Have you ever wondered how you can use an air fryer without soiling the food pan and basket? Well, if you use a baking dish, you can keep the mess from getting all over the place. The only question left is, is it safe to use a metal baking dish in an air fryer?
You can use any metal baking dish you want in an air fryer, as long as it is deemed bake-safe. So, stainless steel, aluminum, and cast-iron baking dishes are all safe to use. You can even line the food pan with aluminum foil.
In this guide, I’ll explain what sort of metal bakeware you can use in an air fryer, the alternatives to metal, and whether or not a baking pan is necessary for air-frying.
Is It Okay to Put Metal in an Air Fryer?
One common misconception people have about air fryers is that they work similarly to microwaves. In reality, air fryers have a lot more in common with convection ovens. As such, it is completely fine to use metal bakeware inside an air fryer.
An air fryer’s fan distributed heated air throughout the food basket in order to cook your food evenly and from all angles. What you get with an air fryer is perfectly crisp food without adding multiple glugs of oil or pats of butter.
However, before placing a metal baking dish inside your air fryer, you should make sure that it is oven-safe. So, you can rest assured that your baking dish doesn’t succumb to thermal shock—physical damage due to an extreme change in temperature—after you pull it out of the food basket.
What Type of Metal Can You Put in an Air Fryer?
So, we’ve established that it’s safe to put metal in an air fryer, or at least metal bakeware that is oven-safe. So, what metal options do we have?
For the most part, metal bakeware is made of aluminum, stainless steel, and cast iron. Let’s take a close look at each type of metal individually.
Aluminum is one of the most popular types of metal for bakeware. It’s lightweight, inexpensive, and can withstand extreme temperatures beyond 500°F before falling apart. However, the durability of an aluminum baking pan depends on its thickness and how it was tempered.
Baking pans made of aluminum heat up evenly, so you don’t have to worry so much about uneven cooking. Also, aluminum is a great conductor of heat, so it heats up quickly to crisp up the sides and bottom of your baked goods.
The downsides of aluminum are that it is not dishwasher-safe, it will react to highly acidic foods like tomatoes, and it can become damaged by the slightest drop or bump. When an aluminum pan warps in shape, it will heat up unevenly, and you will have to replace it.
Stainless steel and aluminum share many of the same advantages and disadvantages. They are both excellent conductors, they’re relatively easy to clean, they heat up evenly, and they can withstand extreme temperatures inside ovens and air fryers. However, stainless steel also has the benefits of being resistant to corrosion (with proper care), and it’s more durable than aluminum.
That said, not all stainless-steel baking pans are made the same. You will have to look at its series number (200, 300, or 400) to figure out how corrosion-proof it actually is (the lower the grade, the better it is). Also, it’s costlier than aluminum.
Cast iron is a classic material for cookware. It’s incredibly durable, it retains a ton of heat for crisping up your food, and with proper seasoning, food slides right off its surface. Best of all, you don’t have to introduce hard-to-pronounce chemicals to create a nonstick layer on cast iron.
With all that said, cast iron isn’t perfect. First of all, while it retains heat extremely well, it doesn’t heat up evenly. You will have to preheat your cast-iron baking pan for much longer than you would with any other type of bakeware material. In addition, re-seasoning (creating a nonstick surface) a cast-iron pan can be a pain in the neck.
Luckily, there are enamel-coated cast-iron pans, like Dutch ovens, that have a naturally nonstick surface. However, its enamel coating may peel off over time, but this can take years to occur, if at all.
Alternatives to Metal Bakeware
So, you have a pretty wide selection of metal bakeware to choose from. But if you’re not a fan of aluminum, stainless-steel, or cast-iron baking pans, what other options do you have? As it turns out, there are plenty of alternatives.
Silicone is a nonstick rubber or plastic. It will release sticky foods, sauces, and all, without solid bits clinging to the walls and base of the dish. You can find air-fryer-friendly silicone accessories in all shapes and sizes, including mats for lining metal baking pans, molds for cakes and muffins, and liners for air fryer food baskets.
However, silicone is an insulator—i.e., it doesn’t retain heat very well. This means it will not help in crisping up your food. This shouldn’t be a problem if you want to bake saucy foods in your air fryer.
Ceramic bakeware is made of all sorts of natural ingredients, including and most prominently clay. It can come with an enamel coating to give it a nonstick surface, and it also makes it easier to clean. Best of all, it doesn’t react negatively to any type of food, so baking tomatoes in ceramic is completely fine.
Sadly, ceramic isn’t as durable as other bakeware materials. Plus, its nonstick coating will deteriorate rapidly over time. In addition, it doesn’t heat up evenly, so it will have to spend longer in the air fryer to come up to a consistent temperature.
I know—aluminum foil is technically metal, but it’s not normally a type of baking dish. However, you can fold a sheet of aluminum foil to turn it into a liner for your air fryer food pan or a basket to hold food.
Unlike aluminum bakeware, aluminum foil will do nothing to crisp up your food. Also, its walls are not rigid, so you have to be careful with how much liquid you add to your makeshift baking dish.
Do You Need to Use a Baking Dish in an Air Fryer?
After learning about the different types of metal baking dishes, as well as the alternatives to metal, we must ask ourselves: is a baking dish even necessary in an air fryer? Well, yes and no.
If you want to bake saucy foods in an air fryer, you will have to keep your sauce contained in a baking vessel. That way, it doesn’t get all over the place and creates a huge headache to clean up.
Also, if your food will leak moisture (meats, fish, and certain vegetables), then you might want to consider using a baking dish. The great news is that air fryer food baskets have a Teflon coating, so removing solid food remnants or juices is quite simple.
Another thing you should consider is how your baking dish will interfere with the air-frying process. Because baking dishes have solid bases, it can be impossible for heated air to cook the bottom of your food, forcing you to flip it over at the halfway mark. Without a baking dish, the heated air in your air fryer will pass through the food pan’s perforated base to cook your food evenly from all directions.