I know what you’re thinking: how can you fit more food in your air fryer’s basket? Perhaps you’re sick and tired of cooking food in batches (I know I am) and are wondering whether or not stacking food is possible.
You can stack food in an air fryer and maintain optimal crisping and browning. A wire rack in the food basket will allow you to cook twice as much food per cooking cycle, but to achieve optimal browning, your food still needs to be spread out in a single layer.
In today’s guide, I’ll share with you how you can get the best results while stacking food in an air fryer, which foods you should not stack, and how to keep your food from sticking to the wire rack.
How Do Air Fryers Cook Food?
First things first, let’s go over the basics of cooking with an air fryer.
The removable components of an air fryer—i.e., the parts where you place food—are called the food basket and the food pan. The food pan fits into the food basket, and the food basket fits into the air fryer’s base. The base houses the heating coil, the fan, and the control buttons or dials.
The food pan has a perforated base that allows air from the fan to reach your food from all directions, including from underneath. If the base were completely solid, such as is the case with the food basket, you would have to flip your food upside down halfway through the cooking process to ensure even cooking—similar to baking foods in an oven.
To use an air fryer, you normally have to lay your food inside the food pan and spread it out into a single layer. This ensures that every square inch of your food’s surface is cooked evenly.
Can You Stack Food in an Air Fryer?
If you’re reading this guide, you’re probably wondering whether or not you can stack food inside an air fryer. The good news is, yes, you can stack food in an air fryer without sacrificing crispiness and browning.
Stacking food means placing multiple layers of food inside the food pan, which actually sounds contradictory to how an air fryer is used. After all, aren’t you supposed to spread your food out in a single layer? It would seem that way unless you pick up a rack accessory for your air fryer.
An air fryer rack accessory looks a lot like a round wire cooling rack you would place baked goods on to remove steam from the bottom. It’s usually made of stainless steel, so it can withstand extreme temperatures in an air fryer.
Also, a rack accessory will have short legs that prop it up slightly, creating a bit of clearance from the bottom of the rack to the food underneath. That clearance, while minimal, ensures heated air can pass to the bottoms of your top-layer food and the tops of your bottom-layer food.
How to Stack Food in an Air Fryer
Here, I’ll teach you how to stack food in your air fryer without contradicting the very essence of air-frying:
- Preheat the air fryer with the rack accessory inside the food pan.
- When the air fryer is done preheating, remove the food pan and the rack, and fill the bottom of the pan with your food, spreading it out in a single layer.
- Place the rack in the food pan, making sure the bottom of the rack isn’t touching the food inside the pan.
- Place your remaining food on top of the rack before spreading it out in a single layer. Be careful! The rack will be hot!
- Insert the food basket in your air fryer and cook per the recipe’s instructions.
Because the increase of food volume in the air fryer will get in the way of heat distribution and airflow, you may have to flip your food over during the halfway mark. You will have to do this for both layers to ensure optimal cooking and crispiness.
Problems with Stacking Food in an Air Fryer
While it’s possible to stack food in an air fryer, I wouldn’t recommend it if you can help it.
An air fryer’s rack accessory might not have tall enough legs to keep the bottom of the rack from touching the top of the bottom layer of food. So, there’s always a risk that there won’t be optimal airflow between the layers, leaving some parts of your food undercooked.
Another problem with stacking food in an air fryer is that your food may take longer to cook. Luckily, you can overcome this problem by adjusting the cooking time of your air fryer, but you should still keep an eye on your food.
In addition, checking the bottom layer of food for doneness requires keeping the food basket open for longer periods of time, which will allow the heated air to escape. This will further throw your cooking time out of whack.
What Foods Can You Stack in an Air Fryer?
Here is a list of food that you can stack inside an air fryer’s basket with the use of a rack accessory.
- Burger patties
- Chicken breasts
- Chicken drumettes
- Chicken drumsticks
- Chicken strips
- Chicken thighs
- Chicken nuggets
- Chicken wings
- Churro bites
- Fish fillets
- French fries
- Grilled cheese
- Lamb chops
- Mozzarella sticks
- Onion rings
- Pizza slices
- Pork chops
- Pumpkin seeds
- Tater tots
- Tortilla chips
How High Can You Stack Food in an Air Fryer?
As a general rule, you should never fill the food basket beyond the halfway mark. However, there are exceptions to this rule, such as when using a cake barrel for baking a round cake. Also, you can fill your food basket slightly past the halfway point if you’re using a rack accessory.
That said, you should be careful with how high you stack your food. The heating element is located above the food basket, so if you stack your food too high, you risk overcooking the top of your food on the rack.
In many cases, this may be impossible. For instance, loaded potatoes and muffins may be too tall for the rack, and their tops may end up making contact with the heating element. When this happens, you’ll have a horrible time trying to scrape off the food remnants.
So, while there are safe ways to stack food in an air fryer, you should only do so during emergencies—i.e., when a single serving of wings won’t satiate your munchies.
How to Keep Food from Sticking to the Rack Accessory
One inconvenience you might encounter when attempting to stack food in an air fryer is finding your food clinging to the rack. After all, the rack will most likely be made of stainless steel and not have a non-stick coating. So, what can you do to stop this from happening?
Before placing your food on the rack, spray it with Pam oil spray. You can also use a food brush to apply a bit of oil to the surface of the rack.
However, if you want to use Pam spray, make sure you remove the rack from the basket beforehand. Nonstick spray and Teflon don’t mix—in fact, the spray may end up turning the Teflon into a toxin. Best-case scenario, the spray will create impossible-to-remove growths on the Teflon surface, and you’ll have to pick up a replacement food basket for your air fryer.