You Can Air Fry These 6 Proteins Straight From Frozen

For the times you forget to thaw that chicken the night before (aka always).

Grilled flank beef steak with rosemary, prepared in air fryer
Photo: brebca/Getty Images

By 2022 I thought we'd be living in a Jetsons world where the Foodarackacycle machine would be making all of my meals. Unfortunately the technology just isn't there yet, but the next-best thing is an air fryer. Everything cooks faster and gets crispier in an air fryer thanks to hot air circulating around for more even, golden brown food every time.

Frozen appetizers and snacks are go-tos for air fryer cooking, but they're not the only frozen food you should be making in there. You can air fry many proteins from frozen in about the same amount of time it would take to cook them thawed on the stove or in a traditional oven, which means no one can yell at you for forgetting to thaw the chicken overnight. If you already air fry proteins on the regular, just add a few minutes to your normal cook time and flip more frequently. And always make sure to cook things in one even layer without overlapping.

Here are 6 proteins that you can pop into your air fryer, fully frozen, right now. Saving time never tasted better.

Cajun Air Fryer Salmon
France C

Salmon in 10 Minutes

My platonic ideal of salmon is crispy skinned, tender, and cooked to around medium-rare inside. I can make that happen with a frozen salmon filet (about 1 ½ inches thick) in 10 minutes in the air fryer. I rub some olive oil on both sides of the salmon, season liberally with salt and pepper or a seasoning blend, and air fry skin-side up at 400°F for 7 minutes. Check for doneness with a fork: If it flakes easily, it's done. Usually it needs a flip and another 2-4 minutes, depending on the thickness of your filet. This can also be applied to other fish, such as cod, with timing adjustments for the thickness and denseness of the filet.

Air Fryer Lemon Pepper Shrimp

Shrimp in 8 Minutes

It barely feels like cooking when you air fry shrimp, because it cooks so quickly. I usually buy peeled and deveined, tail-on shrimp because they're easier to pick up and eat. One of my go-to dinners is air-fried shrimp, tossed with olive oil, garlic powder (which won't burn like fresh garlic), lemon juice, salt, and white pepper (or your favorite seasoning blend). Cook at 400°F for 5 minutes, flip, and cook for another 3-5 minutes, depending on the size of your shrimp. When they turn pink, they're done.

This is great tossed with pasta, dipped into cocktail sauce or aioli, or tucked into tortillas for tacos (when prepping for tacos, season with a zestier, spicier seasoning blend and sub lime juice instead of lemon juice).

Air Fryer Chicken Thigh Schnitzel

Bone-in, Skin-on Chicken Thighs in Less Than 30 Minutes

This is definitely the longest of the cook times, but it still comes together in less than 30 minutes. Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs can be a labor of love on the stovetop, making sure the skin has full contact with the bottom of the pan to get crispy as well as cooking through properly without drying out. In the air fryer, there's far less babysitting, and grease splatters happen inside instead of all over the stove. Because you're working with skin-on chicken, it requires less oil. Just spritz on some cooking spray or rub a little neutral oil (such as vegetable, canola, or avocado) so you can adhere spices, whether as simple as salt and pepper or your favorite blend. Cook skin-side up at 400°F for 15 minutes, flip, and cook for another 15–17 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer reads 165°F.

I love to serve the warm chicken on top of a hearty, satisfying salad like a Cobb or Caesar or alongside air-fried or roasted vegetables. It's also great drizzled with teriyaki sauce and air fried for another minute until it turns into a thickened glaze, served with steamed white or fried rice.

Air Fryer Pork Meatballs
Soup Loving Nicole

Meatballs in 16 Minutes

Frozen meatballs are one of my favorite air fryer snacks, especially the bite-sized party meatballs from Trader Joe's. But if you make your own meatballs, freeze them flat on a sheet tray and then transfer to a freezer bag. Then you can lightly oil them and pop them into the air fryer at 380°F for 10 minutes, roll 'em around to ensure even browning, and cook for another 6-8 minutes.

The meatballs can be dropped into warm marinara and served with pasta; smothered with sauce and mozzarella for a meatball parm situation; or tucked into a sandwich.

mid angle, looking at a rib-eye steak cut in half and resting on a cutting board
dotdash meredith food studios

Steak in 12 Minutes

Some of the best steakhouses in the world broil their steaks, and an air fryer can mimic that flame-cooking flavor by searing the outside of a steak to an incredible golden brown while maintaining a juicy medium-rare interior. Cooking a steak from frozen is actually a safety net for those who aren't steak experts. Because it is so cold, the outside of the steak can handle the high temps and deep browning before the inside overcooks. Set your air fryer to 400°F, rub the steak with a little neutral oil, season liberally with salt and pepper or your favorite seasoning, and cook for 6 minutes. Flip the steak and cook for another 6 minutes. If it is looking nice and brown, test the temperature—for medium rare, it should be 125°F to account for carryover cooking as it rests (target is 145°F). If not, go in 1-minute increments until it reaches your desired doneness and then let it rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes before slicing against the grain.

Use it to have a steakhouse night at home with a compound butter topper, mashed potatoes, and creamed spinach; pile on a salad; or eat as a rice bowl with your favorite spicy and savory condiments.

Air Fryer Ranch Pork Chops
France C

Pork Chop in 13 Minutes

Like with steak, you can also make a tender pork chop with a golden brown crust in the air fryer. Boneless, center-cut chops will cook the fastest—about 13 minutes, flipped halfway through, at 380°F—but for juicier pork, go for bone-in. It will take about the same amount of time as bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs depending on the thickness of your chop. After lightly oiling and seasoning, cook at 400°F for 8 minutes, flip, and cook for another 4 minutes. Start checking the temperature with an instant-read thermometer—you're aiming for 145°F to account for carryover cooking as it rests—and cook in 1-minute increments until you reach proper doneness.

I love to make a simple gravy and serve over mashed potatoes with garlicky sautéed spinach or slice it up (after a 5-minute resting) and tuck into summer rolls or put on top of rice or noodles. Any way you enjoy it, it will probably be the juiciest homemade pork chop you've ever had—it definitely was for me.

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