If you’re looking for one appliance that can cook a wide variety of meals quickly without heating your kitchen, you’re probably considering an air fryer. Good quality air fryers can perform several functions beyond air frying – they can also be used for baking, roasting, and reheating leftovers. But can you steam in an air fryer?
You cannot steam in a standard air fryer because the constant air circulation used to ensure that food comes out crispy is counterproductive to the build-up of moisture required to steam food. You can put a bit of water in most air fryers to keep food moist while being cooked. This isn’t the same as steaming, but will produce a delicious result.
Keep reading to learn more about steaming foods in your air fryer, including which ones work best and which ones you should avoid.
Can you steam food in an air fryer?
Steaming may not be the go-to cooking method in most households, but some foods are undeniably better when cooked in moist heat. Steamed fish, dumplings, and burger buns spring to mind, but the options are surprisingly extensive.
With air fryers being the fourth most popular cooking appliance sold in 2022, chances are you either have one or have thought about getting one. One of the selling points of top-quality air fryers is their versatility – some are even packaged as a combination air fryer and pressure cooker. But can they also steam foods?
Most air fryers don’t double as a steamer, but you can produce a similar result by adding a bit of water to the bottom of the air fryer. This will allow the food to cook thoroughly while retaining the tenderness and moisture rather than becoming crispy.
Most air fryers (even ones that don’t do double duty) will be able to hold a little water. Check with the manufacturer’s directions for your particular model if you’re unsure how to add water to yours without damaging it.
How does an air fryer cook food
Despite the name, air fryers don’t fry your food. They do, however, use air to create a similar crisping effect.
Air fryers work by moving very hot air around your food, similar to a convection oven. This hot air cooks and browns the exposed exterior (this is why shaking your food midway through the cooking process is so important).
One of the reasons air fryers are so popular is that this cooking method is considered more heart-healthy and reduces calories by up to 80% compared to frying in oil.
Air fryers work incredibly well with solid “fried” foods such as french fries or chicken nuggets, but they can’t cook breaded and fried items such as onion rings or fried chicken because the batter would simply drip off.
How does a steamer cook food
Since it’s fairly easy to steam foods on your stovetop in a steaming basket, it’s less common for Americans to have a dedicated steamer in their kitchen. However, bamboo steamer baskets are practically required if you’re planning on making dumplings.
A steamer boils water and traps the resulting steam. The food is heated by the steam and cooked that way. Unlike direct boiling, the water doesn’t come into direct contact with the food at any point.
Since much of a food’s nutrients can be lost in the boiling process, steaming is a much healthier way to prepare vegetables.
Is it possible to steam food in an air fryer?
Steamers completely trap the steam that is released when water is boiled in order to cook your food.
Most air fryers are not equipped to be used as steamers, although many allow you to put a small amount of water in the tray in order to keep food from drying out. This means that the convection will cook the food while the steam will keep it moist. For most foods, the final result will be similar.
Whether you can use your air fryer to steam foods depends on the model you have. Some air fryers (like this one from Ninja) are marketed as multi-use kitchen appliances, while others – especially those that more closely resemble a toaster oven – don’t have anywhere to safely put the water to create steam.
Vegetables are one of my favorite items to steam, but not all veggies lend themselves to the air fryer.
In general, softer vegetables can be prepared in a steamer or by using a steam basket. This includes asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, and most leafy greens. You can steam most of these in an air fryer that has a place for water.
Leafy greens should not be placed in the air fryer.
Handy Tip: Chop your vegetables into small pieces and season. Preheat your air fryer, wait for about 3-5 minutes, then add little bit of hot water.
Like fresh vegetables, you can steam frozen frozen veggies in most air fryers.
Frozen vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower and frozen mixes containing similar veggies can be steamed in the air fryer. Don’t thaw the vegetables before cooking, and make sure you add a little extra water to your air fryer.
Do not add water to the air fryer if there isn’t a place for it – this will likely ruin the appliance.
Similar to their fresh counterpart, avoid trying to steam leafy greens or other such vegetables in the air fryer.
Dumplings – also called potstickers – are time consuming to make so most people either get take-out or buy them frozen.
You can steam frozen dumplings in any air fryer that has a space to put some water. You will, however, still need a bamboo steamer or something similar to hold the dumplings.
You do not need to thaw the dumplings before cooking.
No one wants to waste leftovers, but there’s not denying that most foods just aren’t as good reheated. You toss them in the microwave and they dry out and get tough, leaving with a disappointing shadow of a previously delicious meal.
Revive your leftovers in the air fryer by adding a little bit of hot water to the basket. This will help keep the food from drying out while it heats up.
Food that is meant to be crispy may suffer a little from this approach, but most meats and vegetables will be perfect!
Can you put water in an air fryer?
Steaming in your air fryer sounds great, but is it actually safe to add water?
You can put water in the air fryer but only a few tablespoons at a time and that too if needed. Adding too much water can damage your air fryer.
Don’t put water on the heating element or the inside part of your air fryer. You can use water to clean your air fryer but be careful with pouring water inside. You can bring out the trays to wash and dry them before placing them back.
Safety Tips: Ensure that the air vents of your air fryer are opened so smoke and steam can emit efficiently. Do not use too much oil and water. Your air fryer must not be overheated to avoid a fire hazard.
How to steam food in an air fryer
Once you’ve determined if there is a safe place to put water in your air fryer, you’re ready to start steaming!
Preheat your air fryer before adding the water. When it’s time, use hot water – most air fryers don’t produce enough heat to effectively heat water from room temperature.
Cook your food based on typical steaming times.
What else can you use an air fryer for?
Depending on the air fryer you purchase, there are a wide variety of functions available to you.
In addition to possibly be able to be used as a makeshift steamer, your air fryer make be able to:
- Air fry (obviously) – You can fry your chicken for a tasty and crunchy taste. Air fryers are a quick and healthy way to cook most foods.
- Dehydrate – The hot, dry environment of the air fryer can be used to dehydrate your veggies without destroying the nutrients.
- Roasting – You can choose to roast or bake your potatoes, hot dogs, and vegetables. You can even cook a tasty steak and cook some bananas.
- Reheating leftovers – Add just a little bit of water to the air fryer’s pan to keep your leftovers from drying out while they’re reheating.
Summary of can you steam in an air fryer
Air fryers are a great addition to your kitchen and can be used as a healthier alternative to frying or sauteeing, but can also be used to roast, dehydrate, and reheat foods.
When used correctly, some air fryers can also steam foods, although they function in a very different way than traditional steamers. Fresh and frozen vegetables are perfect candidates for air fryer “steaming” – simply preheat the air fryer then add a little bit of hot water.
If there is no place available for you to safely put a bit of water, do not attempt to do so. Some air fryers – particularly those that more closely resemble toaster ovens – will not work as steamers.