No you cannot steam vegetables in the air fryer because of its cooking mechanism.
Steaming is a great way to cook food without ruining their essential nutrients, but can you steam in an air fryer? While hunting for the best air fryers, I performed various cooking tests, including steaming, and I am glad to share my findings below.
Can You Steam In An Air Fryer? 
No, you cannot steam in an air fryer because its cooking mechanism differs from a steamer, and the air fryer also doesn’t have a steaming function. An air fryer uses conventional heating to cook food with hot air. On the contrary, steamer draws heating energy from water. So, adding water to the appliance can be very dangerous.
An air fryer is not the most recommended, suitable, and safe option for steaming food. Air fryers offer many cooking functions, but steaming is not one of them. Here is why!
Air Fryer Cooking Mechanism
Air frying removes water from the food to crisp it with the help of its powerfully circulating hot air. In comparison, steaming practically injects moisture inside the food to make it soft.
Air Fryer Design
An air fryer’s heating element and fan are above the cooking chamber and blast hot air below. In this environment, steam formation is not possible. You may also like to check how to clean the air fryer heating element.
The maximum temperature an air fryer can reach is 450F, at which it cooks and crisp up food. You cannot steam at this temperature. The proper temperature for steaming is 212 to 240F.
A heat vent at the back of an air fryer lets the excess heat and food scents leave the unit. Steam can easily escape through the heat vent of the air fryer.
No Space For Water
Another factor is that food is placed in a cooking basket, which does not leave much space for water to steam food properly. Also, putting water in the quantity needed for steaming can put your air fryer at risk. Water can reach the electrical components and cause them to malfunction.
Air Frying Vs. Steaming
The main difference between air fryer and steaming is the cooking mechanism. In air frying, food is cooked with hot air circulating inside the chamber, and steaming cooks your food by surrounding the food in hot water vapor.
A quick comparison can help you see the difference and similarities between air-fried and steamed food.
|A healthier cooking method||A healthier cooking method|
|It does not need excessive oil||It does not need excessive oil|
|Cooks tender food||Cooks tender food|
|Basket contents are cooked with hot air||Basket contents are cooked with hot steam|
|The food exterior is crispy and crunchy||The food exterior is soft and moist|
|Cooks faster||Slow cooking|
|Foods such as wings, drumsticks, broccoli, etc., hold their shape||Often recipes taste bland as most spices and juices drip into the steaming water|
|Foods such as wings, drumsticks, broccoli, etc. hold their shape||Due to moisture inside, food often has cracks and breaks before it is dished out|
|Food has a rich taste||The food surface does not get perfect browning|
|Happens at high temperature||Happens at low temperatures (212 to 240F)|
Can you steam vegetables in an air fryer?
You cannot steam vegetables in an air fryer due to their convection heating mechanism, which aims to remove moisture from food to create a crispy texture. In contrast, steaming draws heat from the water to cook the food. Therefore, using an air fryer for steaming fish and vegetables is not recommended. You can try roasting vegetables in the air fryer.
Why does steam come out of an air fryer?
What you see coming out of the air fryer is just a small amount of water evaporating from the food surface, unlike the steam produced with boiling water. The water evaporates from the food while it cooks inside the air fryer. And this is normal for all air fryers.
You will stop seeing this steam when the food cooks thoroughly. This type of steam is quite different from what is produced in a steamer and is not harmful to your air fryer.
However, if you see smoke coming out of the air fryer while it works, that should be a matter of concern. You must immediately unplug the air fryer and find the cause for your air fryer to smoke.
What cannot be cooked in the air fryer?
You cannot cook food coated with wet batter, such as tempura shrimp, wet-batter-coated wings, etc. Also, you should avoid cooking lightweight food such as fresh greens. They can fly around and reach the air fryer heating element after crisping. For more details, check my post about what you can cook in the air fryer.
Are there any air fryers with a steaming function?
For all the above reasons, finding an air fryer with a steam function is challenging. Recently some manufacturers, such as GoWise and Ultrean, are making Air fryer steamers combo.
Whether it is the best steam air fryer is yet to be seen. But this air fryer does not require you to put water to produce steam. Instead, it generates steam with an internal steaming function to make food juicier.
Can I put water in my air fryer to steam?
No, you cannot water in the air fryer because an air fryer is not meant to steam food. Its job is to crisp up food. Therefore, you should avoid adding water for steaming or foods with excessive water content in them. Apart from cooking methods that require a spoon or two of water for cooking, adding water to an air fryer for boiling or steaming is strictly prohibited.
Can you steam broccoli in an air fryer?
Yes, you can steam broccoli in an air fryer. It’s not just for crispy cooking! To steam broccoli, place it in the air fryer basket and add a small quantity of olive oil or water. Set the temperature to around 300°F (150°C) and cook it for 5-7 minutes until it tenders. Steaming in an air fryer is a fast and easy way to retain the vibrant color and crunch of broccoli while keeping it nutritious.
Can you steam shrimp in an air fryer?
Yes, you can steam shrimp in an air fryer. To do so, you must first preheat the air fryer to 400°F. Arrange the shrimp in a single layer in the basket, leaving space for even cooking. Avoid stacking because it blocks airflow and it won’t cook properly. Add a small amount of water in the basket and cook for 5-7 minutes until the shrimp. The hot air circulating in the chamber will steam the shrimp.
Can you steam dumplings in the air fryer?
Yes, you can steam dumplings in an air fryer. But make sure they are frozen and not thawed. The moisture inside the frozen dumplings will help them steam without over-drying. You can also brush some oil on their surface.
Can you steam tamales in an air fryer?
Yes, tamales can be steamed in the air fryer. Preheat your air fryer to 350°F (175°C). Place the tamales on the rack or in a steamer basket. Add a bit of water for steam. Cook for 15-20 minutes. The air fryer’s hot air will steam the tamales perfectly.
Can you steam rice in an air fryer?
While air fryers are primarily known for their ability to fry and bake food, they can also be used to steam rice. To steam rice in an air fryer, start by rinsing the rice. Then, add the desired amount of rice and water to a heatproof bowl or container that fits inside the air fryer basket. Seal the bowl with aluminum foil. Preheat the air fryer to 350°F (175°C) and place the bowl inside. Cook the rice for about 20 minutes. The air fryer will create a steamy environment, cooking the rice perfectly.
Can you steam fish in an air fryer?
Steaming fish in an air fryer is easy and healthy. Preheat the air fryer to 375°F. Wrap the seasoned fish in parchment paper or foil to seal in the steam. Put the fish packet in the air fryer basket and cook for 10-15 minutes. Check and add more time if needed. Steaming in an air fryer keeps the fish moist and flavorful, with less oil.
Can you steam buns in an air fryer?
Yes, you can steam buns in an air fryer. Put the bao buns in an air fryer, ensuring they are not touching each other. The space among them will help cook from all sides. Set the air fryer at 360F for 8 minutes. Your buns will be ready to enjoy in less than ten minutes.
To put it simply, it’s not recommended to use an air fryer for steaming food. It can cause problems with your air fryer and affect its performance. While steamed and air-fried food is healthy, air-fried food generally tastes better because it gets crispy outside. If you want to steam in an air fryer, choosing an air fryer with a dedicated steaming function is best. Alternatively, you can use a pan with a grilling stand and a lid on the stove to achieve the desired steaming results.
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