As a pretty good cook with limited counter space, I tend to shy away from new, shiny, faddish gadgets other folks think are must-haves. But after hearing so many raves about air fryers, I caved and bought one. And honestly? It's one of my best culinary decisions-and it works magic on frozen foods. It turns out that the best frozen foods for the air fryer are, well, almost anything.
Air fryers are simply shrunken, counter-sized convection ovens. Like a convection oven, an air fryer employs a fan to circulate very hot air, cooking your food quickly on the inside while browning it evenly on the outside. The gadget's magic is thanks to its diminutive size: the food is physically closer to the fan than in an oven, quickly crisping it up on the outside while keeping its insides moist. (Bonus: you don't overheat your kitchen during its short cook times.)
Weeknight slam dunk? Take foods straight from the freezer, toss them into the air fryer, and put them on a plate. (No need for thawing. Seriously.) And generally speaking, dinner is ready in 10-15 minutes. But which frozen foods? You're right that they don't all work. Allow me to be your fry guide.
- I'm not giving precise recipes, because air fryer models vary wildly. A good rule of thumb is to reduce the package-suggested oven temperature by 25 to 50 degrees, and the cooking time by about 20 percent.
- Be sure not to overcrowd your air fryer's basket or rack with food; you want room for hot air to circulate.
- Always preheat. Before you open the freezer to peruse your dinner options, flip your air fryer on and adjust its temperature. Because it's small and heats up fast, it won't take long-but it's necessary to get the extreme crisp you crave.
- Invest in an oil sprayer. Some foods require a spritz of oil to acquire a pretty shade of brown and added crispness.
If you're looking to recreate happy hour at a spot that thanks a deity it's the weekend, the air fryer has you covered. Think: Tater tots, mozzarella sticks, jalapeño poppers, chicken nuggets, wings, empanadas, and French fries. In fact, any food that usually hits a deep fryer tends to emerge from the air fryer crisp, hot, and ready for a dip in your favorite sauces.
Because so many of these foods are breaded and precooked in oil that "releases" when you air-fry, additional oil is rarely necessary. Shake or flip the foods mid-fry to be certain your food is evenly cooked and that hot air gets to all the surfaces.
I'm convinced that an air fryer takes a frozen veggie burger to new heights. It creates a crunchy sear on the outside and a hot, fluffy interior reminiscent of a great falafel. It's definitely superior to pan-frying the burger.
By design, these healthy burger alternatives are low in fat and oil, so they definitely benefit from a quick spray of oil on each side. And think outside the bun: they're a great addition to a grain bowl.
Though I can't choose among my favorite fried appetizers, I'm a huge fan of Dr. Praeger's veggie burgers. With 20 options, the sky's the limit, but if you can get your hands on the Cauliflower Veggie Burger, do it; it does especially well in the air fryer due to a bulkier, more robust patty. (Find this brand at Whole Foods, Target, Walmart and other large chains.)
Things That Puff and Crinkle
An air fryer does delightful things to foods coddled in puff pastry and phyllo dough. And Trader Joe's is a great place to find these wonderful items.
TJs has you covered (in puff pastry) on both the sweet and savory fronts: Pigs in a blanket get gussied up; cream cheese pastry rolls are there for your sweet tooth.
But the real TJs star is their spanakopita, chock-full of spinach and feta and wrapped in an abundance of flaky phyllo dough. This is a frozen food I always have in my freezer. Add a side of Greek salad, and you have an incredible, easy meal.
Pro tip: All of these dishes benefit from a generous spray of oil before hitting the air fryer.
I'm an East Coast girl who loves a fried seafood platter served in view of the Atlantic Ocean. It screams summer, to me. But I live in the Bronx, so this is not always a feasible option.
Enter the air fryer.
There is an abundance of frozen fried seafood out there-fish fillets, shrimp, clams-and they all crisp up beautifully-conjuring the South of France (or at minimum, Coney Island). Add a side of fries (see "Appetizers"), and you'll have fish 'n chips in no time-minus the salty air and oceanside seating.
Related: I'm a fool for a guy in uniform, and the yellow-coated Gorton's Fisherman gets me every time - or rather, I get him. Sure, he evokes nostalgia, but I can find him easily at most groceries, and the gentleman's products are consistently delicious.
We already gave you the lowdown on the best frozen meatballs. Here's some news you can use: the air fryer is perfect for these.
Keep them in a single layer and don't overcrowd; meatballs benefit from being cooked in batches. Spray with oil to get their exteriors dark and crisp. And try this trick: rotate the food halfway through (which I generally do), and with three minutes of cooking time left, add about 25 degrees of heat to the fryer. Enjoy the added crunch.
In New York City, a bakery called Levain makes one of the city's most coveted chocolate chip cookies. The lines outside the shop's hallowed doors indicate just how good these oversized, heavenly baked goods are. Part of the appeal of the 6-oz cookies is that their crisp outsides partner with soft, melty insides. (Crisp on the outside, soft on the inside?! Sensing a theme?)
When Levain announced they'd be selling their cookies in the frozen section of Whole Foods, I flew to the store to grab some to test in the air fryer.
And here's the thing: They were really, really good. It's not *quite* the same as walking out of Levain with a warm cookie in hand, but it's close. More importantly, it gives you the flexibility of having a single, hot-out-the-oven cookie when you feel like it. It's also a great argument for making your own cookie dough, freezing it in single servings, and firing up the air fryer for random cookie night, as needed.
Talk about a liberating gadget! Vive le air fryer!
READ: Fix Frozen Pizza in a Flash With Air Fryer Secrets