Air fryer steaming - Family Guide Central
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Can You Steam Food with an Air Fryer? (How it Compares)

So you think you’ve come up with a brilliant idea. You need to steam your leftovers but you don’t have a steamer. Maybe you can steam food with an air fryer? That’s genius!

But now you’re wondering how, and is this even a good idea?

Air fryers and steamers cook food differently. If you want food that retains a moist, soft outside, like you would get when using a steamer, you will not be able to achieve that with an air fryer.

Air fryers cook by surrounding your food with heat, in order to achieve the crispness that you would normally see when using oil. Steamers heat water. The water in the chamber becomes extremely hot (100°C hot) converting into steam and the resulting steam cooks the food.

Is it a good idea to steam food with an air fryer?

Steaming food in an air fryer depends on the food and the result you want to achieve. There are some foods that taste great with a crunchy exterior and a softer interior.

Can you put water in an air fryer for steaming?

Before adding water to your air fryer, you should first check the manual for your appliance. Some manufacturers specifically recommend against putting water in your air fryer. Ignoring the manufacturer’s guidelines could void any warranty on your air fryer.

Air fryers normally circulate dry air around the inside of the chamber. If you were to place a lot of water into that chamber, there will likely be an overflow of steam which could damage the air fryer.

A small amount of water in an air fryer (about a tablespoon) is sometimes recommended when frying fatty foods to help dilute any fat or grease that is dripped inside the pan. This small amount of water keeps the air fryer from smoking when high temperatures are used, but is not enough to create the steam needed for cooking foods with steam.

Hypothetically, how would you steam food in an air fryer?

Hypothetically, if you had a sufficient amount of water to create steam, but not so much that your food was in the water, it could be possible to steam food in an air fryer.

Keep in mind that your food will not have the same texture as it will when steamed. The circulation of dried air throughout the chamber would both heat the food as well as steam the water.

In the end, the circulation of both will give your food a moist yet slightly hardened exterior. The results may be rather chewy.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of steaming in an air fryer?

The primary advantage of being able to steam food in an air fryer is that it would be one less appliance to have on your counter.

Air fryers are convenient and heat up quickly, so they can greatly reduce cooking times for many foods. Presumably, steaming in the air fryer could also decrease cooking times. 

However, because the air fryer heats so quickly, it would be important to take care that you can remove cooked foods safely from the air fryer without burning yourself on steam, or the hot water. 

There may also be exposed electrical elements inside your air fryer, which should never make contact with water.

Is it normal for steam to come out of an air fryer?

As many foods are cooked in an air fryer, they release steam — just as they would if cooked on the stovetop or in an oven. Seeing a cloud of steam release from your air fryer is normal after it has done cooking and you open the tray.

However, it’s important to differentiate between steam (water vapor) and smoke (from burning oils or other foods). Again, steam coming out of an air fryer is normal, but smoke may indicate that food has cooked too long or at too high a temperature.

If you can’t steam with an air fryer, what are the alternatives?

Food steamers are available at a wide range of prices, depending on quality and size. These stand-alone appliances usually have a water reservoir, a heating element, and a vented basket for holding the food you want to steam. 

You can also steam items on the stovetop with a set of pots that are designed for steaming. They usually consist of a saucepan to hold water and a vented pot that fits inside the saucepan, along with a lid. 

You can also steam in an oven with water or other liquids in a roasting pan and the food you are steaming in a basket that sits above the liquid.

What’s the difference between an air fryer and a steamer?

The primary difference is the way your food is cooked. Air fryers are like concentrated convection cookers that use hot air to circulate around your food. The result is a faster cooking time and crisper surfaces on the outside of your food. 

Steaming involves heated water releasing hot steam that cooks your food. This method helps foods retain moisture and makes food surfaces softer. 

Both methods help you retain nutrients in your food. 

Air fryers have the added advantage of preparing foods in a way that is very similar to how they would normally be fried in unhealthy oils.

Is a steam oven the same as an air fryer?

Steam ovens are larger appliances that are installed in a wall cabinet, so they are very different from air fryers. 

Steam ovens use similar convection cooking methods, but air fryers are designed to circulate hot air in a smaller appliance, while steam ovens circulate hot steam within a larger area. Steam ovens are designed to achieve cooking results that are more like steamers.

How long does it take to steam different foods in an air fryer?

If you choose to steam items in your air fryer, consider these time guidelines.

Based on 150 grams worth:

FoodAir Fryer TempAir Fryer Time
Potatoes375°F30 – 45 min
Carrots375°F30 – 45 mins
Cabbage375°F20 – 25 mins
Broccoli375°F10 – 15 mins
Mushroom375°F10 – 15 mins
SpinachNot RecommendedNot Recommended
Dim Sum390°F15 mins
Asparagus375°F10 – 15 mins
Chicken350 – 400°F20 – 30 mins
Fish400°F15 – 20 mins
These are approximate temperatures and times certain foods are required to be steamed in an air fryer

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