The Best And Worst Frozen Foods To Cook In Your Air Fryer

fries in air fryer
fries in air fryer - Marciobnws/Shutterstock

Do you love cooking with your air fryer? You're not alone. These kitchen gadgets have changed the game when it comes to cooking pretty much any type of food, thanks to their ability to generate premium crispiness and speed up the cooking time. It's not just fresh food that comes out great in the air fryer, either: Some types of frozen food fare especially well in the appliance and cook just as well or better than their fresh counterparts. Unfortunately, though, other types of frozen food don't do so well, and can end up ruined after a quick blast.

What makes things even more confusing is that frozen foods that do well in your standard oven can be rendered inedible in the air fryer (which is, for all intents and purposes, a mini convection oven that doesn't actually fry food). While an air fryer's design allows hot air to circulate rapidly, its ventilated interior can lead to certain frozen foods drying out or leaking, wrecking your meal and resulting in a lot of clean-up. By contrast, this circulating air is a godsend for other frozen foods, and renders them crunchy, golden, and tender on the inside. Need to know which frozen items to put in the machine, and which to avoid? We've got you covered.

Read more: The Best Kitchen Gadgets You Can Buy

Best: Frozen Brussels Sprouts

bowl of frozen brussels sprouts
bowl of frozen brussels sprouts - rigsbyphoto/Shutterstock

As far as frozen vegetables go in the air fryer, you can't go wrong with Brussels sprouts. These bitesize veggies are a favorite in your air fryer when fresh, and when they're frozen you get pretty much the same result, with a blistered, caramelized outside and a juicy interior. Because frozen Brussels sprouts are pretty dense, they don't break down or turn mushy, and instead retain their bite throughout. They're also astonishingly easy to prepare for cooking: Just pour them into the basket straight from the bag, coat them in a little olive oil and seasonings, and you're good to go.

To ensure that your frozen Brussels sprouts develop that nutty, browned exterior, it's important not to pile them up too high. Ensure that they're laying in an even layer on the bottom of your air fryer basket, so that the air can circulate around each vegetable properly and moisture doesn't get trapped between them. It's also a good idea to give them a shake about halfway through their cooking time, to help ensure an even cook and prevent them from sticking to the bottom.

Worst: Frozen Spinach

plate of frozen spinach
plate of frozen spinach - Alesia.Bierliezova/Shutterstock

Some frozen vegetables are very well-suited to air fryers -- but frozen spinach isn't one of them. These lumps of already-blanched spinach, which are formed into little pellets, can be mushy at the best of times, and when you put them in the air fryer they don't exactly change much. Instead, your spinach will just kinda melt into a puddle, while also becoming a little dry and pulpy on the outer layers. It'll also be a nightmare to fish out of your air fryer, and you risk losing half of it through the slats at the bottom.

It's probably no surprise that frozen spinach doesn't fare well in the air fryer, as it doesn't fare particularly well in the oven, either. In fact, we're not entirely sure why you'd want to cook it in the appliance at all. Frozen spinach is much better when cooked with wet heat, and ideally when it's added to another dish, like a soup or a casserole. Here, the frozen spinach can distribute through the pot, adding its grassy taste and nutritional punch to your meal. If you're looking to eat it as a side, you're far better off microwaving it; it's much easier.

Best: Frozen Battered Fish

battered fish chips and peas
battered fish chips and peas - P Maxwell Photography/Shutterstock

Frozen battered fish is a freezer standby, and a surefire way to add crunch and flavor to your midweek rotation. These ready-bought filets cook up in no time in your oven, and so it's probably little surprise that they're just as good, if not better, in your air fryer. Frozen battered fish pieces benefit enormously from the air fryer's convection technology, with the continuously circulating air helping them develop a serious crispiness on their outer shell. The inside, meanwhile, stays juicy and tender, protected by the battered coating.

Cooking frozen battered fish in the air fryer also requires no additional preparation. Just like when you cook it in the oven, you just have to place it inside and hit go. Frozen battered fish filets will generally take about 10 minutes at 390 degrees F, but if your pieces are especially big they might need a few more minutes. If you have extra-large filets, it's always best to cook them separately instead of trying to stack them up. Due to their slightly awkward long shape, filets can sometimes be tricky to fit into your air fryer basket. If this is the case, don't be tempted to snap them in half: Just place them in the oven instead.

Worst: Frozen Steak

pieces of frozen steak
pieces of frozen steak - welcomeinside/Shutterstock

The jury's somewhat out on frozen steak in the air fryer, and some folks are determined to try and sell the appliance as the perfect way to cook it. We, unfortunately, could not disagree more. The problem with cooking frozen steak in the air fryer is that unlike other frozen foods, steak is really meant to be cooked from raw. If you put it in your air fryer, you're just blasting the outside of it with heat. Because air fryers cook food so quickly, what ends up happening is that the outside of the steak cooks and chars while the inside remains frozen.

This is all the more noticeable with steak, which is usually pretty thick, meaning that the inside has more time to dry out and become inedible while you're waiting for the inside to thaw. Add in the fact that steak is usually quite expensive, and you'll forgive us if we don't want to waste our money ruining a piece of meat that costs us a pretty penny. Instead, we would recommend just thawing your steak first. Raw steak can do very well in the air fryer, provided it's not super thick or too wide. ‌

Best: Frozen Egg Rolls

egg rolls with dipping sauce
egg rolls with dipping sauce - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

Man, we just love frozen egg rolls -- and we love them even more in our air fryer. These frozen treats go perfectly with your homemade egg fried rice or chow mein, and when cooked in the air fryer, they come out tasting like they've been deep-fried to golden deliciousness. The convection action of the air fryer helps them generate a premium crisp without making them dry, and the veggies or meat inside stays protected by the wrapper.

We particularly love using the air fryer to make egg rolls because it can be hard to justify firing up your whole oven for them. Instead, you can just throw a few pieces into your countertop air fryer, and hit go, cutting down on energy usage. They'll usually take about 10 to 12 minutes at 400 degrees F, although as always some brands may need a few minutes more or less. It's a good idea to flip them over with some tongs about halfway through cooking, to ensure that one side doesn't get overcooked and that you get an even brownness across them all. ‌

Worst: Frozen Bread

frozen bread in freezer
frozen bread in freezer - Ahanov Michael/Shutterstock

It's pretty easy to thaw frozen bread in the oven: You just have to put the whole loaf in at a low heat and allow it to gently heat through. Given that air fryers are basically small, supercharged ovens, surely the same principle applies with them, right? Not quite. Air fryers heat food way more quickly than ovens do, and so instead of slowly defrosting your bread, it tends to dry it out. This is contributed to by the fact that most air fryers won't fit whole loaves of bread, and so you'll have to thaw it slice by slice, exposing more of the bread's surface area to the hot air.

What about if you want to toast your bread, instead of just thawing it? Air fryers aren't that good for that, either. Instead of developing a nice browned outside on your bread, you'll just get a dry slice. If you want toast, just use your toaster. Having said all this, there are definitely ways you can combine bread and your air fryer to create deliciousness. In fact, by popping your garlic bread in the air fryer you can get an unbelievable crunch. Air fryer croutons are also quick and easy, with the appliance drying out the bread cubes efficiently, giving you that hard crunch that works so well in salads and soups.

Best: Frozen Chicken Thighs

chicken thighs in air fryer
chicken thighs in air fryer - Only 4K Ultra HD/Shutterstock

Not all frozen meat fares well in the air fryer. Frozen chicken thighs, however, are an exception. Made from dark meat, chicken thighs remain juicy and plump even when cooked in dry heat, thanks to their fat content. This makes them the perfect choice for the air fryer over leaner cuts like chicken breast, which can tend to dry out quickly, especially when cooked from frozen.

Skin-on frozen chicken thighs have an extra layer of protection and develop a crispier skin as the fat renders. Their smaller size also means that you can fit several inside your air fryer in a single layer while still giving them maximum access to the circulating heat. Prepping frozen chicken thighs for the air fryer is a breeze, too. Simply brush them with oil and cover them with a seasoning blend of your choice. Pop them in your air fryer, and cook at 360 degrees F for between 25 to 35 minutes. To check if they're fully cooked, grab a meat thermometer and check their internal temperature: It should read 165 degrees F at the thickest point.

Worst: Frozen Marinated Chicken Wings

chilli chicken wings on plate
chilli chicken wings on plate - Antorti/Getty Images

On paper, we can see why you'd think frozen marinated chicken wings are a good choice in the air fryer. You can fit loads into the basket, they cook quickly, and their marinade keeps them moist. What's not to love? Well, the marinade, that's what. Frozen marinated chicken wings, much like any marinated foods, are nightmares in your air fryer. As soon as your marinade heats up, it'll start to drip through the slats in the bottom of the basket. You're left with uncoated, dry chicken wings, and a pool of liquid at the bottom of your machine that you then have to clean up, as well as a basket that's covered in sticky sauce.

Save yourself the hassle and cook your frozen marinated chicken wings in the oven. Although it may take a few minutes longer, doing this allows you to cook them on a baking sheet, which catches any dripping and stops your wings from drying out. You're then able to retain any loose marinade, and pour it directly back onto your wings when you serve them, keeping them juicy and flavorful.

Best: Frozen French Fries

french fries in air fryer
french fries in air fryer - Rafa Jodar/Getty Images

If you're still cooking your frozen french fries in the oven, you're living in the dark ages. Frozen french fries are perfectly suited for being cooked in your air fryer, where they crisp up effortlessly and uniformly. The circulating air means that every fry warms up at an even pace, and as air fryer baskets are slotted, that warm air gets directly underneath them too. Anyone who's used to peeling french fries off a baking sheet and finding that they're still undercooked on their bottom half will no doubt find this welcome news.

Frozen french fries generally do better in this appliance on a lower heat for a slightly longer time -- so put them in your air fryer at 365 degrees F for about 20 to 25 minutes. However, there is one key caveat: You should only cook one batch at a time. This method is arguably better suited to folks who are just cooking for themselves, as the moment you start layering big handfuls of french fries on top of each other, you ruin the air circulation in your appliance, leading to unevenly cooked fries.

Worst: Frozen Broccoli

frozen broccoli florets
frozen broccoli florets - Marekuliasz/Getty Images

If you need your greens quickly, it's hard to go wrong with frozen broccoli -- unless you're cooking it in the air fryer. While other frozen vegetables do well in the appliance, frozen broccoli can be surprisingly difficult to master, and can end up burnt and overly dry. This can happen in a matter of minutes, with the frozen water that coats the broccoli evaporating and being wicked away by the circulating air super quickly, leaving you with charred, bitter pieces of the vegetable.

The same thing can happen with frozen cauliflower, which has a tendency to dry out in the air fryer. All of this isn't helped by the speed that air fryers operate at: While you might be able to catch frozen broccoli before it burns when you're cooking it in the oven, in the air fryer things can turn on a dime. If you are committed to trying to cook frozen broccoli in the air fryer, it's a good idea to add a little extra water into the basket beforehand. This water will moisten the air inside your fryer, and prevent the broccoli from becoming too dry. It can also help to use a lower temperature and cook it for longer.

‌Best: Frozen Pot Pies

pot pie on white background
pot pie on white background - BGSmith/Shutterstock

Foods don't get more comforting than frozen pot pies. While some brands are better than others, cooking them in the air fryer will make any of them tastier than you can believe. Air fryers enable a beautifully browned crust to form on your pot pie while keeping the pastry tender and the inside moist and flavorful. They also save energy while still making a hearty meal. If you've ever felt guilty when you fire up your whole oven for a tiny pot pie, you can feel smug in the knowledge that the small chamber in your air fryer is the perfect size for these delicious dinner items.

To get the best result from your frozen pot pie, it's a good idea to cook it in two stages. First, give your pot pie an initial blast at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes, which gives the heat enough time to permeate to its core. Then, turn up the heat up to 380 degrees and cook it for about 6 minutes more. This second, higher burst of heat deepens the crust's color and gives it an added crispiness. Cooking times and temperatures may vary by brand, so check the packaging first. And make sure you keep the metal tin on your pie, to avoid any leakage as it cooks.

Worst: Frozen Chili

bowl of chili and spoon
bowl of chili and spoon - Dny59/Getty Images

It might be a bit surprising that frozen chili doesn't fare well in the air fryer. After all, how bad can cooking this innocuous dish really be? Well as it turns out, quite bad. The problem with cooking frozen chili in the air fryer is its loose, moist construction. As it thaws and warms up, it will start to bubble, likely spilling over the sides of the container you're using -– and into the bottom of the air fryer basket. You'll end up losing half of your dinner to the depths of your air fryer.

This problem isn't unique to frozen chili, but to pretty much any frozen stew, soup, broth, or sauce. Wet items are more prone to leaking all over your appliance's interior and causing a major mess (and in the worst case scenario, causing damage to your machine). Additionally, these dishes don't exactly benefit from the browning effect that air fryers have, as they're usually too wet to develop any additional color. Avoid the drama and use your microwave instead.

Best: Frozen Empanadas

frozen empanadas with limes
frozen empanadas with limes - gcafotografia/Shutterstock

Frozen empanadas are a freezer favorite, but it can feel a bit excessive to use the whole oven for them. That's where your air fryer comes in handy. This handy appliance can cook frozen empanadas in less than 10 minutes at 400 degrees F and allow them to form a a brown and crispy crust. Giving them an extra boost of heat at the end can further deepen their color, and daubing them with a little oil before you cook them can prevent them from drying out and give them extra flavor.

If you want to give your frozen empanadas an extra luxurious shade, daub them with an egg wash before you air fry them. Make sure you do this lightly, so as not to spill any uncooked egg into the bottom of your basket (this isn't the worst thing in the world, but it'll just be annoying to clean up afterward). As with other types of frozen food, don't be tempted to stack your empanadas on top of each other. This can cause steam to get trapped in between them, moistening the dough and ruining their crispiness.

Worst: Frozen Pizza

frozen pizza in cellophane wrapper
frozen pizza in cellophane wrapper - Hadrian/Shutterstock

On the surface, frozen pizza in the air fryer should be a no-brainer. Surely, like other frozen foods, it should give it a delicious crispiness while thawing its interior, right? Unfortunately, that's not quite the case here. Frozen pizza is uniquely difficult to cook in air fryers because of the air circulation technology. While this circulation is great for reheating pizza slices where the cheese is melted into the other ingredients already, the moment you turn your air fryer on, your frozen pizza's toppings start to loosen, eventually being blown off the pizza completely and collecting in the corner of the machine. We're all for modern takes on classic food, but we're not crazy about reconstructing our pizzas ourselves.

There's also the size factor to consider. While personal size pies might be well suited to air fryers, generally pizzas are just too big to fit in your fry basket. While we understand the appeal of wanting to use your air fryer for everything, with some foods it's just not worth it. Put your pizza in the oven, and keep it intact.

Read the original article on The Daily Meal.