The Best (and Worst) Things to Cook in an Air Fryer

Leftover pizza has never tasted so good.

airfryer air fryer best and worst things chicken pizza frozen french fries pantry gadgets gadget
Design by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist
Design by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist

Air fryers have overtaken Instant Pots and Nutribullets as the must-have kitchen appliance to grace countertops everywhere. Whether it’s reviving stale fries, reheating fried chicken, or baking cookie dough, this multi-trick pony has won the hearts of home chefs everywhere.

But as convenient and simple as the air fryer is, not everything can successfully be prepared in one. After multiple tests and careful consideration, here are the best—and worst—things to cook up in your air fryer.

The best things to put in an air fryer

Leftover pizza
Microwaving pizza is an atrocity. The skillet method, where you heat up the crust over the stove and cover your pan with a lid so the steam can melt the cheese, is effective enough, but requires babysitting. In comes the air fryer: the perfect way to reheat pizza. You just jam it in there and leave the appliance to work its magic, and out comes pizza with melted cheese, a crispy crust, and toasted pepperoni cups—all with minimal effort. It’s almost as good as having the pizza fresh.

Frozen fries
This extends to other frozen bar foods, too, like onion rings and mozzarella sticks. If it’s a frozen fried food product, chances are that the air fryer will do its duty to make your frozen fries actually taste like they’ve come out of a fryer, without all the effort it takes to actually deep fry. My fries always come out perfectly crispy and hot, without any blackened edges or internal sogginess that’s typical for baked fries.

Cookie dough
The air fryer is perfect for baking cookies if you aren’t trying to turn on your huge oven and only need a handful (though when does one only need a handful of cookies?). Space the cookie dough as far apart as you can—depending on the size of your air fryer, you can probably make two to five cookies. After that, just bake according to the package instructions, or go a little under if you prefer your cookies gooey. Hot tip: It’s best to bake the cookie dough from a frozen state so it doesn’t spread too much.

An air fryer is like a glorified convection oven, which means cooking fish filets is a breeze. I line mine with foil and put the skin side down and let the fancy heating technology do its thing. Salmon, tilapia, and even shrimp cook perfectly in an air fryer. Drizzle garlic butter and finish with a squeeze of lemon for dinner that is ready in 10 minutes.

Any type of potato will do, truly. Baked Idaho potatoes, golden spuds for a potato salad, purple potatoes, red ones. Roasting potatoes has never been easier. For extra flavor, toss the potatoes in oil, garlic powder, and rosemary for a simple side dish.

Fried chicken and tenders
Whether it's leftover fried chicken or frozen tenders, the air fryer is perfect for achieving a crispy exterior and heated-through interior that doesn't dry out. Just make sure it's an already-dredged and cooked fried chicken, like leftovers, because as you'll see below, wet battered things aren't quite as successful in the air fryer. 

The worst things to put in an air fryer

What makes a steak truly special is the char and maillard reaction you get when searing your favorite cut. It’s impossible to replicate that same flavor in an air fryer—the meat gets dried out and doesn’t cook as evenly. If you’re going to eat steak, you might as well do it right and pull out your cast iron pan.

Pasta (unless you’re making pasta chips)
Pasta chips have gone viral on TikTok and those are certainly great for the air fryer. Reheating pasta leftovers, however, is a no-go. The sauce is messy and loses its silkiness, the actual pasta gets dried out, and everything becomes sad and clumpy. When it comes to pasta, stick with the microwave.

Any sort of glazed wing
Fried chicken actually fares pretty well in the air fryer, but once you involve sticky glazes and buttery Buffalo sauce, the whole thing becomes an easily burnt disaster. It’s hard to recover any sort of crunch with leftover glazed wings to begin with—this goes for cauliflower and boneless wings, too—that adding them to the air fryer just dehydrates the wings and turns the sauce goopy. If anyone knows of a good way to heat up saucy wings, I’d love to hear it.

Items with a wet dredge
I’ve seen some people on TikTok successfully fry Oreos in their air fryer in pancake batter and I’m trying to figure out what kind of alchemy made that successful. Every time I’ve tried to air fry something with a wet batter—pickle chips, fried chicken, onion rings, to name a few—it's been edible, yes, but burnt in some areas and raw in others.

Cakes and brownies
I am a huge supporter of the mug cake, mug cookie, and mug brownie. For the uninitiated, the mug-baked good is essentially a bunch of pantry ingredients you already have whisked into a mug and microwaved until you have a brownie or cake in under five minutes. The air fried cake or brownie, however, doesn’t really work. The liquid batter is usually cooked on top, but completely molten lava on the inside. Cooking it longer renders the whole thing rubbery or burnt. Save the brownie and cakes for the oven or the microwave.

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer of food & drink at Thrillist. Tell her your air fryer successes and horror stories on Twitter @katthompsonn