15 Surprising Things You Can Make in an Air Fryer

Woman cooking with air fryer
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From food processors in the 1970s to juicers in the 1990s, home cooks love trendy kitchen appliances. And just when you think all the kitchen inventions imaginable have had their day, a new one steals the spotlight. In 2019, The New York Times called the air fryer the “kitchen appliance of the moment.”

Air fryers are simple — they’re small countertop convection ovens that simulate deep frying without submerging the food in oil. Sarah Patrick owns AirFrying.net with her husband, David, and their site offers recipes, reviews and tips for air frying.

Patrick tells me she didn’t even own an air fryer before buying the website but now can’t imagine a kitchen without one. She’s owned eight different fryers and given some away to family and friends. She now owns two — one toaster-oven style, one basket style.

“I like air frying for the speed and convenience,” Patrick says. “It’s faster than the oven and more hands-off than the stovetop, which makes it easier to multitask in the kitchen.”

For Patrick, tater tots are the quintessential air-fryer food.

“I make them in every air fryer we review,” she says. “An air fryer helps make a quick meal even quicker.”

Patrick says the items she makes most often in the air fryer are frozen convenience foods — tater tots, french fries, chicken nuggets, pizza rolls and the like.

She offers some general tips for air-fryer use:

  • The amount of time to cook an item in an air fryer depends on the size of your air fryer and the capacity-to-food ratio. For example, the cooking time for one burger patty in a small 2-quart air fryer will be different than one burger in a large 8-quart one. Most recipes recommend checking or flipping your food halfway through cooking. This gives you the opportunity to check for doneness and adjust the time or temperature as needed for your appliance.
  • Don’t use cooking spray (such as Pam) in your air fryer. It can degrade the nonstick properties of your appliance.
  • Do use appropriate oils with a high smoke point. The Patricks don’t use oil often, but when they do, they prefer an oil mister with avocado oil.

Patrick walked me through some of her favorite, unusual recipes to make in an air fryer, and I tried some out for myself.

1. Hard-boiled eggs

Partially peeled boiled eggs on a countertop.
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It’s not hard to boil eggs on the stove, but air frying them means they peel more easily, Patrick says. “Hard-boiled eggs are definitely something you may not think about doing in your air fryer, but it works really well.” Her recipe notes that cooks should spritz the eggs with an air fryer-friendly oil, such as avocado, to ensure they don’t stick together.

I tried cooking eggs in the air fryer and was pleased by the fact that there was no eggy smell left in the air. One note: One of my eggs cracked, and the air fryer apparently whirled the leaking yolk around, dotting the shells. I was surprised to see brown-spotted shells when I opened the fryer, but the dots washed right off. And they did peel well.

2. Grilled cheese sandwiches

girl eating grilled cheese sandwich
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Air-fried grilled cheese sandwiches are one of Patrick’s go-to meals, she says.

“My personal tip — butter the outsides of the bread, but use mayonnaise, or mustard if that’s how you roll, on the inside of each slice,” she says. “This not only tastes great, but it helps the top slice of bread stick to the sandwich and not swirl around inside the air fryer.”

I made some grilled cheese sandwiches in my air fryer and discovered these were crunchy and delicious! They came out even crisper than my usual method of making them in a frying pan.

3. Toast

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Worried you won’t have room in your kitchen for an air fryer? Well, you might not need your toaster anymore — Patrick makes toast in her air fryer.

“We haven’t had a toaster since we got our first air fryer,” she says. “Note that your bread may fly around inside the basket, but that helps it get toasted on both sides. You can also toast bagels, Pop-Tarts and more.”

4. Baked sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes
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I love baked sweet potatoes. While they’re simple to make in a regular oven, Patrick’s recipe saved me about 10 minutes and made for a tasty and easy alternative.

5. Cupcakes

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Cupcakes in an air fryer? Yes!

“People tend to forget that an air fryer is a countertop oven,” Patrick says. “Anything you can bake, you can air fry. If you don’t have a cupcake or muffin tin for your air fryer, use silicone baking cups.”

I didn’t have silicone baking cups so I used a regular cupcake tin in my toaster oven-style air fryer. They came out looking unevenly browned but tasted delicious. My husband said he actually preferred the crispy tops the air fryer gave the cupcakes to the softer tops they have when baked in a regular oven.

6. Spaghetti squash

spaghetti squash
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Spaghetti squash makes a delicious noodle substitute for those who are on low-carb diets or who need to eliminate gluten. So, of course, you can cook it in the air fryer. Patrick says the resulting squash has a perfect al dente texture.

“Quicker than cooking in the oven, air fryers are a great way to prepare spaghetti squash,” she says.

7. Fried pickles

Fried pickles
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Breaded and fried pickles are a popular state-fair snack, but why wait until festival time when you can make them in the air fryer?

This recipe uses cajun seasoning but use any seasoning you prefer,” Patrick says.

As a fan of state-fair food, I had to try these. I didn’t have panko or almond flour, but regular bread crumbs worked fine. I didn’t bother to flip them, but they browned fairly evenly anyway.

8. Doughnuts

Woman eating glazed doughnuts
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Doughnuts? In an air fryer? “This is a shortcut recipe using refrigerated biscuit dough,” Patrick says.

My daughter and her friend were delighted by these. I personally prefer my from-scratch doughnut recipe which results in sweeter, less bready doughnuts, but this is a fun, fast option.

9. Fried bologna

Fried bologna sandwich and chips
Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock.com

“If you grew up eating fried bologna sandwiches, try air frying the bologna,” Patrick suggests.

This isn’t a favorite of mine, but if it is one of yours, follow Patrick’s suggestion to make a few cuts in the bologna slice before frying. That will help it fry more evenly.

10. Corn on the cob

Corn
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“Air frying corn on the cob is as easy as grilling it,” Patrick says.

And since the propane tank on my grill was empty, I tried it. My corn just fit the size of my air fryer and came out delicious. I sprinkled mine with Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel seasoning for a bit of spice.

11. Baked potatoes

Loaded Baked Potato
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Baked potatoes aren’t hard to make in a regular oven, but I usually give them 45 minutes to an hour in that appliance. In the air fryer, they were crisp on the outside, soft on the inside after just 40 minutes so the air fryer is a time-saver for me on this food.

12. Hash browns

hash browns
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My teen daughter discovered fast-food hash browns this year, but we don’t always feel like going through a drive-thru for our snack. Frozen hash brown patties can be popped in the air fryer and air-fried for a nice even crunch.

13. Whole chicken

Rotisserie chicken
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“We cooked a dry-rubbed, 4.5-pound chicken in a 4.6-quart air fryer for an hour,” Patrick tells me. “My husband said it was the juiciest chicken he’d ever had.”

14. S’mores

Smores s'mores
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Air fryer s’mores? “What’s not to like?” Patrick says of this campground favorite.

Note that if you like to burn your marshmallow to a crisp in the campfire, this recipe won’t give you that experience. Air-fried marshmallows toast evenly. But I found mine still had that irresistible crisp on the outside, gooey on the inside texture, and the chocolate melted beautifully.

15. French toast

French toast and strawberries
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I didn’t think the French toast I made in the air fryer would crisp up as well as that made on the stove, but I was wrong. It was a quick, hands-off way to make a breakfast treat.

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