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Can You Steam Food In An Air Fryer?

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In my opinion, air fryers are one of the greatest modern kitchen inventions, with only the Instant Pot coming close to its versatility, time-saving, and ability to create the most delicious meals ever.

If you’re looking for a way to save time in the kitchen, while still getting a crispy crunch, then an air fryer is the tool for you. 

Lots of air fryers offer a variety of functions including everything from dehydrating, to air frying, to baking, to rotisserie functions.

But if you’re looking for a more delicate cooking method, you might be wondering about a steaming function. 

So, can you steam food in an air fryer? Unfortunately, air fryers and steamers work in two completely different manners so, no, you can’t steam in an air fryer. Steamers work by heating water to create steam that cooks foods, while air fryers circulate hot air to crisp and cook your foods. 

Read on to discover what you can do with an air fryer and your best choices for steaming foods if you don’t want to air fry them. 

Can You Steam Vegetables In Air Fryer?

As I mentioned above, air fryers and steamers work in two almost completely opposite fashions.

An air fryer is basically a mini convection oven that functions by circulating hot air throughout the device. This circulation creates an incredibly crispy texture without using tons of oil.

The whole purpose of an air fryer is to make foods crisp, while the purpose of steaming is to make foods moist. That means that their functions are completely opposite and trying to steam in an air fryer is going to be impossible. 

Steamers, on the other hand, work by heating water to create steam. The steam then rises and cooks whatever food, such as vegetables, you have placed in the steamer.

What gets circulated is steam, as opposed to air, and it provides a much gentler cooking process and softer texture.

Since air fryers don’t have a place for water (and to put water in one would ruin it at best and at worst, be incredibly dangerous), you can’t steam in one. 

Can You Put Water In An Air Fryer? 

Since air fryers are electric appliances with no space to add water safely, you cannot add water to an air fryer without damaging it and likely ruining it completely.

Adding water to an air fryer is dangerous and not recommended

If you want to steam your food, you should use a dedicated steamer appliance or use your pot with a steamer basket and/or pot designed with holes in the bottom specifically for steaming. 

Can You Steam Dim Sum In An Air Fryer? 

Just like trying to steam vegetables in an air fryer is impossible, so too is it impossible to steam dim sum in your air fryer.

Remember that the purpose of an air fryer is to make foods crispy, while the purpose of a steamer is to make foods moist. 

What you can do is steam your dim sum in your steamer basket or electric steamer and then pop it in your air fryer for a couple of minutes afterward to crisp up the outside a little.

If you are making dim sum that is supposed to be soft, then just steam it regularly without using the air fryer. 

Is A Steam Oven The Same As An Air Fryer? 

To understand the difference between an air fryer and a steam oven, we should first take a look at what an air fryer is.

Generally, air fryers are mini convection ovens that circulate super-hot air in order to provide a deliciously crispy texture to whatever food you’ve placed inside. 

The whole purpose of an air fryer is to make foods crispy, like a deep fryer, but without the use of tons of oils or fats, so that the final product is lighter and fresher than something deep-fried. It uses dry heat to do this. 

On the other hand, a steam oven uses wet heat in the form of steam to cook foods. Rather than crisping foods, steam ovens keep them moist and soft.

The final result is almost the exact opposite of what you’re doing with an air fryer.

So, no, steam ovens are not the same as air fryers.

Steam ovens use wet heat in the form of steam to cook food to a tender and moist doneness, while air fryers use dry heat in the form of circulating hot air to crisply cook their food, similar to a deep fryer without the hot oil.

What Can You Use An Air Fryer For?

Even though you can’t use your air fryer as a steamer, there are still tons of ways you can use it to create delicious meals and snacks in no time at all.

Since air fryers are powerful mini convection ovens, they can often cook your food much more quickly than a regular oven

Air Fry Vegetables

This function is one of my favorites to use on an air fryer. You can make crispy vegetables that taste like they’ve been fried, without using tons of oil. I love using my air fryer to make delicious French fries and potato wedges. 

It’s also great for making crispy broccoli, green beans, asparagus, and other garden staples.

You don’t need a ton of time and you don’t need a ton of oil to get perfect results every time. Lots of these veggies will be ready to eat in under 10 minutes. 

Dehydrate Fruits and Vegetables

Lots of the newer air fryer models come with a dehydration function which is great if you’re a kale chip addict like me.

I make a batch or two every week, and they always come out crispy and perfect as opposed to whenever I try to make them in the oven, and they end up burnt and somehow soggy. Not good.

You can also use your air fryer to make homemade fruit roll-ups using fruit purees.

Or you can dehydrate extras from your garden to make yummy fruit snacks that you can take with you on the go. I love dehydrating strawberries, peaches, mangoes, and blueberries. 

Dehydrate Excess Herbs

If you grow things like dill, mint, and thyme, then you may end up with an overabundance at the end of the growing season.

Rather than letting them go to waste, you can spread them out and dehydrate them in your air fryer so you can use your bounty all winter long. 

Use The Rotisserie Function To Cook Meats

Not every air fryer is going to have a rotisserie function, but if you’re a fan of rotisserie chickens, I highly recommend finding one that does.

I use mine regularly and it created the juiciest, crispiest, most amazing rotisserie chicken I’ve ever had.

How Do You Steam Vegetables On The Stove Top?

Since you can’t use your air fryer to steam vegetables, what can you use? There are a few choices depending on what you have available in your kitchen.

If you don’t want to go out and purchase a whole new kitchen device, then you can probably make do with what’s on hand. 

One of the easiest ways to steam vegetables is to use a pot with some water in it. You can then place either a steamer basket or another, smaller pot with holes in the bottom, above that first pot.

You want to make sure the second pot fits snugly into the first pot so the steam doesn’t escape. 

  • Once the steamer basket or second pot with holes is placed over the bottom pot, you can add your vegetables to the top then cover the pot with a lid. 
  • Place your double leveled pot/steamer basket onto the stovetop and turn the heating element to high. 
  • Once the water boils it will start releasing steam that will travel upwards into the steamer basket or pot with the holes, cooking your vegetables. I usually turn my heat down to medium at this point. 
  • After 2-3 minutes, remove the lid from the top and stir your vegetables so the ones on top get stirred to the bottom, so they’re closer to the steam. This process will allow all your vegetables to evenly cook. 
  • As soon as your vegetables reach your desired texture (some people like them softer, while others prefer a nice crunchy al-dente vegetable), you can remove the top pot, strain out any water and season your vegetables with butter or olive oil, salt, pepper, and seasonings. 

How Do You Steam Vegetables In A Steamer?

If you find yourself steaming large amounts of vegetables on a regular basis, then it might be worth investing in an electric steamer that you can plug in.

These gadgets are handy since they don’t take up and precious real estate on the stovetop and you can put them to the side as you prepare dinner. 

They often come with a couple of layers as well, so you can steam multiple items at once. I always put the hardiest vegetables, such as beets or potatoes at the bottom and the softer ones, such as green beans at the top. 

This layering helps them cook at approximately the same time since the hardier vegetables are closer to the steam, so they can cook faster

You can also use a steamer to prepare things such as dumplings, wontons, fish, custards, and other foods that taste delicious when steamed. 

Each model is going to work a little differently, so I suggest reading the recipe and instruction manual that comes with the one you purchase.

If you want to try one out, this three-tiered choice is BPA-free, affordable, and easy to use.

How Long Does It Take To Steam Different Vegetables?

When using a steamer basket or the pot with holes, different types of vegetables will have longer or shorter cooking times depending on how dense they are.

For example, it will take longer to cook a harder vegetable such as cauliflower than it would to steam green beans or kale. 

Below I have included some general guidelines for how long it takes to cook common vegetables: 

  • Spinach and soft greens take about 3 minutes to steam. 
  • Asparagus and green beans take a little longer, about 5-6 minutes depending on preference.
  • Collard greens, kale, Swiss chard, and other hearty, leafy greens take a similar amount of time, about 5-7 minutes
  • Brassicas such as broccoli and cauliflower are heartier and take about 8-10 minutes to steam. 
  • Root vegetables and winter squashes generally take the longest to steam since they are quite dense and hearty. These vegetables include beets, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, pumpkin, butternut squash, etc. and take about 10-15 minutes to steam fully. 

How Long Does It Take To Steam Fish In A Steamer?

Cooking fish in a steamer is a great way to retain the delicate taste and texture of this seafood. If you want to flavor your fish while you cook it, you can steam it using a flavorful broth packed with aromatics such as ginger, garlic, and onions. 

As a bonus, you can use that flavorful broth as the base for a soup or to cook some rice once you’re done steaming your fish.

If you want a simple, one-pot meal, you can also place some light vegetables in the steamer with your fish. Bok choy is a lovely choice.

When you’re steaming fish, you want to make sure it isn’t touching the water or broth, since this can actually dry the fish out and overcook it.

Keep it elevated in a separate steamer basket or pot with holes. You could also place a rack inside a pot of water as long as it’s elevated above it. 

While there is no hard and fast cooking time for fish, since the filet sizes and textures can vary, this guidelines are a great starting place:

  • Light, white fish such as cod, halibut, tilapia, or haddock: 4-8 minutes depending on size
  • Salmon takes about 5-6 minutes, depending on your doneness preference. I like mine closer to medium-rare, so I err on the shorter side.
  • Lake or Rainbow Trout is another delicious choice for steaming and depending on the size of the filet, you can steam it for about 4-6 minutes. 

Final Thoughts

As you have learned, you cannot steam foods in your air fryer because they use two completely opposite cooking methods.

Steamers function by circulating wet heat in the form of steam to softly and gently cook your food so it retains its moistness. 

Air fryers, on the other hand, work by circulating dry heat in the form of hot air to cook your food to a crispy texture.

Their purpose is to give you the texture you would normally achieve using a deep fryer, but without adding tons of heavy fats and oils. The final result is crispy, light, and delicious.

You don’t want to ever add water to your air fryer since it can cause a lot of damage and potentially even be dangerous.

If you want to steam your food, I recommend purchasing an electric steamer or using a pot and steamer basket on your stovetop. Either option will give you the results you’re after.

Do you have a favorite food that you like to steam? Do you have a favorite way to use your air fryer? Have you ever used a steam oven? Let us know your favorite cooking methods below!

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