Can You Steam In An Air Fryer?

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You might have probably heard about air fryers being the jack-of-all-trades. They fry, broil, roast, bake, grill, and even make your morning toast if you request it nicely.  

But have you heard about using an air fryer for steaming food?

Some people think they can throw some veggies or dumplings for a steamy perfection.

Well, hold on to your mitts because we have something to share on this matter.

No, you cannot steam in an air fryer. For steaming food in an air fryer, you must put water in the basket, which can damage the unit. An air fryer is designed to make food crispy and crusty, whereas steaming aims to make succulent and juicy food. Therefore, steaming is practically the antithesis of air frying.

However, this applies to only the basic air fryers. Some of the modern high-tech air fryers support both dry and wet cooking.

You can use these air fryers for steaming vegetables, rice, fish, dumpling, etc. I have talked about this in detail in the section below.

Why Should You Not Steam In An Air Fryer?

Air fryers offer many cooking functions, but steaming is not one of them. Here is why!

Cooking Mechanism

Air frying removes water from the food to crisp it with hot circulating hot air.

In comparison, steaming practically injects moisture inside the food to make it soft and tender.

Air Fryer Design

The design of an air fryer presents another hurdle for steaming.

Its heating element and fan are located above the cooking chamber.

Even if you add water to steam food, the hot air moving downwards will quickly evaporate it for the most part. 

Consequently, in this environment, steam formation is not possible.

Cooking Temperature

The maximum temperature an air fryer can reach is 450F, whereas the temperature required for steaming is 212 to 240F.

Achieving the precise temperature needed for steaming may be challenging in an air fryer.

Therefore, the steaming results may not be comparable with customary steaming methods.

Heat Vent

A heat vent at the back of an air fryer lets the excess heat and food scents escape the unit.

Steam can easily escape through the heat vent of the air fryer, making it challenging to develop the necessary environment required for steaming food.

No Space For Water

Unlike regular steamers or steam ovens, air fryers have no compartments for holding water.

Attempting to add water in the air fryer in the quantity needed for steaming can put your cooking appliance at risk.

Water may reach the electrical component, causing malfunctions or damage to the appliance.

Air Fryer Vs. Steamer

A quick comparison between air frying and food steaming can help you see the differences and similarities between air-fried and steamed food.

The Air frying mechanism is quite different from steaming, so we can assume that steamed and air-fried foods are also very different.
Air FryingSteaming
A healthier cooking method  A healthier cooking method 
Does not need excessive oilDoes not need excessive oil
Cooks tender foodCooks tender food
Basket contents are cooked with hot airBasket contents are cooked with hot steam
The food exterior is crispy and crunchyThe food exterior is soft and moist
Cooks faster Slow cooking
Food has rich tasteOften recipes taste bland as most spices and juices drip into the steaming water
Foods such as wings, drumsticks, broccoli, etc. hold their shapeDue to moisture inside, food often has cracks and breaks before it is dished out
Food surface gets perfect browningThe food surface does not get perfect browning
Happens at high temperatureHappens at low temperatures (212 to 240F)

What Is An Air Fryer Steamer?

An air fryer steamer combo can both steam and air fry. It usually has a reservoir or compartment for putting water for steaming.

During the steaming process, the fan stops working automatically.

The steam is produced when the water boils with the help of the heating element.

As the steam is produced, it wraps food in the steamer basket from all sides.

The best part about cooking with an air fryer with a steaming function is that the food does not need constant supervision, and the risk of overcooking food is negligible.

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Why does steam come out of an air fryer?

Some people panic when they see steam coming out of their air fryer. But it is not the steam produced with boiling water, just moisture evaporating from the food surface, which stops once the food is cooked.

In contrast, if you notice smoke emerging from your air fryer while it is working, that’s a matter of concern. You must immediately unplug your air fryer and find the cause of the smoke. Potential reasons for smoke can be the burning of grease or food particles or an electrical malfunction.

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.

Final Thoughts

Using an air fryer for steaming food is not a good idea. It can cause your air fryer to malfunction. For steaming in an air fryer, you can go for an air fryer with a steaming function. Using a pan with a grilling stand and a lid is another good idea. This way, you can steam on a stove by keeping the heat at the required level.