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7 Foods I Can't Stop Cooking in the Air Fryer

These recipes are done in minutes with almost no cleanup after, especially when you make an air fryer do all the work.

David Watsky Senior Editor / Home and Kitchen
David lives in Brooklyn where he's spent more than a decade covering all things edible, including meal kit services, food subscriptions, kitchen tools and cooking tips. Before, during and after earning his BA from Northeastern, he toiled in nearly every aspect of the food business, including as a line cook in Rhode Island where he once made a steak sandwich for Lamar Odom. Right now he's likely somewhere stress-testing a blender or tinkering with a toaster. Anything with sesame is his all-time favorite food this week.
Expertise Kitchen tools | Appliances | Food science | Subscriptions | Meal kits
David Watsky
4 min read
Bacon in an air fryer

At this point, there's almost nothing I wouldn't try making in the air fryer. 

Getty Images/Screenshot by CNET

Air fryers are known for making crispy wings and crunchy French fries, but these powerful superconvection ovens make a whole lot more than party fare. From healthy fish to Sunday roast chicken, I've discovered the joys of using an air fryer in a range of recipes. I even use the air fryer to bake on occasion, and I've found the countertop cookers can make perfectly medium-rare burgers and reheat leftovers better than even the most advanced microwave.

The biggest reason I use my air fryer so much is for the reliable results -- air fryers give a great crust to foods via fan-powered convection cooking -- but it also takes less time to cook food than with most other methods. As if that wasn't enough, air fryers are easy to clean since most feature a nonstick basket that only requires a quick rinse with soapy water, and there is very seldom any food caked on the bottom that needs scrubbing. The air fryer basket also contains any splatter that might otherwise create a mess on the counter or stove.

While there are a few holdouts that I still cook in the big oven or on the stovetop, the list grows smaller by the year. Here are seven things I'll cook only in the air fryer from now on.

7 foods I'll only make in the air fryer

Salmon

salmon cut into revealing medium rare center

Just 8 minutes in the air fryer and you have perfectly medium rare salmon.

David Watsky/CNET

Roasted salmon is a simple, healthy weeknight dinner staple. It's not difficult to make in the oven, but if you're only cooking for one or two people, the preheating time is a pain in the butt. Pan-seared salmon is great and quick, but there's almost no way to cook salmon on the stove without creating an oily, fishy mess. Plus, you'll have a pan to clean afterward. 

I tried cooking roasted salmon in the air fryer, and it came out perfectly in about 10 minutes, including preheat time. The closed cooking chamber even hides some of the fishy smell from taking over my apartment. 

OK, so you might catch me throwing the occasional filet of salmon on the grill during warmer months, but gone are the days of me wiping fish grease from the backsplash behind my kitchen stove. 

Here's how to make perfect air fryer salmon.

Roasted chicken

air fryer chicken on cutting board

Air-fryer roasted chicken is a revelation.

David Watsky/CNET

This one surprised me the most since I make a roast chicken most Sundays and had become content with my method using the oven. I learned fast that the air fryer does an even better job since it's able to crisp the skin quickly without overcooking the meat. Air-fryer roasted chicken takes about 45 minutes -- about 15% quicker than the oven -- and it's nearly impossible to screw up.

Here's how I make a quick roasted chicken in the air fryer.

Cheeseburgers 

a burger cooked to medium cut in half

You can cook a burger to perfect medium or medium rare with an air fryer.

Pamela Vachon/CNET

Air fryer cheeseburgers have become a staple around my home. The exception is during summer when the grill is in full swing, but during cooler months, I turn to the air fryer for this American classic. It's not only cleaner than pan frying, but the burger doesn't cook in its own grease, so you get a lighter, healthier meal (if you're into that sort of thing). You can also stick the bun and a couple of slices of bacon in with the burger and you have the full meal with almost no cleanup to manage.

Here's how to make a cheeseburger from top to bottom in the air fryer.

Chicken cutlets 

Chicken cutlet cooked in Instant Pot

Air fryers turn out picture-perfect chicken cutlets.

David Watsky/CNET

Before the air fryer, I used to pan-fry breaded chicken cutlets for chicken Parmesan and other recipes, but the air fryer does the same job with less mess and produces less oily fried chicken, too. 

Watch this: Best Air Fryers: Cheap vs. Expensive

I recommend using boneless chicken thighs, which have enough fat content to withstand all that convection heat without drying out. Simply coat the chicken in beaten egg wash followed by bread crumbs mixed with salt, pepper and other spices. Cook at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes.

You can spray the cutlets lightly with a bit of oil before cooking to get an extra crispy crust, but it's not necessary. I've tried the same method with chicken breasts; it works well, but there is more risk of drying out the meat.

Cauliflower steak

cauliflower steak

Cauliflower steak made in the air fryer has become a staple side dish in my kitchen. 

David Watsky/CNET

One of my favorite things to cook in the air fryer is cauliflower. A slab of cauliflower makes an excellent hearty side dish or main course if you're going plant-based. Simply toss a thick slice or two of cauliflower with olive oil and salt and pepper, or some seasoning of your choice, and air fry for 10 or 12 minutes on high. The air fryer gives it a beautiful caramelized crust, and it cooks the dense veggie fast enough so that the inside of the cauliflower doesn't become mushy.

French fries 

crinkle fries in bowl

Frozen french fries made in an air fryer come out golden brown and delicious.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Admittedly, I didn't make French fries all that often before getting an air fryer, but now that I have one, it's the only method I'll use. Frozen French fries tend to dry out when cooked in a big oven because it takes much longer to cook them in that large chamber. 

An air fryer, with its compact cooking chamber and fast-moving air imparts a quick crust to the outside of the French fry in minutes without drying out the potato. Frozen fries don't take more than 5 or 6 minutes to make in an air fryer, and you can make French fries from scratch in about 15 minutes.

Most leftover food

slice of pizza on cutting board

This leftover pizza got a whole new life thanks to a short trip to the air fryer.

David Watsky/CNET

While not every type of food is best reheated in the air fryer, a lot of them are. Air fryers are the perfect way to revive leftover pizza, fried chicken, grilled meats and vegetables. A microwave heats food unevenly and tends to impart a rubbery texture. Air fryers give food a second life via convection heat for a crispy crust and even heating. 

Here's the best way to reheat every type of leftover.