The UK has fallen in love with the air fryer. Often touted as a way to cook healthier meals, they circulate hot air efficiently to achieve a 'fried finish' similar to that achieved by deep-frying, without all the oil. They also heat up very quickly and can be more energy efficient than most ovens – depending on the model and your energy provider.

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You can use air fryers to cook potato-based classics including chips and roasties, meat including chicken thighs, bacon and sausages, or more complex dessert dishes such as air fryer doughnuts. The real win is the golden, crispy finish to food that's achieved by air frying.

However, these nifty gadgets can’t be used to cook everything. There are also some food items that shouldn’t be air fried for safety reasons, such as popcorn, sauce-based dishes and more.

What not to cook in an air fryer

Anything with a wet batter

Recipes that use a wet batter, including fried chicken, will end up being very messy if cooked in an air fryer. This is because there won’t be enough hot oil to set the batter, and it will likely drip everywhere rather than forming a crunchy coating. The puddle of batter may also burn the base of your air fryer basket.

Air fryer chicken

You can, however, cook air-fried chicken with a dry coating, using a flour mixture and any seasoning you like. “I like to add garlic granules, smoked paprika and celery salt to the flour mixture,” says BBC Good Food's Ailsa Burt.

“I’d then pair it with some buffalo sauce drizzled over the top and a crunchy, fresh romaine lettuce salad. To make sure the chicken stays perfectly crispy, serve immediately.”

Our crisp chicken bites recipe also works well. Fried foods that have been frozen can be air fried, too, as the wet batter sets during the freezing process.

Anything with a sauce

Hearty dishes including stew, chilli con carne or bolognese are midweek favourites, but BBC Good Food’s food copy editor Samuel Goldsmith advises against using an air fryer to cook them. As the hot circulates inside the air fryer, this can cause hot liquids to splatter, which can be dangerous and messy.

Slow cookers are better for sauce-based recipes – they’re usually low maintenance and very efficient to run, which is ideal for keeping energy bills down during the cost of living crisis.

Popcorn

This popular cinema snack won’t cook well in an air fryer, either, as most models won’t reach the required temperature to pop the kernels. Popcorn kernels can also become lodged within the air fryer’s heating element, which may cause the appliance to short – creating a fire hazard.

Sweet popcorn

The good news is, it’s very easy to make your own popcorn by cooking on a hob or in a microwave. Try our recipes for sweet popcorn or toffee popcorn.

For an alternative air-fried movie snack, try making DIY tortilla chips. Ailsa Burt recommends “cutting a few tortillas into eight wedges, then toss with a little oil, salt and pepper, and air fry until crispy”. Then add whichever dips you like.

Broccoli

Some vegetables, such as brussels sprouts, are good at retaining moisture, so crisp up well in an air fryer. Broccoli, however, can dry out and become chewy and bitter.

Roasting is usually a better way to get crunchy, crispy broccoli florets, which you can do in an oven or an air fryer that has an oven extension.

Try our roasted broccoli, puy lentils and tahini yogurt recipe and cook for 30 minutes. You could also use a steamer to get delicious, crunchy broccoli.

Pasta

It is possible to cook pasta in an air fryer, and “pasta bakes that just need the baking part should be fine”, says Ailsa Burt. “But I wouldn’t use an air fryer to cook pasta dishes with lots of sauce.”

Pasta bake

For the best al dente pasta, cook in a saucepan of boiling water and add a drizzle of oil to stop the strands sticking together. Find further tips with our guide on how to cook pasta.

Rice

Like pasta, raw grains need to be boiled in water to cook, and while it's fine to add a few drops of water to your air fryer basket, these gadgets aren't built for boiling or steaming foods.

If you want to add a crispy finish to rice, Samuel Goldsmith suggests cooking on a hob first before adding it to the air fryer afterwards for a few minutes. Rice cookers also produce excellent fluffy rice – read our guide to the best rice cookers.

Hard-boiled eggs

While you can use an air fryer to make hard-boiled eggs, their texture can be chewy and rubbery – and there are certainly other ways of producing better results. Learn tips and easy techniques with our guide on how to make hard-boiled eggs.

If you’re still keen to give it a go, however, Ailsa Burt advises cooking medium-sized eggs straight from the fridge at 125C for 10 minutes.

Toast

Toast is best avoided, too, says BBC Good Food's cookery assistant Helena Busiakiewicz. "If you put bread in an air fryer, it will just move around and not really cook properly. For the best results, I'd always stick to a toaster." See our pick of the best toasters as tested by the BBC Good Food team.

Air frying: the basics

New to air frying? Ailsa Burt shares her top air frying tips to help you get started.

1. Don't overfill

"Be careful not to overfill your air fryer basket," says Ailsa. "This can result in uneven cooking and can leave you with soggy food at the bottom. If you want to cook larger portions, look for an air fryer with a bigger capacity."

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2. Distribute ingredients evenly

"Try to keep the food in an even layer, as this will ensure the heat circulates and makes the food crispy. If you need to, give the food a shake halfway through cooking."

3. Be wary of the heating element

"Make sure nothing gets too close to the heating element, as this can easily burn or be a safety hazard," she adds.

Which air fryer to buy

Air fryers are sold at a range of price points, from simple appliances to high-tech gadgets with extra accessories and functions.

Read our guide to the best air fryers to discover which models came up on top in our tests.

Air fryer recipes

Air fryer chicken thighs
Air fryer doughnuts
Air fryer salmon
Air fryer sweet potato fries
Air fryer bacon
Air fryer sausages
Air fried chips
Air fried roast potatoes

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And if you haven't already got an air fryer and are wondering which one to buy, take a look at our pick of the best air fryers.

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