How to Cook and Season the Best Air-Fryer Foods With Ease

After having an air fryer in my life for the past 3 years, I can’t imagine my weekly cooking routine without it! Get my favorite air fryer tips and start frying your way to happiness with these 13 foods that are great for the air fryer.

  • By Jess Dang
  • February 18, 2020

Air fryers have been all the rage recently and I know exactly why. They are amazing little machines and make life so much easier! That’s why I’m excited to share secrets from my kitchen that make every day of my growing family’s life much more manageable and much more delicious.

Start air frying these 13 foods and watch your cooking time drop and your satisfaction in healthy meals skyrocket!

1. Chicken Breasts

Everyone has cooked or eaten a rubbery, dried-out chicken breast and there’s just nothing about that experience that you want to repeat. The good news is that all you need to do is let an air fryer come to the rescue. It may surprise you to know that compared to the oven or stovetop, air-fried chicken breast yields the juiciest results. With the air fryer’s compact design, there’s simply less room for all of your chicken’s juices to evaporate like it often does in the oven. 

I like to air fry 2 boneless chicken breasts on Sunday night, and then use them throughout the week in salads, kids’ lunches, and even finger foods for the baby. I marinate the chicken overnight in my always-on-hand master marinade (a mix of soy sauce, garlic, oil, and some maple syrup), and then air fry it at 350° F / 177° C  for 15 – 20 minutes. It’s so convenient to have delicious protein at the ready, and with the air fryer, it requires very little effort for a big pay off.

Cooking Tip:

Remember to always check meat and poultry along the way since cooking times vary with the thickness of your pieces.

2. Tofu

When people think about what to cook in the air fryer, meat and pre-made frozen foods usually come to mind, but I love cooking tofu in the air fryer, too. It gets golden and crispy, and the best part? No dealing with tofu stuck to the pan, which everyone who has sauteed or stir-fried tofu has encountered!

To give the tofu flavor, I use my master marinade or a mix of spices and oil, and air fry it at 400° F / 204° C for 12 – 17 minutes. It’s another protein my family loves to have on hand to give a hearty boost to a noodle dish, grain bowl, salad, fried rice, or even just to have around as easy finger foods for the kids.

3. Zoodles

One of my most popular Instagram posts is of zucchini noodles I made in my air fryer. While I love zoodles, they can be tricky because the zucchini releases so much moisture while cooking and can easily end up a soggy mess. However, with the air fryer, all released moisture drips out of the basket, delivering the structure you want out of your zoodles.

I typically air fry at 400° F / 204° C for 10 – 20 minutes, and that results in perfectly al-dente noodles that can be enjoyed with just a drizzle of olive oil and salt, a sprinkle of parmesan, your favorite pasta sauce, or all of the above!

4. Cauliflower Gnocchi

Trader Joe’s frozen cauliflower gnocchi has become one of their most popular items, and for good reason. It allows even gluten-free and Paleo folks to enjoy the pillowy softness of gnocchi dumplings that we all love. However, the first time I made them following their stovetop instructions, they turned into gooey, gummy mayhem. I really had no idea why people loved them so much!

Since I’m not one to give up in the kitchen, I decided to try them again in the air fryer, and they turned out so much better! They didn’t disintegrate and even ended up golden and crispy. That day, I became a Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi convert. If you want to give it a try, air fry at  400° F for 12 to 16 minutes.

5. Salmon (chopped)

The way that my kids can go through salmon, it doesn’t really make sense for me to air fry it. We’d basically have to air fry the fillets in tons of batches, and that would take forever, which is why I still use the oven when cooking salmon. But when I’m making salmon tacos, I definitely pull out my trusty air fryer. I simply chop the salmon (works best with skinless fillets) into about ¾ inch cubes, toss with some spices and oil, and air fry at 400° F / 204° C for 6 – 12 minutes, shaking the basket a few times.

You could do the same thing with tilapia or other white fish and even shrimp — just chop it up for taco-sized consumption, and enjoy!

6. Chickpeas

We also eat a lot of beans in our household, but they aren’t the easiest things to bring for an easy on-the-go snack. My kids are not gonna be happy if I just crack open a can of beans when I pick them up after preschool. Thankfully, air-fried chickpeas are so portable and snackable. 

These crispy chickpeas can be made with canned or home-harvested chickpeas and jazzed up with your favorite spices and seasonings. Some of my favorites are za’atar, chili powder, or curry powder. Just toss them with a bit of oil, a few teaspoons of spices, and salt, and then air fry at 400° F / 204° C for 12 – 17 minutes.

7. Personal Pizzas

I love pizza as a snack, so naan bread, tomato sauce, and mozzarella are pantry staples in my kitchen. But when I have a real pizza craving, I don’t have time for the oven to warm up (and I don’t own a toaster oven)! Since an air fryer has a smaller cavity and requires no pre-heating time, it gets the cheese bubbly and the naan toasted in no time.

If you really want to make your kids happy on Friday, make them pizza for their lunch every Friday like I do! I simply pop personal-sized pizzas in the air fryer at 375° F / 190° C for 7 – 12 minutes on Thursday night while I’m doing the dishes, and they’re cool and ready to be packed up by the time I’m done cleaning the kitchen.

8. Frozen Cauliflower

Cauliflower is having a moment. Seriously who would have thought that it could be riced, turned into gnocchi, or made into pizza crust? It’s become such a chameleon! However, my favorite way to enjoy it is still roasted, and since becoming a mom, I’m all about frozen veggies. The ease of pre-chopped and cooked veggies means I’m basically just reheating them.

Whenever I’m in a pinch for a vegetable side, I dump a bag of frozen cauliflower into my air fryer and cook it at 375° F / 190° C for 15 – 20 minutes. Halfway through, I toss it with oil and seasonings (chili or curry powder are my go-tos) and it caramelizes beautifully in the air fryer. I’ll often wait to salt it until after it’s done, and it’s even more delicious with a squeeze of lemon juice, too. My kids gobble it up . . . most of the time . . . they’re kids, after all!

9. Baby Carrots

My other go-to vegetable side is air-fried baby carrots. This is another no-prep veggie side dish that I need in the current phase of my life right now (3 kids under the age of 5 and running a business — it’s madness!). Air frying carrots in particular brings out their natural sugars, making them taste like a sweet treat. While I will eat a raw baby carrot, I much prefer the sweetness of an air-fried one.

Just dump a whole bag of baby carrots (tossed with a little oil) into your air fryer and cook them at 375° F / 190° C for 10 – 15 minutes, shaking the basket once or twice. Salt as needed!

10. Okra

Now I know that okra are on some people’s avoid-at-all-costs list, and I can understand that, but an air fryer may change your mind. You see, I’ll do slimy okra in a gumbo, but the way I really enjoy the veggie best is as crispy fries. I could eat a whole bucket of them with a little dollop of curry mayo (that’s simply curry powder mixed with mayo!). Air fry them at 350° F / 177° C for 12 – 14 minutes, shaking the basket once or twice. I bet you’ll find you love this healthy snack almost as much as regular French fries!

11. Bacon

I used to cook bacon in a skillet, but then the amount of bacon I needed to make outgrew the confines of that pan. So I started cooking bacon in the oven on a sheet pan and that worked pretty well, but I’ve learned that most things that can be cooked in the oven, cook better in the air fryer. Using that little contraption is now my preferred method for cooking bacon and getting it crispy just like my family likes it.

One of the benefits of using an air fryer for your bacon is that the basket allows fat to drip away to keep your bacon a bit leaner. Also, if you’re ever making quiche lorraine or need bacon bits, definitely cook it in an air fryer! It’s so much less messy than doing it on the stovetop and requires a lot less supervision. Since the cook time for bacon always depends on the thickness, use 350° F / 177° C for 8 – 12 minutes as a ballpark, but check it along the way.

12. Pine Nuts

Toasted pine nuts are amazing, but I have to let you in on a little known fact about me. I hate watching over pine nuts on a stove because I’m really bad at it. They honestly burn half the time! Lately, I’ve been using the air fryer instead and have gotten great results. Just toast the nuts at 350° F / 177° C for about 2 minutes, and you won’t have to worry about throwing a scorched mound of nuts into the garbage.

13. Bananas

A banana split with a regular banana is good . . . but a banana split with a banana that’s been air fried is a REAL treat! You can air fry bananas sliced lengthwise in half (for a banana split) or sliced normally and use them as a yummy ice cream topping. If you’re feeling extra indulgent, melt a tiny bit of coconut oil and brush it on the banana before air frying at 375° F – 190° C for 6 – 8 minutes.

Now that you know how to get amazing results for 13 foods that are better when cooked in an air fryer, you’re on your way to an easier, healthier, and tastier life in the kitchen. Once you get comfortable with these, start experimenting with fun seasonings and other foods and watch your trusty air fryer work its magic! It will be the most satisfying thing you do with food this year.

Download our free Air Fryer Cheat Sheet below, so you can consult the cooking times and temperatures of a variety of ingredients, whether you’re looking to air fry meat, seafood, vegetables, and even – yes – bananas!


Air Fryer Cooking Times Cheat Sheet

Discover the benefits of air frying and the cooking times of your favorite foods with this handy infographic.

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13 Best Air-Fried Foods | Cook Smarts13 Best Air-Fried Foods | Cook Smarts13 Best Air-Fried Foods | Cook Smarts

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