Frozen Foods You Should And Shouldn't Cook In Your Air Fryer

Deep-fried foods are delicious, but the effects on our health and our waistlines are well-known. Enter the air fryer, a kitchen gadget that helps home cooks prepare foods that taste like deep-fried favorites without all the fat and calories. Air fryers are versatile and not only for deep-fried dishes; just about anything that you would bake, roast, or broil in your oven can be made in an air fryer.

Confused? It's called an air fryer, so isn't it meant to fry food? Yes and no. Unlike traditional deep frying, air fryers circulate hot air around the food, allowing it to crisp up. Cooking food this way lets you use tiny amounts of oil or none at all. Air fryers aren't perfect, despite our obsession with them. With so many fryer models, recipes are sometimes hard to follow. Your model might cook faster or require another temperature setting, leading to dry or undercooked food. Trial and error is the only way to know how your air fryer cooks each dish.

While many prepared frozen foods seem designed for air fryer cooking, some aren't. Tray-style fryers cook more at once, but they let liquids drip to the bottom of the fryer. This can create a mess and might even burn and smoke. Let's explore which frozen foods turn out perfectly air-fried and which ones you may want to cook another way.

Do: French fries

Maybe it seems obvious, but air fryers make great fries. Any shape or cut of French fries cooks up crisp on the outside and soft inside without plunging them into a vat of boiling oil. If you find oven-baked fries a little disappointing, air-fried French fries will make you think your plate came right from the diner.

Preheating your air fryer will make crispier fries (or any other food). Many frozen fries have instructions for the air fryer, but keep an eye on them since each model varies. Remember that food always has to be carefully placed in an air fryer; single layers with space between each piece let hot air circulate, so they don't get soggy.

If you want to add seasoning to your fries, remember that the convection action might blow it around the oven. You can spritz the fries with oil before seasoning to avoid that problem. No matter which air fryer you use, flipping the fries midway and switching trays around will probably give better results.

Do: battered fish

Who doesn't love fish and chips? Battered fish fillets or fish sticks cook beautifully in an air fryer without any extra fat at all. Perfect fried fish is crunchy outside while the fish stays delicately flaky. Frozen battered fish baked in the oven sometimes gets soggy on the side that touches the pan, ruining the experience.

Deep frying your battered fish is not a better idea. According to Healthline, eating a lot of deep-fried fish increases the risk of heart failure by an astonishing 48% in women. Air frying battered fish lowers that risk by making it closer to baked or broiled fish, proven to be part of a healthy diet.

Be aware that frozen battered fish is usually raw, so be sure it's fully cooked. The size, thickness, and type of coating used will all play a role in how long the fish will need to be in the air fryer. In general, 12-15 minutes at 375º is a good start but always cut one piece open to check for doneness. If the package doesn't have air fryer instructions, pay close attention and try flipping the fish halfway.

Do: frozen egg rolls

While egg rolls and spring rolls are always a crowd-pleaser, not everyone wants to make them from scratch (though we do have the perfect egg roll recipe). They are time-consuming, with many steps and ingredients, so buying them premade is easier. However, many people complain that they don't taste the way takeout does. It's true; restaurant egg rolls and spring rolls are deep-fried, so baking them in the oven may be disappointing.

The air fryer comes to the rescue here because it crisps egg rolls to perfection without using extra oil. Remember to cook them with space between every egg roll, and to make them extra crispy, start them at 380º to cook the interior, then bump it up for a few minutes to get the wrapper crunchy.

Take note that size matters. Frozen spring rolls will cook faster than egg rolls because they are smaller and have thinner wrappers. If you need to cook several rounds of appetizers, the first round will take longer because the fryer will be very hot for subsequent rounds. Cooks that know their fryer well and watch food closely will have the best success.

Do: frozen puff pastries

Puff pastries are another treat many home chefs are afraid to make from scratch. The good news is there are delicious frozen pastries readily available at the grocery store, and making them in the air fryer rivals fresh ones hot from the bakery. Also, it's worth noting that air frying frozen turnovers and even toaster strudels produce superior flakiness to the oven. Hot air circulation is a foolproof way to heat the filling while keeping the crispiness expected from puff pastry.

Using the package instructions as a guide, place the pastries in your fryer, so they aren't touching. As always, the size and thickness of the treats determine how long they need to cook, and ingredients may play a part. Flipping them midway allows the pastries to brown evenly, but try not to break them open. Remember that if you make multiple batches, you can adjust the cooking time down after the first.

Do: taquitos and burritos

Mexican food is known for its cheesy, creamy fillings paired with crisp tortillas. Frozen burritos and taquitos make a terrific easy meal. Start with frozen taquitos if you want a shortcut to enchiladas that taste like you spent hours in the kitchen. While frozen burritos are often baked, taquitos and flautas are deep-fried or at least sautéed in plenty of oil, so air frying cuts a lot of fat and calories.

As with other frozen foods, there's no need to thaw before air frying. Adjust your cooking temperature and timing according to your air fryer model. Tray-style air fryers can accommodate more food with room between each item, so if you're cooking for a crowd, this will be your best bet. You may want to spray the surface of the food with oil, so it doesn't stick and tear open.

Use the package directions as a guide, but remember to adjust for your air fryer. Turning the food midway during cooking and watching for an even golden color on all sides will ensure the best tasting result. Of course, burritos are larger than taquitos, so adjusting cooking times according to the size of the food is essential. Pay attention to the type of tortilla; flour tortillas cook faster than corn, so be careful not to burn them.

Do: chicken nuggets and tenders

Frozen chicken nuggets are a childhood staple for a good reason. Everybody loves them; they're quick, convenient, and perfect for dipping. Making them in the air fryer makes them a healthier choice while still yielding the necessary crunch.

Always read the packaging, as some brands are sold precooked, while others use raw chicken. Nobody wants to serve undercooked poultry, so make sure you're giving them enough time to cook through. (This should only mean another few minutes in the fryer.) There's no need to thaw your nuggets; air frying battered chicken right from the freezer gives the best crunch.

Remember to only cook a single layer at once. A tray-style fryer will cook more chicken at once if you're cooking for a crowd. Flipping in the middle of cooking and changing the orientation of trays will ensure an even golden color. In most tray-style fryer models, the top tray will brown most, so giving the lowest tray some time on top is the best practice.

Do: frozen bread products

There's nothing like freshly baked bread. Everyone loves it, but sometimes life gets busy, and baking bread isn't in the cards. Sure, you can splurge on fresh bakery bread, but you may not know that bread dough is also available in the freezer aisle and that air fryers bake it to perfection.

Whether your menu calls for biscuits, breadsticks, garlic bread, or a baguette, you can find pre-made frozen dough and have it piping hot on the table in a snap. You can elevate any meal with fancy bread, even a simple bowl of soup.

Use the package directions as a guide, but remember that your model may cook differently. A common mistake is to air fry frozen bread dough at the same temperature as the directions use for a conventional oven. A lower temperature for slightly longer will cook the bread thoroughly while still crisping the outside. Be wary of this, as it may result in your bread products being undercooked at the center when they look nicely browned.

Be cautious when air frying frozen bread dough. Overcrowding or putting a tray very close to the top can spell disaster. It's better to take extra time to cook in rounds than have it burn, stick to the top of the fryer, or end up half raw. It's always good practice to flip bread products midway through cooking unless there's a reason you can't, like while making cheesy garlic bread or a topped bread like focaccia.

Don't: unbattered seafood

While battered fish fillets or coconut shrimp air fries beautifully, be careful when it comes to air frying unbattered seafood. Breaded seafood keeps moisture in, giving the crispy coating and juicy, flaky inside, making fried fish so delicious. Without the breading, seafood is harder to cook perfectly. It takes careful timing and temperature to get right.

Besides the health benefits of air frying compared to deep frying, one perk of using an air fryer is setting a timer, knowing your food will be perfectly cooked when you come back. It frees the cook to multitask, chopping ingredients for another dish, wiping down surfaces, or washing dishes. This strategy works for foods that aren't fussy but might turn your seafood into an inedible mess.

Whether you choose to bake, broil, or pan-fry, perfectly cooked fish is an art, so paying attention to every detail is essential. Bonus: seafood cooks quickly, so you won't spend more time on other cooking methods. Instead, use a traditional cooking method for your seafood dishes.

Don't: bacon and sausage

There's no doubt that people love breakfast meats. Although bacon and sausage can be air-fried and, in theory, crisp up nicely with convection heat, we'd still argue that air frying is not the best method for cooking breakfast meats. First, think about the fat content in bacon. Then imagine that fat blowing around inside the fryer for a while! Tray-style fryers might not contain all the grease, possibly allowing it to leak all over your counter. Not a fun clean-up.

The most significant complaint people have with air fryers frequently comes into play with bacon: not enough space. Since food can't touch in air fryers, making enough bacon for a family turns into an endeavor. Bacon is easy to make in the oven with less mess and fuss than on the stovetop, plus you can make two or three pounds at once. Why bother with any other method?

Note: turkey bacon is an exception because of its lower fat content. It can be challenging to mimic pork bacon consistency with turkey bacon, so crisping it in an air fryer may give a superior crunch.

Don't: frozen vegetables

Everyone knows that vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet. Frozen vegetables are convenient and easy to cook, making them a staple in many kitchens. While most people acknowledge that fresh produce is ideal and may consider the taste or texture of frozen veggies inferior to fresh counterparts, frozen vegetables are an excellent alternative. Freezing them even retains some nutrients better than fresh produce that sits in the fridge for days.

Frozen vegetables are so easy to cook that an air fryer is more trouble than it's worth. Some fresh vegetables are lovely air-fried. For instance, Brussels sprouts roast faster and brown perfectly, and air-fried zucchini sticks mimic the deep-fried appetizers many people love. On the other hand, frozen veggies have extra water from the freezing process, so putting them in the air fryer would be messy and does nothing to improve their flavor.

With so many ways to cook frozen vegetables, this is one frozen food that you don't need an air fryer to prepare.

Don't: frozen burgers

It isn't hard to find advice about air-frying frozen burgers, but this might not be the best way to cook them. Aside from the mess in your fryer (frozen burgers have water that cooks off and fat that renders), safety can be an issue.

Air fryer models differ so much that it can be challenging to air fry meat to an exact temperature, and burgers are one meat that should never be underdone. The process of chopping meat spreads disease-causing organisms throughout your food, unlike a steak, where bacteria stays on the surface and is easy to destroy with heat. For this reason, undercooked burgers can make you ill.

Safety and simplicity go hand-in-hand when you crave a good burger. While nobody likes a dry, tough burger, food poisoning is even less desirable. Traditional methods, like grilling, broiling, or a cast iron pan, cook frozen burgers to perfection, ensuring they're safe to consume.

Don't: steak

Recipes for air-fried steaks are out there, but this is another frozen food that is unlikely to reach its full potential in the air fryer. Cooks who have achieved the perfect steak know that while a few tricks make steak easy to cook, there are many ways to louse a steak up.

The worst part of an air fryer steak is its lack of sear. While air fryers generally brown food nicely, they won't mimic the crust that a grill or a blistering cast iron skillet gives to a steak. That means the flavor suffers, and who wants that?

Air fryers have different fans, and each one cooks a bit differently, so it can be hard to get the steak done precisely to everyone's specifications. (That can be challenging no matter where you're cooking a steak, but we don't like adding to the problem.)

Size can also make air fryers and steaks a poor combination. Small filets will fit, but if you're making a big T-bone, most air fryers won't accommodate it. A thick steak may not have enough room between trays, and steak for a crowd will also be a nuisance. You're better off with traditional cooking methods.

Don't: frozen lasagna

Technically it's possible to cook a frozen lasagna in the air fryer; the question is, why would anyone bother? Many recipes will tell you to air fry a frozen lasagna on the defrost setting for a while before finishing it at a higher temperature. A conventional oven uses one temperature the entire time, and you can walk away till the timer rings.

Then there's the question of how much lasagna you need. Maybe the air fryer would do if you are one person eating a personal-sized lasagna, but what happens if you need a family-sized pan? Many air fryer models aren't big enough. Even tray-style fryers that look enormous have indented trays to keep pieces of food from rolling, so a frozen lasagna might end up being too large.

Bottom line: the conventional oven in your kitchen does a fine job on frozen lasagna. Keep it simple.

Don't: while entertaining

Air fryers are great gadgets. You can make a wide variety of foods in them, and one of their best features is their ability to mimic deep-fried favorites with fewer calories and fat grams. If you're cooking for yourself or you have a small family, you can find endless uses for an air fryer.

However, the more food you're preparing, the less helpful air fryers become. Since air needs to circulate around every piece of food, there's a finite number of anything each fryer can hold. While tray-style fryers generally hold more food than basket-style fryers, conventional ovens hold more than both models combined. If you're entertaining, you can make dozens of appetizers at once in your range, while the same number of pieces could take hours of air frying. Any party host knows how hard it can be to juggle tasks while enjoying their guests, so leave the air fryer unplugged and use the oven to help your party run effortlessly.