The air fryer has surged in popularity over the last few years, and for a good reason. This little kitchen gadget is super convenient and can create crunchy, crisp food using little or no oil and all that in a record time.
Since an air fryer is essentially a miniature countertop oven, there is quite a lot you can do with it, but there are certain tasks that even this nifty kitchen appliance may not be able to handle.
One of the questions I get asked quite a lot is: Can you put water in an air fryer to steam food?
So, let’s find out.
You Can’t Steam Food In An Air Fryer
The short answer is no—you can not steam food in the air fryer. Sadly, as versatile as this small kitchen appliance is, steaming seems beyond its scope due to its very nature. But I will share a simple little trick at the end of the post, what you can do instead.
Air frying is, by definition, the very opposite of steaming when it comes to cooking methods.
Instead of relying on steam and humidity, air frying needs fast-circulating hot air to cook food. Trying to combine the two will not only ruin your meal but could permanently damage your appliance.
To give you a better understanding of why you should not attempt steaming food in your air fryer, let’s see how an air fryer differs from a steamer and how both of these appliances are designed to cook food.
Read Also: 11 Uncommon Things To Cook In An Air Fryer (And 4 You Should Not).
How Does An Air Fryer Cook Food?
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An air fryer is, at its core, a portable, small convection oven. The concept behind the device is to mimic the texture and flavor of deep-frying without relying on oil.
To achieve this, a section of the deep fryer—usually the top—has a heating mechanism and a powerful fan. The heating element creates dry heat, while the fan creates intense air circulation, causing hot air to circulate around the food in the basket at a rapid speed.
Due to its small size, this process ‘fries’ and cooks the food quite fast, creating a crispy, crunchy texture reminiscent of the deep-frying method.
In theory, what an air fryer does is use convection air to dry up any surface moisture of your food and air-fries it to create a cooked, crispy exterior.
How Does A Steamer Cook Food?
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There are different types of steamers available in the market. Still, they all follow the same cooking principle—they boil water to create steam and use that to cook the ingredients. Subsequently, this cooking method provides softness and moisture to the preparations.
Although all steamers require a ventilation system to allow steam to exit, it does not entirely rely on circulating air regularly—on the contrary; it’s best to preserve moisture as much as possible and only allow ventilation to prevent an excessive accumulation inside the closed device.
Most Air Fryers Are Not Designed To Steam
As you can see, there is a significant difference between the two cooking processes—air frying uses dry heat to crips the food while steaming uses much gentler wet heat and softens the texture and keeps the food moist.
Air-fried food becomes golden and crisp, while steamed food becomes moist and soft.
Since the air fryer is designed to cook food with very hot, dry heat, some devices can not handle any moisture and might even shut down if the device detects too much water in the system.
Likewise, the fast fanning and ventilation system will stimulate quick airflow and repel steam immediately, as it is designed to keep the cooking environment as dry as possible.
As such, trying to steam food in your air fryer is more likely to end with a damaged appliance or have the water evaporate or let out by your appliance.
But Not All Air Fryers Are Made Equal
Although assuming most air fryers cannot steam food is a good rule of thumb, there are always some exceptions to the norm.
As technology advances, more manufacturers keep innovating and releasing complex, multitasking cooking appliances to make life easier.
Nowadays, many devices claim to be able to function as both an air fryer and a steamer, such as the Instant Pot Duo Crisp 11-in-1 Air Fryer like the one below.
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This device can reduce the number of appliances in your kitchen and improve the versatility of your meals. Despite the expensive price tag, it’s worth considering them if you rely on many different cooking methods like air frying, pressure cooking, slow cooking, sautéing, steaming, warming food, sous vide, roasting, grilling, and dehydrating, which is quite an accomplished from just one appliance I would say.
Of course, there are other similar kitchen appliances like the one above but before making any decision, make sure to read your specific device’s instructions and figure out whether or not it is capable of steaming or air frying or whatever cooking method you need really.
But as a general rule, if it doesn’t say it can steam, don’t try to steam with it.
Can You Put Water In An Air Fryer, At All?
When using an air fryer, one must be mindful of the amount of liquid added to the appliance. The addition of excessive amounts of water or other liquids could potentially lead to damage in the inner components of the system, resulting in a decrease in performance efficiency and potential disruption of the heating elements.
Furthermore, over-saturation with fluids can also lead to delayed heat conduction and subsequent reduction in cooking temperatures, which could cause food items to not cook properly or fully.
But that said, it really depends on the device, the temperature, and the cooking time. I have successfully reheated a bowl of soup in my air fryer many times and incorporated a few tablespoons of water in the air fryer to reduce smoke when I am preparing fatty dishes, and that is without any damage, I hope.
Make sure to read the instructions and the manual before and proceed with caution when adding water to the air fryer.
Alternative To Steaming In An Air Fryer
I have found a hack or an alternative that yields quite good results if an air fryer is the only option to cook steamed food or quite close to it anyway. That is wrapping the food in aluminum foil. (Yes, you can use aluminum foil in an air fryer).
Include a few spoons of water and carefully and thoroughly wrap the food, like salmon or dumplings, or vegetables, in aluminum foil and place it in the air fryer basket. Air frying food this way will take about 5-10 minutes longer but without significant moisture loss, as the aluminum foil provides insulation that keeps the food from drying too much.
Naturally, it won’t be exactly ‘steamed’ food, but it will be a similar result that is just as delicious and healthy.
And the best part? You will grant your air fryer a long and healthy life.
Read Also: How To Make Crusty Air Fryer Bread (Only 4 Ingredients).
Water and air fryers do not mix that well. Air fryers are designed to cook food with hot air, not steam it. To steam food properly, you need a dedicated steamer, steamer basket or a multi-cooker like an Instant Pot.
If you want to get the best results from your air fryer, stick to the recommended cooking times and temperatures, and avoid adding a lot of water or liquids when cooking.