By this point, pretty much everyone is aware that air fryers are “just small convection ovens” and that they “don’t really fry anything.” But, semantics aside, having a tiny convection oven on your counter is pretty convenient. Air fryers—on the whole—rule, and you can (and should) harness their full power to make Turkey Day a little easier.
Create crispy browned crusts on the tops of your side dishes
I would not put a whole casserole into an air fryer. Almost all air fryers have only one heating element, and it’s located up top. A fan keeps that hot air whipping around the inside of the basket, but a lot of successful air fryer recipes hinge on the fact that you can shake the basket, or at least flip the food, to make sure all sides see a bit of that direct heat. You can’t flip a casserole, and the bottom just won’t have time to get hot and bubbly before the top burns to a crisp. (You cannot rely on foil to help, as it is usually blown off by the powerful fan.)
You can, however, free up valuable oven real estate and use your air fryer to create crispy crusts on top of dishes that are otherwise prepared on the stove, such as gooey macaroni and cheese or creamy mashed potatoes. Spread the food out in a dish, crown it with cheese or bread crumbs, then pop it in a 400℉ air fryer for a couple of minutes.
Up your appetizer game
If there is one thing the air fryer excels at, it’s cooking frozen, bite-sized appetizers in short order. Mini brie en croute, mini meatballs, bacon wrapped items, potato puffs, or any breaded bite cooks up piping hot with more texture in less time.
Plus, the air fryer’s ability to be plugged in anywhere means you can keep appetizer prep out the kitchen (or at least off the counter), where the actual meal preparation is happening. You can even delegate the task to a helpful teen: set them up with the appliance in the dining room and let them prepare and serve the pre-meal treats to hungry, waiting guests—keeping everyone out of your way (and your hair).
Roast. Some. Vegetables.
An air fryer isn’t the best fit for a bubbling green bean casserole, but it’s an excellent choice for baking sweet potatoes, fingerling, or new potatoes, as well as roasting brussels sprouts or squash. All you need is a vegetable, some fat, and some salt. You can use olive oil or even plain vegetable oil, but Thanksgiving calls for something a little more indulgent. If you can get your hands on duck fat or chicken schmaltz, do so, then use it to make a simple but special-tasting side dish that will give the casseroles a run for their money.
Toss your veg of choice with just enough fat to coat, then season liberally with salt and roast in a 375℉ air fryer until the vegetables are tender on the insides and crispy on the edges. If you want to get really fancy, you can grate some parm over the vegetables and pop ‘em back in the air fryer for another minute or two to create a cheesy, frico-like crust on top. Finish with a squeeze of lemon and freshly ground pepper.