The air fryer is fast, practical, and not just for French fries. But if you need to prepare a meal for many people, can you stack food in it? Let’s find out!
Air fryers are a real boon for the home cook. They’re basically countertop convection ovens that don’t take up too much space in the kitchen, with which you can cook foods to crispy and golden brown deliciousness in no time and without hassle.
The fact that hot air fryers are compact also means that their frying baskets aren’t as spacious as your oven, so you’ll have to prepare your food in batches.
But if you’re cooking for a large crowd, in a hurry, or just tired, you may be thinking to yourself, “Wait a minute… Can’t I just stack the food and cook it all in one batch?”
To cut a long story short, technically, you can—but that doesn’t mean that, practically, you should.
Let’s take a minute or two to talk about why it isn’t a good idea to stack food in your hot air fryer, especially if that food contains harmful bacteria that can make you and your family sick.
Why You Shouldn’t Stack Food in an Air Fryer
Just like you want to space out a pair of roasts in your oven so neither of them comes undone (see “Cooking Two Roasts at the Same Time: A Guide”), you want to spread out the food items in your air fryer so that each and every one of them cooks through evenly.
Stacking food in multiple layers in the air fryer isn’t recommended because it impedes airflow, which in turn prevents the food items from browning and crisping.
It’s especially important not to stack meat in the air fryer—red meat, poultry, or fish and seafood—because it will nary brown nor cook evenly. This means that some of the disease-causing bacteria on it may not be killed, and you may get food poisoning from eating it.
For some foods, such as French fries, this is permissible; you can open the fryer and give the fry basket a good shake to redistribute the fries so they’re golden brown and cooked evenly on all sides by the time you take them out.
But, generally, stacking foods in an air fryer isn’t recommended. So here’s what to do instead.
How Do You Arrange Food in the Air Fryer Properly?
An air fryer is essentially a mini convection oven on the countertop. Unless it’s very large—making it difficult to lug around the kitchen, and kind of defeating its purpose—it doesn’t hold much food.
Generally speaking, most air fryers can hold 1 to 2 portions of food, depending on the shape and the size of the frying basket. Square and rectangular baskets tend to hold more food than their round or elliptical counterparts.
(Larger makes and models can easily hold 3 to 4 portions of food. But they’re also heavier to haul around, and they take up a lot more space on your countertop.)
If you own an air fryer, which you probably do since you’re reading this article, this means two things. You need to (a) arrange the food in the air-fryer properly and (b) air-fry large quantities of food in batches.
To arrange food items in an air fryer properly, spread them out evenly in a single layer. Don’t put items in that are too large to fit, don’t overfill the fryer basket, and don’t stack foods on top of each other.
Can You Air-Fry Foods Quickly?
That’s all well and good, but every so often you are in a hurry or have guests over, and you need to prepare a ton of food! The question is, what should you do when you find yourself in such a situation?
To cook foods in an air fryer quickly, thaw them out in the fridge overnight, bring them to room temperature before cooking, and preheat the air fryer.
Thaw out your food for air-frying:
You can cook frozen food in an air-fryer, but it will take longer to cook. The food is frozen, so the heat needs more time to get to the inside. To avoid burning the outside, you need to use a temperature 25 degrees lower, which slows down the cooking process.
So thaw your food before loading it in the air fryer. The safest and most convenient method of thawing is to take your food out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator the night before you plan to cook it. The food will be fully defrosted come dinner time the next day.
Bring your food to room temperature:
If you put cold food directly from the fridge into the air fryer, it will take longer to cook because, again, it will take longer for the surface to heat up and for the cooking process to begin.
Fortunately, the solution is simple: take the food out of the fridge and let it rest on the countertop for 15 minutes before loading it in the fryer. Do not let it sit out too long, though. Food, whether raw or cooked, should never be left for more than 1 to 2 hours, or it will no longer be edible.
Preheat your air fryer:
Some hot air fryers have a “Preheat” button that heats the inside of the unit in 2-3 minutes. Others don’t, but you can still set them to the desired setting and let them run empty for 4-5 minutes.
When you preheat your air fryer, you speed up the cooking of the first batch of food because the air, the basket, and the walls of the unit are already hot. The food starts to sizzle immediately when you put it in.
Try not to stack foods in your air fryer. The food won’t brown evenly—and the areas that came in contact with each other may be undercooked. This not only makes the food less appetizing, but, on meats and some vegetables, also increases the risk of food poisoning.