Air fryer mistakes: What not to cook in your air fryer

They might be versatile, but there are some things that just don’t belong in an air fryer.

Air fryers have become the must-have kitchen gadget thanks to their ability to create speedy and tasty meals.  

You can use them to cook a multitude of recipes, from air fryer potato dishes – including roasties and jacket potatoes – to meat. And yes, you can cook a whole roast chicken if your air fryer is big enough.

Air frying adds a delicious crispy finish to your favourite foods – all without having to use huge amounts of oil. But there are things you shouldn’t be cooking, not even in the best air fryers on the market.

Man using an air fryer to illustrate what not to cook in an air fryerCredit: Exceptional

Clare Andrews, author of The Ultimate Air Fryer Cookbook, says she believes most things can be cooked in an air fryer. 

“I always go with the same rule – whatever you can cook in an oven, you can most definitely cook in an air fryer,” she says. “I know I’m still experimenting with foods that I can cook in there.” 

While it’s great for giving a healthy spin to comfort food such as chips, there are some things that it’s advisable not to cook in an air fryer. 



Stick to breadcrumbs instead

While chips are made for air fryers, it seems you might have to leave your freshly battered fish for the frying pan. 

“I would probably steer clear of a wet batter in an air fryer,” advises Andrews, who recommends replacing it instead with a breaded coating.  

The hot air circulating in the fryer can cause the batter or coating to fly off and create a mess. If you really want to use a wet batter, try freezing the battered food first to help it hold together better.  

The exception to this is already cooked frozen food with a batter, such as fish fillets – these are perfect for popping into your air fryer for a quick meal. 

Sauce-based dishes

Leave the sauces to the slow cooker

When working out whether to buy an air fryer or slow cooker, consider whether you love sauce-based dishes, as these are best left to the slow cooker, hob or oven. Dishes such as curries and stews don’t really work in an air fryer, as the sauces can get very hot and messy, plus there’s a chance you’ll burn yourself. 

These foods also benefit from long cooking times to enhance the flavour, so a slow cooker will make it taste better – even if it won’t be a quick supper. 

home made stew and dumplings cooked in slow cooker to illustrate what not to cook in an air fryerCredit: Shutterstock/Delovely Pics
If you like stews and sauce-based dishes, a slow cooker is a better choice

Some vegetables

Dried out veggies are not so tasty

Veggies such as potatoes and sprouts work well in an air fryer but be cautious when it comes to those vegetables such as broccoli or spinach.

“I’d say you need to be careful of fresh spinach, which can dry up and burn rather quickly,” says Andrews. “Broccoli is delicious, but the floret buds can also catch rather quickly, so I’d keep an eye on them when cooking.” 

If you really want to enjoy this style of vegetables in your air fryer, go for frozen instead. They are less likely to dry out and burn, as they retain more moisture thanks to the ice. Just spray with oil and add directly into the basket. Don’t allow them to thaw as this can make the end result a bit of a soggy mess! 

Cooking potatoes and carrot sticks with spices in an air fryer to illustrate what not to cook in an air fryerCredit: Shutterstock/Francisco Zeledon
Root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes are a better choice for an air fryer


Be careful with liquids

Water is a huge no when it comes to your air fryer. While a couple of teaspoons may not do any major damage, large quantities will hurt your machine. Putting any liquid into your air fryer can also invalidate your warranty, as most manufacturers will label this as misuse or failure to follow instructions.  

Emily Jones, Senior Product Manager at Tefal, says adding water could cause problems if your machine breaks.  

“If the machine is not used correctly or as per the instructions, then this will void your warranty, but this will depend on the model used,” she says. 

She recommends using an air fryer that can also be used as a steamer if you want more cooking options, such as their EasyFry 3in1 digital Air Fryer (£139, Tefal) which allows you to air fry, steam and grill.  

If you’re wondering how to clean an air fryer without water, don’t worry. Some parts of an air fryer, such as the basket, can be washed in soapy water or a dishwasher. Then just use a damp cloth to clean the main heating element and the exterior of the machine.  



Small kernels can be a fire hazard

You can make popcorn in an air fryer, but there are risks. Small or lightweight foods, like popcorn kernels, can be blown all over the place by the convection method of heating that the air fryer uses. The kernels can easily become lodged inside the heating element, causing your air fryer to short. Ultimately, it’s a fire risk so stick to buying already popped popcorn or use your microwave instead 

Don’t overfill your air fryer. Adding too much food will not only increase the cooking time – not -ideal, when you want a quick meal – but also means your food may not cook properly.   

Andrews advises spreading out the food in a single layer on the base of the basket, while Jones says a shake halfway through will guarantee optimal results. 

Too much oil

Use sparingly for the best results

“Air fryers have grids or plates that sit just above the base of the bowl, which allows a gap to let your hot air circulate 360 degrees around the food,” explains Jones. “This is why you don’t need as much oil to get crispy results!”  

Too much oil in the basket or on food can cause it to drip onto the heating elements, which could damage your machine. The ideal is to lightly coat the item you want to cook rather than adding oil to the basket. Brushing it or spraying it with oil is a great way to do this. Overloading with oil can also result in soggy food, which is definitely not the result you’re after. 

Pasta and rice

Leave these classics to the hob

While Andrews loves cooking rice in an air fryer, she still prefers to cook pasta on a hob. Pasta needs water to cook properly and even though you can add a tablespoon or so of water to an air fryer to keep food moist, any more can damage the machine. 

Penne pasta in tomato sauce with chicken to illustrate what not to cook in an air fryerCredit: Shutterstock/Timolina
Stick to the hob when it comes to cooking pasta

A risotto can work in an air fryer, especially those machines with a paddle, to ensure it is stirred regularly. If you want beautifully fluffy rice though, it’s best to stick to the hob or even a microwave rice cooker 


Step away from the cheese

Hot, gooey cheese may sound delicious, but bunging in the Cheddar won’t do your air fryer any favours. Unlike deep frying cheese, which creates a lovely outer crust, attempting to cook cheese in an air fryer will just result in a giant cheesy mess.   

If you’re desperate for an air fryer cheese fix, you can cook breaded cheese products in there. Either choose frozen ready-made products, or double dip the cheese and then freeze for a short time to ensure the coating doesn’t just fall off. 

Can you put foil in an air fryer?  The short answer is yes. It’s a great way to help keep your air fryer cleaner, just make sure you don’t use too much. Covering the basket in foil can prevent the heat from moving through the air fryer, so food doesn’t cook evenly.

Too much seasoning

Fiery seasoning – but for all the wrong reasons

Lots of seasoning will make your food tasty, but it could be a fire hazard for your air fryer. Excessive seasoning, as well as marinades, can clog the machine, which in turn could cause your machine to catch on fire.   

A light seasoning is fine. If you add oil to your food item first and then season, shaking off any excess, this will ensure no seasoning gets stuck to the machine. Alternatively, you can season your food afterwards.   

Red meat

Great only if you like your steak well done

Red meat can be quite tough when cooked in the air fryer, so make like top chef Calum Montgomery, who shared his top air fryer tips with us. He cooks steak in a pan, leaving it to rest, and when ready to eat, runs it through the air fryer for 30 seconds so it’s “nicely flashed”. 

If you don’t mind your steak or burgers well done, then the air fryer is an OK method to use, but just bear in mind, you won’t get that medium/rare finish easily using this method. 

Jayne Cherrington-Cook

Written by Jayne Cherrington-Cook she/her


Jayne is the Senior Editor at Saga Exceptional. She cut her online journalism teeth 23 years ago in an era when a dialling tone and slow page load were standard. During this time, she’s written about a variety of subjects and is just at home road-testing TVs as she is interviewing TV stars.

A diverse career has seen Jayne launch websites for popular magazines, collaborate with top brands, write regularly for major publications including Woman&Home, Yahoo! and The Daily Telegraph, create a podcast, and also write a tech column for Women’s Own.

Jayne lives in Kent with a shepsky, her husband and her son, who is attempting to teach her the ways of TikTok, Aston Villa and anime. A keen neurodivergent ally after her son was diagnosed as autistic five years ago, when Jayne does have some rare downtime she enjoys yoga, reading, going to musicals and attempting to emulate Beyonce (poorly) in street dance classes.

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