How to Cook Bone-In Meat in an Air Fryer Without Ruining It

The air fryer is a magical invention. Not just for reheating fries to optimal crispiness and cooking your breaded chicken extra crunchy, you can use it to make everything from donuts to melted chocolate. But while it seems like you can throw practically anything into the air fryer, even this wondrous appliance has its limits. So if you’re thinking of tossing bone-in meat and poultry in your device, you’ll want to think twice.

For starters, you might encounter a technical issue before you begin cooking. Since air fryers are typically compact countertop appliances, you may not even be able to wrangle a whole chicken or turkey into the basket. But if you do manage to cram it in there, it’s unlikely your device will have enough space to properly cook your protein. Air fryers work by circulating hot air around your food, but with limited room for airflow, you may get an unevenly cooked bird. Not only can this pose a food safety issue, as certain areas of your meat may remain somewhat raw, but the taste and texture of your final product is unlikely to turn out the way you want it to.

Smaller cuts of meat make the cut

nuggets in air fryer basket

Here are a few specific examples of proteins to leave out of the device: whole chickens and turkeys (as mentioned), whole ham and duck, entire rib roasts, and Tomahawk steaks. These types fare far better in an oven, where there’s plenty of room for air to circulate, evenly cooking the entire thing.

However, unless you’re married to the idea of keeping your protein completely whole, there are ways you can still cook your meat in an air fryer — you’ll just have to be okay with cutting it into smaller pieces. Feel free to cook chicken breasts, thighs, tenders, wings, nuggets, and even skewers in this device, along with turkey breasts, ham steaks (aka slices), and deliciously succulent barbecued ribs. While a Tomahawk may not be the best fit for the air fryer, you can still use this appliance for smaller cuts of steak like filet mignon and flank steak, as well as steak bites. In fact, smaller chunks like bites (including chicken and salmon bites) are ideal here, since they cook quickly and leave plenty of exposed surface area for the air fryer to crisp up. And as with any food you cook in this device, make sure to spread everything out in a single layer in your basket, with none of the sides touching, for even cooking.

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