sized is a great choice. These include snacks and foods like dumplings, fish sticks, fries, and mini meatballs. That said, frozen vegetables can be a bit more tricky since they’re prone to either drying out or becoming soggy.
Before you decide whether or not to put a frozen vegetable in the air fryer, it’s helpful to think of its inherent properties. For example, broccoli has tiny, delicate buds so you might guess that when it’s heated, it turns brittle and dry. On the other hand, a vegetable like zucchini or holds a lot of water so it can easily result in a water-logged mess—it’s often best to save frozen vegetables like these for soups, stews, or smoothies.