What can you not put in an air fryer? 11 items experts warn against cooking in your appliance

Despite their versatility, there are some things that don't belong in an air fryer

A black air fryer on a kitchen counter
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Air fryers have fast become the most versatile appliance in the kitchen, but there are plenty of things you should avoid putting in your machine. 

Some foods, kitchenware, and cleaning materials can cause irreparable damage to your machine. And given how illusive the best air fryers have been in stores in the last few months, breaking an air fryer should definitely be avoided. 

Here, experts have broken down 11 things you should avoid putting in an air fryer to keep your machine working. 

What can you not put in an air fryer? 

A white air fryer on a kitchen counter with a roast chicken inside

(Image credit: Getty Images)

While it is true that there are plenty of things to cook in an air fryer, this list covers everything you shouldn't put in yours.

1. Water 

There have been plenty of hacks circulating on the internet for cleaning an air fryer, but not all of them are a good idea. Filling the drawer with water and soap before turning the air fryer on, for example, has been touted as the easiest way to clear out baked-on grease; however, it is an accident waiting to happen. 

‘Firstly, clean the air fryer after every use. This is important, as grime and wasted food can become baked onto the tray, becoming more and more stuck on over time,’ says Ivan Ivanov of End of Tenancy Cleaning. ‘Using a soft sponge and some standard household soap, remove the tray from the air fryer (once cooled) and use your finger to gently scrub all available areas. If your finger is too large, or the mess is a bit too stuck on, use an old toothbrush instead! Whatever works best for you, provided you’re cleaning effectively but not pushing so hard as to remove any of the heat-proof coating on the inside of the air fryer tray.’

If you are dealing with stubborn marks, consider using vinegar to shift baked on grease on an air fryer for a safer and natural cleaning method that won’t break your machine. 

2. Cheese 

Melted cheese is a truly indulgent snack, especially on a toastie, but its low melting temperature means that melting cheese in an air fryer will likely just result in a burnt, stringy mess. For once, a good old skillet or toastie machine is best in this situation. 

Frozen breaded cheese bites and mozzarella sticks are fine, however. In fact, cooking these in an air fryer will often get them perfectly crispy in half the time it takes an oven. But fresh cheese is a no-go. 

3. Roast chicken

Air fryer baskets are almost always on the smaller side, but even if you have a model luxurious enough to fit a whole chicken in it is perhaps best that you do not. The smaller baskets are for a reason, and if you know how air fryers work, then you will understand that they are primarily for smaller jobs meaning a whole chicken is at risk of not cooking through properly, or cooking unevenly risking salmonella and food poisoning.

4. Wet batter 

Just as with adding water to an air fryer, wet batter can be blown around an air fryer and adhere to the heating elements, or even blow behind the fan, both of which can lead to a fire. 

What’s more, wet batter does not crisp under direct heat as it does in hot oil – a good rule of thumb for cooking with an air fryer is to remember that it is the same as a conventional oven, it's just much faster and cheaper to cook with an air fryer. A good rule of them is: if you wouldn't cook it in an oven, don’t try it in your air fryer. 

5. Popcorn 

Air fryers are healthy cooking alternatives, so I can see why some people would try frying a healthy snack such as popcorn in an air fryer but this is perhaps the worst idea I could think of,’ says Millie Fender, head of reviews at Homes & Gardens

‘Air fryers, despite being plugged in appliances, are not the same as microwaves. Not only can they not heat popcorn kernels up enough to get them all to pop, the strong current created by the fans can blow kernels around the machine and cause irreversible damage. For an appliance that is so hard to get a hold of at the moment, this is less than ideal.’ 

6. Vegetables with low water content such as broccoli and fresh greens 

Although some vegetables, such as sprouts and potatoes for fries, cook wonderfully in an air fryer, some greens such as broccoli, or thinner, leafy greens can quickly dry out and start to burn in the intense, quick heat of an air fryer making traditional cooking methods like frying and roasting better in this instance. 

7. Loose seasoning and breadcrumbs 

‘Much like popcorn, loose seasoning can blow around your air fryer basket and become burnt onto already difficult to clean heating elements,’ Millie Fender says. ‘Seasoning your food after it has been cooked where possible can help to avoid this.’ 

This is not to say that you should not season your food at all when cooking in an air fryer, but to ensure seasoning is stuck well to the food with a little oil first with any excess gently shaken off.

8. Red meat 

Red meats such as burgers and steaks can definitely be cooked in an air fryer, but it is not advised if you want a perfectly cooked meal. Air fryers work by using quick, direct heat to crisp food meaning it is often too intense for delicate or precise cooking. The result is often overly dry meat with not much flavor and sub-par texture. 

If you do choose to cook red meat in an air fryer, make sure to regularly open the basket to check the progress. 

9. Bread for toasting 

Although you can achieve crispy bread in an air fryer, there is very little point when you have a toaster fit for the job. Toasting bread in an air fryer can lead to stray crumbs on and around the fan and heating elements which are difficult to remove and can lead to a persistent burning smell with every use. 

10. Most commercial spray oils 

One of the most important things to know about air fryers before buying one is that they often still require a little bit of oil to help crisp and brown food perfectly. While many air fryer recipes say to spray your baskets with spray oil, most commercial oil sprays contain a lubricating additive called lecithin which can react with non-stick surfaces under heat and degrade its quality over time, slowly destroying your air fryer basket (and any non stick surface for that matter). 

Instead, use a silicone brush to wipe a thin layer of regular oil over the base of the basket or the crisper tray.

11. Liquid sauces 

‘Air fryers are not designed to be filled with liquids,’ says Millie Fender, head of reviews. ‘I have tested several air fryer models for H&G and not one makes it fit for an abundance of liquid. Loose liquids can easily be blown about by the fans and cause a spark leading to a fire,’ she warns.

Anything with an overly loose sauce should be cooked on a stove top, or in a traditional oven instead. The chances are these foods don't need to be crisped up anyway. 

Can you put raw meat in an air fryer? 

You can put raw meat in an air fryer to cook so long as it is completely defrosted first. When cooking raw meat in an air fryer, make sure to monitor the meat throughout cooking to ensure it is completely heated through before consuming – this is best done using a meat thermometer. This is Amazon's best selling meat thermometer.

Will parchment paper burn in the air fryer?

Parchment paper is safe to use in most air fryers (check your machine's instruction manual first) however it should be weighed down by heavy food before turning the air fryer on. Loose baking paper may fly around the drawer and come into contact with the heating elements, causing a potential fire hazard

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.