Air fryers are huge these days, and for good reason. They cook food to a crisp while producing only a fraction of the calories of traditional deep frying, and they’re fast and convenient.
But because air fryers are also a very new technology, so it’s understandable that there will be safety concerns regarding their operation, and plenty of questions about best practices.
Can you put aluminum foil in an air fryer?
Let’s get right to it – yes, you can use aluminum foil in an air fryer. Sometimes, it’s even advantageous to use aluminum foil in the air fryer.
And if done properly, it’s perfectly safe. Good thing, right?
Why would you put foil in an air fryer?
There are several reasons why you might want to put aluminum foil (also known as tin-foil, or, simply foil, I go back and forth) in an air fryer. The most obvious justification is to prevent small bits of food from falling through the air fryer basket.
A layer of foil will both save your food from falling through the holes in your fryer basket and make clean-up a whole lot easier. Without foil, you’ll end up with tons of little crispies in the lower compartment of your air fryer, where the grease settles.
Of course, you might also be tempted to put foil in your air fryer because your food is already wrapped in aluminum foil, or because your food is still in the take-out container, and that container has an aluminum bottom or tray.
This is also technically ok – it’s not going to burst into flames, like what happens when you put aluminum foil in the microwave – but for reasons that I will expand on below, placing food that is completely wrapped in aluminum will limit air frying efficiency.
How to use aluminum foil in an air fryer – step by step instructions
When using aluminum foil in an air fryer, it is important to place the aluminum foil in the fryer basket itself, rather than in the base of the air fryer. You’ll probably want to position the tin-foil in the basket anyway, since that way, it catches small food pieces from falling through the basket gaps.
Place a small piece of aluminum foil in the base of the fryer basket, just covering the bottom section. Be careful to use only enough foil to cover the bottom, and actually the less you can get away with using, the better.
The reason to limit the amount of tin-foil in the basket relates to the heating technology that air fryers use to cook food. In a nutshell, air fryers work by circulating hot air, and the holes in your fryer basket are designed to allow that hot air to hit your food from all different angles.
This means if you use too much tin-foil in your basket, you’ll block those holes, which will reduce your air fryer’s ability to heat the food.
Technically, covering these bottom holes with aluminum foil may also prevent oil from collecting in the lower compartment, causing it to pool up in the basket itself. But in my tests, because we’re using such negligible amounts of oil (usually just a spray or drizzle) in the air fryer, this doesn’t amount to much oil collecting in the aluminum foil, and it hasn’t negatively impacted my air frying experience at all.
Regardless, you want to avoid covering the entire fryer basket in foil, or lining the walls of the basket with aluminum foil unnecessarily. Since food won’t fall out the sides of the basket anyway (if it does, you’re over-filling it!), covering the basket walls in tin-foil is superfluous.
Here are a few simple steps for using aluminum foil in your air fryer, and getting a perfect insert every time.
FIRST: Remove your air fryer basket and place it upside down on top of a small square of aluminum foil, just bigger than the diameter of the basket itself. Using a butter knife or pen, gently trace the circumference of the air fryer basket.
Tracing the basket circumference will leave a small indentation in the foil that perfectly corresponds to the size of your fryer basket. Take care not to press too hard here – you aren’t trying to cut the foil yet, but rather, to leave a mark, as you can see below:
SECOND: Using a sharp pair of scissors or kitchen shears, cut out your aluminum circle. You will want to cut just inside the line that you traced if you want the aluminum insert to fit perfectly.
Otherwise, you will need to force the tinfoil into place and it will begin to creep up the sides of the fryer basket, something you want to avoid. You can see in subsequent photos that I cut my insert just slightly too big.
THIRD: Place the metal insert into the bottom of your basket, making sure that you don’t cover the holes in the side of the basket – these are critical to allowing proper air flow.
As an alternative, you can use the tip of a sharp knife to create a series of small perforations in your aluminum foil before placing it in the tray. This will allow for even more air flow, and increase air frying efficiency.
On the flip side though, it kind of defeats at least part of the purpose of your tin foil insert, which was to prevent food from falling through the holes.
FOURTH: Arrange your food on top of the aluminum foil, ensuring that it will weigh the foil down, and reinsert the basket in your air fryer. Make sure that no aluminum foil sticks out from the sides, and that no bits of foil are loose.
That’s it – you’re good to go!
Can you put aluminum foil in the bottom of an air fryer?
You can put aluminum foil in the bottom of an air fryer, but only in the air fryer basket. This is actually a really important point to clarify – do not place foil in the lower compartment where grease collects, as this can cause a fire.
Additionally, when putting aluminum foil in the air fryer, there are a few important safety rules you’ll have to follow:
- Use as little foil as you can so that you don’t reduce air flow. Air fryers work by circulating extremely hot hair around your food, and are designed to let air pass through the fryer basket. Try not to impede this air flow.
- Do not place foil in the lower chamber where grease collects.
- Always place food on top of the tin-foil to keep it in place. In other words, never leave the foil without something heavy on top of it. Otherwise, the air flow could suck the foil up into the heating unit, causing a fire.
- This one should be obvious, but always check your air fryer manual before going rogue. Air fryer models are all different, and the technology is rapidly evolving, which means that these tips may not always apply. Better safe than sorry.
Is cooking with aluminum foil bad for your health?
There is a lot of debate about cooking with aluminum foil, and no question that cooking with aluminum foil may increase the amount of aluminum in your food. That said, research has shown that normal food preparation typically results in low enough levels to be considered safe.
My mother-in-law cooked tamales in foil for years before getting nervous at the idea of aluminum leaching into our food, and made the switch to banana leaves. And honestly, this was probably a good idea.
Since tamales cook for a very long time at a very high temperature, cooking them in foil probably caused more aluminum leaching than would have been ideal.
Also, don’t forget that aluminum foil has a shiny side, and a dull side. For years I scratched my head, trying to remember which side I was supposed to cook on, and which side was allowed to touch my food. Was it the dull side? I could never remember.
Thankfully, people are coming to the realization that regardless of which side of the foil touches your food – shiny or dull – it doesn’t really matter. In fact, Reynolds has recently stated that the difference between the two sides is negligible, and really just the result of the manufacturing process.
Is it dangerous or toxic to use aluminum foil in an air fryer?
As long as you follow the proper safety precautions – and read your air fryer manual for any additional operation tips – using aluminum foil in the air fryer is perfectly safe.
That said, people are often concerned about preparing food in tin foil for reasons linked to aluminum toxicity – see above – so placing foil in the air fryer will logically raise some eyebrows. The truth is, consuming trace amounts of aluminum in food is almost unavoidable, and not particularly bad for you.
If you’re thinking of using foil in the air fryer, the best way to assuage concerns about leaching too much aluminum into your food is to abide by the following tips:
- Never use tin foil to prepare acidic foods like tomatoes, citrus or foods with excessive amounts of vinegar. Aluminum foil reacts poorly with acids, and will infuse your food with a metallic taste.
- Avoid cooking at ultra high heat – this can lead to a greater number of aluminum particles leaching into your food.
- Prepare your food with non-aluminum utensils.
- Use less aluminum foil – this is also critical to allowing proper air circulation in your air fryer.
Things to avoid when using aluminum foil in an air fryer
Although you can definitely use aluminum foil in your air fryer, there are still some important things to avoid when you do. At best, some of these mistakes can reduce the efficiency of your air fryer. And at worst, they can start a fire.
Here are some common mistakes to avoid:
- Only place foil in the fryer basket, never in the lower compartment where grease collects.
- Don’t let the tin-foil block air flow.
- Never leave loose pieces of foil in the air fryer, as they can get sucked up into the heating element.
- Avoid using aluminum foil with acidic foods, like tomatoes and citrus. These acidic foods will react poorly with the foil, giving a terrible, metallic taste to your food.
Can you use parchment paper instead of aluminum foil in an air fryer?
It is perfectly acceptable to use parchment paper, rather than aluminum foil, in an air fryer. In fact, parchment paper may be preferable to metal foils, especially when preparing acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus.
Not only is it ok to use parchment paper in your air fryer, but several companies actually make perforated parchment paper inserts that fit perfectly into the bottom of your air fryer basket.
These are absolutely fantastic alternatives because the perforations are small enough that they prevent food from slipping through the basket, but large enough that they do not impede air circulation.
In addition, you’ll want to follow the same safety precautions when cooking with parchment paper as you follow when air frying with tin foil. That means no parchment paper in the lower compartment, always place something on top of your baking sheet, whether that be made of aluminum foil or parchment paper, and don’t overcrowd the basket.