You may have thought air fryers were just for cooking chicken nuggets and fries, but as the craze for these mini ovens continues to grow, so does the list of foods being whipped up by air fryer fanatics. There are cookbooks dedicated to air fryer-only dishes and online you'll find air fryer recipes for everything from cheesecake and donuts to steaks, fried chicken, pizza and brownies.
But, before you decide you never need to use your oven again, CHOICE kitchen experts Fiona Mair and Chantelle Dart say that results for certain air-fried foods will vary. While there are some recipes the air fryer is great for – such as quick and easy choc-chip cookies (see our air fryer choc chip cookie recipe below) – there are limitations to this appliance and some things are best left to the good-old oven or stovetop.
Air fryers vs ovens: What you need to know
One of the biggest limitations for cooking certain foods in an air fryer as opposed to an oven is the size of the air fryer basket.
"An air fryer isn't likely to cook anything better than your oven would, although it may do it faster," Fiona says.
"The capacity of your air fryer will affect what you can cook in it – you need to be able to fit it in the basket which could make things such as cooking a whole cake or whole roast chicken difficult."
"The fact that air fryers don't have a bottom heating element also means that you might not get a crisp brown base on items such as pies."
Another factor to consider when cooking certain recipes in an air fryer as opposed to an oven is that for best results in an air fryer, some foods need to be shaken or moved around a few times during cooking so they are evenly cooked and browned. Models with digital controls and pre-programmed settings will prompt you to turn or shake by making a beeping noise. But, if you have an air fryer with more manual controls (usually the cheaper models), you'll have to remember to do this yourself.
An air fryer also has a perforated basket (which helps circulate air around the food for a 'fried' finish) but, if you're cooking smaller items of food, such as nuts, you may need to line the basket with baking paper to avoid food falling through.
(Some online recipes suggest cooking popcorn in your air fryer however our kitchen experts advise against this, as kernels can pop out of the basket and become trapped in the fan or heating element, causing burning or smoking).
What's good to cook in an air fryer?
When we test air fryers (our current review includes 25 models available to buy now) we score them based on how well they cook crumbed chicken, frozen chips, roast pork and marinated chicken wings. (We also look at how easy they are to use, find out more about our test method here.)
Our kitchen team also tested a few other recipes to see what worked well, including choc-chip cookies.
"The advantage of air fryers is that they can cook certain things quickly and you don't have to wait for them to preheat, which means they also don't heat up your kitchen like an oven can," says Fiona.
"We baked a sponge cake in one of the air fryers which turned out perfectly and we also made some maple-roasted nuts which were super fast and great for a quick savoury snack."
Fiona says the air fryer is great for whipping up a batch of choc-chip cookies – once you've made the dough and frozen it, you can have freshly baked cookies within 15 minutes.
"Cookie dough is easy to make and can be portioned and frozen ready for a quick snack," she says. "You can make a healthy version if you like, and if you are comfortable with allowing your teenager to use the air fryer, it could free up a little of your time."
This recipe will cook about six cookies at a time as we used a larger-capacity air fryer. The key is not to crowd the tray. For best results you should leave approximately 2cm space between each cookie.
Our kitchen experts had great results cooking choc chip cookies in an air fryer.
How to make air fryer choc-chip cookies
1 ½ cups brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup plain flour
¾ cup self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarbonate soda
1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted, optional
1 ½ cups assorted chocolate melts (dark, milk, white)
How to prepare the dough
1. Using a whisk or hand mixer, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla in a bowl until mixture lightens and becomes thickened.
2. Add oil, flours, bicarb, nuts and chocolate melts. Mix well.
3. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
4. Once the dough is firm, roll into tablespoon-sized portions, flatten slightly and place on a tray lined with baking paper. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze.
5. Once frozen, place into an airtight container and keep in the freezer until needed.
6. Makes approximately 30 cookies.
How to cook
1. Preheat your air fryer for 2 minutes at 170°C.
2. Line the basket with a sheet of baking paper, place up to 6 frozen cookies onto the paper and allow for the cookies to spread. Bake for 8–10 mins.
3. Allow to cool for 2 minutes in the basket and transfer to a cooling rack or serve warm with ice cream.
- Don't crowd the tray. Leave approximately 2cm space between each cookie
- Do not line the basket with baking paper during preheat.
- Add ½ cup oats or raisins
- You can also try using half wholemeal flour and half white flour
- All air fryers have different capacities, ranging from 2.5L up to 9L. A smaller air fryer may only accommodate 4 cookies whereas you will likely be able to cook 6–8 cookies at a time in a larger air fryer.