Can You Stack Chicken in an Air Fryer?

We put five different cuts of chicken to the test.

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Photo by: LauriPatterson/iStock

LauriPatterson/iStock

By Heath Goldman for Food Network Kitchen

Anyone who’s used an air fryer before knows that the golden rule of air frying is to avoid over crowding the frying basket. Many air fryer baskets even have a maximum fill line that you shouldn’t exceed. But when it comes to stacking up to that line, the rules get confusing. It’s okay to stack and shake certain foods, like French fries. But can you stack chicken in an air fryer?

Although there are a few exceptions, you generally cannot stack chicken in an air fryer.

Why? It all goes back to the mechanics of air fryers. Air fryers function a bit like powerful convection ovens. By quickly circulating hot air over all of the surface area of a food, they achieve results very similar to that of a deep fryer: a crackling-crisp exterior and juicy interior.

Brush a simple layer of olive oil over boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pop them in the air fryer in a single layer, and the cooked chicken will have such a crispy surface that it’ll taste like deep fried skin-on chicken. Miraculous results like these make it only natural to want to cook more chicken in the air fryer more quickly. Indeed, the one of the main complaints of many air-fryer fanatics is that the frying basket is too small.

But think about what would happen if you stacked chicken breasts. Their sides would be flush with one another, meaning the pieces in the center of the stack would get zero exposure to the hot, circulating, crispy-skin-inducing air.

We tried stacking and cooking chicken breasts in the air fryer just to make sure, even shaking the basket every few minutes and moving the breasts around with tongs. The chicken breasts stuck together and ended up unevenly cooked, soggy and practically inedible. Stacked chicken thighs and nuggets cooked with similarly disastrous results. Much like chicken breasts, their flat sides fit together snugly, preventing air circulation.

If you're intent on stacking, there's a silver lining. The couple of exceptions we discovered were chicken wings and drumettes. Because they’re more irregularly shaped than chicken nuggets, pockets of air remain between them when they’re stacked in layers. We had success stacking them into two (but no more than two) layers and shaking them every few minutes to ensure even cooking.

However, the wings and drumettes we cooked in a single layer were still crispier. To fit the maximum number of wings in the air fryer and achieve the crispiest results, we’d instead recommend lining up the drumettetes standing upright along the sides to save space, then flipping them halfway through cooking.

Given that stacking chicken (and most foods) in the air fryer isn’t usually successful, we’d recommend that anyone in the market for an air fryer invest in one with a large frying basket, then thank us later.

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