Can you really cook Christmas dinner in an air fryer? We put it to the test…

Energy and time saving they may be, but can an air fryer handle the ultimate holiday feast?

Christmas dinner can be a challenge for even the most experienced cooks, which is why I believe we should all take a helping hand wherever we can.

This is why I decided to see if an air fryer could help in producing one of the most stressful meals of the year. Not only are air fryers cheap to run, but they’re also healthier (especially for fried food), meaning you can pile those pigs in blankets high on your plate with a little less guilt than normal.

While some sceptics (namely my chef-trained husband) doubted my ability to pull off this culinary feat, I was undeterred. And while it was more successful than my naysayers thought it would be, I’m not sure I’m ready to quit the oven just yet. Here’s what I learnt when I attempted to cook Christmas dinner in an air fryer…

A close up of a Christmas dinner not cooked in an air fryerCredit: Shutterstock/Joe Gough

It’s all in the planning

Get prepared for your air fryer feast

Before embarking on this festive mission, I decided to call upon Clare Andrews. She is an air fryer guru and author of The Ultimate Air Fryer Cookbook and what she doesn’t know about air fryers isn’t worth knowing.

“My advice would be to plan ahead,” she tells me.

“Make sure you know what needs to be cooked, how long it will take and above all make sure it will all fit in your air fryer. Some air fryers now have two draws which can make cooking something like a roast and all its different components so much easier.”

Good advice as the turkey crown I had my eye on was just a tad too large for my single drawer air fryer, the Ninja AF100UK, so I plumped for a large, basted turkey breast instead.

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Ninja Foodi Air Fryer AF100UK Air Fryer

How to cook turkey in an air fryer

Remember, size is important

The first challenge was the centrepiece — the turkey. It probably goes without saying here but you won’t get a big bird in an air fryer – even the biggest ones such as the Tower T17039, with its 11l (approximately 20 pints) capacity, will probably only just about fit in a small chicken.

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Tower T17039 11L Air Fryer

I went with a basted turkey breast in the end as this was the perfect size for my 3.8l (just under 7 pints) air fryer. My biggest worry, having cooked chicken breasts in the air fryer previously, was that this larger bird was going to come out all dry and horrible.

Andrews agrees that white meat can be tricky, however, there are some ways to ensure it comes out nice and moist.

“I make sure I always use a generous amount of vegetable oil or butter to baste for a start, and adjust the timings based on the size of your bird,” she tells me.

My top tip

Just like you would in the oven, don’t forget to baste it occasionally. It helps to keep the meat nice and juicy. It’s also important to turn halfway through cooking to ensure it cooks evenly.

As well as letting the turkey rest after cooking, which really makes a huge difference, Andrews also tells me to invest in a meat thermometer, especially as manufacturer timings are for conventional ovens, which vary wildly compared to air fryers.

She says: “I’ve learnt the hard way, so now I tend to use a meat thermometer, I find this always helps me with timings as there’s always so much going on that I have been known to forget the turkey is still cooking!”

The internal temperature should be around 75°C (around 167°F). I chose to use the roast setting on my air fryer, and I was really pleased with how it turned out. Nice and juicy, yet brown and crispy on the outside. The perfect turkey!

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Do air fryers make good roast potatoes?

This is what an air fryer was made for

Air fryer potatoes are just the best, especially chips and sweet potato wedges, however, as I learnt, roasties also work really well.

For this meal, I only had very small potatoes so was unable to peel them, however, once mixed in with some seasoning and oil and roasted for approximately 20 minutes, I had some deliciously crunchy, yet fluffy, potatoes.

As my turkey was small enough, I added my potatoes around the meat, halfway through cooking, so they were all ready together.

If you have the time, Andrews suggests par boiling the potatoes in salted water first, until they’re beginning to soften slightly.

Don’t forget to give them a shake mid-way through the cooking time either. Some air fryers have a timer on them to alert you to this. I just put mine on for 10 minutes, gave them a shake, and then set them off for a further 10 minutes.

Can you cook brussels sprouts in an air fryer?

You can – but be careful

I’m one of those rare people who just loves brussels sprouts – especially at Christmas time when they’re enhanced with delicious pancetta and chestnuts. For this test, I wanted to try Andrews’ recipe of sprouts topped with Parmesan cheese and fresh chillies.

I also thought this might be a time to entice my 13-year-old son over to the sprout side.

After washing the sprouts and removing the outer leaves, I put them in the air fryer, covered in a little olive oil, and cooked for 10 minutes, giving them a shake half way through.

Halfway through, they looked great, but at the end of the cooking time, I was dismayed to see that my sprouts had turned out a nasty shade of brown, which definitely didn’t endear them to my teen veggie avoider.

Andrews said parboiling them may have helped reduce the grotty colour.

“Next time, try boiling them first for about three to five minutes on a high heat, then submerge them in ice cold water, drain and pat dry and finish them off in the air fryer to get them crispy, with a drizzle of olive oil,” she says.

Once I added the parmesan and chillies over the top of them, they tasted delicious, but I’ll definitely be going for the par boil next time.

Don’t forget the pigs in blankets!

Quick and easy

Even if you’re not cooking your entire Christmas dinner in an air fryer, they can be a handy addition for all those fiddly extras.

“One of the biggest advantages of using an air fryer to prepare your Christmas dinner is that it allows you to cook side dishes while simultaneously cooking the turkey,” says AO’s air fryer expert Thea Whyte.

“Many air fryers even come with multiple functions, allowing you to cook, roast, bake, and even reheat, which means you can have multiple dishes cooking at the same time.”

After cooking pigs in blankets in the air fryer, I won’t go back to the oven now. Not only does it take next to no time, but as I used the crisper, all the fat dropped off, making them a much healthier option.

Don’t forget the gravy

Using the juices from the turkey, which had handily collected in the bottom of the air fryer, I created a delicious gravy. I just mixed the juices with turkey stock and flour in a separate saucepan, as liquids are one of the things not to cook in a air fryer.

How long does it take to cook a Christmas dinner in an air fryer?

Timings are approximate

All in all, it took me about an hour, including some basic prep, to cook my Christmas dinner. There was a lot of swapping over items from the air fryer that added to the time, but it was fairly quick for such a big meal.

Obviously, timings will vary depending on the size of what you’re cooking but these are what worked for my air fryer Christmas dinner:

  • Turkey joint (500g) – 30 minutes at 180°C (356°F)
  • Brussel sprouts (whole fresh) – 10 mins at 180°C (356°F). If you par boil them, you can cut this down to five minutes.
  • Pigs in blankets – Six mins at 180°C (356°F).
  • Roast potatoes (without parboiling) – 20/30 minutes at 200°C (392°F)

The final verdict

Can you cook Christmas dinner in an air fryer? Just about…

So, can you cook a Christmas dinner in an air fryer? The answer is definitely yes, but as to whether it’s easier or quicker is another thing. I only have a single drawer air fryer and I think if I’d had one with two drawers, I could have been cooking things side by side, which would have made things easier.

As it was, it was a bit of a juggling act, and I had to ensure we had piping hot gravy ready to pour over everything to ensure it was hot enough.

There were also some things that we couldn’t cook in the air fryer either – like peas and carrot and swede mash.

If you’re trying to cook Christmas dinner without an oven, or there’s only one of you, then an air fryer is a great way to make your festive feast. And as Whyte says, it can also work out cheaper.

“One benefit of using an air fryer is that it typically doesn’t require preheating, unlike ovens, which can reduce your waiting time,” she says.

Will I use an air fryer to cook Christmas dinner again? Probably not the turkey, but I’m definitely going to use it for side dishes and vegetables (and next time I’ll try not to burn the brussel sprouts!)

We were loaned the Ninja AF100UK by ao.com

Jayne Cherrington-Cook

Written by Jayne Cherrington-Cook she/her

Updated:

Jayne is the Senior Editor at Saga Exceptional. She cut her online journalism teeth 24 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.

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