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    I Air Fried 10 Popular Trader Joe's Foods, And There Were Some Clear Winners

    I tried all 10 — and the winners (and losers) were clear.

    If you haven't yet jumped on the air fryer craze yet, this magic kitchen appliance is a total game changer.

    The author's air fryer
    Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

    Since first buying an air fryer this past summer, it's quickly become my favorite gadget.

    The author's air fryer dinner
    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I use my air fryer most often to make everything from chicken thighs to crunchy Brussels sprouts, but I'd also read that air fryers are especially good at reheating certain frozen items.

    So I figured: why not try using it to whip up some frozen foods from my all-time favorite grocery store Trader Joe's. So I bought a bunch of my favorite frozen foods from TJ's and I tried them out in the air fryer. Here's how they turned out and what you should definitely try at home.

    A Trader Joe's basket filled with food.
    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I wanted to see if my favorite Trader Joe's frozen foods and party apps would get even crispier and more delicious when reheated in the air fryer as opposed to in the oven, on the stove-top, or in the microwave.

    A bunch of Trader Joe's frozen products on a countertop.
    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I cooked all of the frozen items at 400°F in the air fryer, keeping a watchful eye on the foods and turning them once or twice while cooking until each became hot and golden brown.

    Hannah Loewentheil

    I simultaneously made a few of each frozen item in the oven according to package directions to compare.

    I had a panel of hungry friends help me with the tasting to determine which foods were the ultimate winners. Here's how it all went down:

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    1. Must Try: Kung Pao Tempura Cauliflower

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    The cauliflower tempura was basically made to be air fried. It comes with the sauce packet on the side, so just air fry the cauliflower until it's golden and crispy and then toss it with the kung pao sauce. The oven-cooked tempura tasted a bit soggy, but the air-fried version was perfect: The batter was so light and airy. It has a nice crunch to it at first, but then the cauliflower literally melts in your mouth.

    This air-fried cauliflower tempura was so good that I bought another bag the next day and air fried it for dinner. 10/10 recommend you do the same.

    Air-fried cauliflower tempura with rice and greens.
    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    2. Must Try: Fried Olive Bites

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Trader Joe's fried olive bites are a relatively new item. And since I first eyed them in the frozen aisle, I was so excited to try them. For anyone who hasn't tried them yet, they're breaded and fried Kalamata and Castelvetrano olives that are filled with cheese. The oven version tasted good, but the air-fried olives were so much better and way crunchier. They emerged from the air fryer bursting with melty cheese (a good sign, in my book). Beneath the thin layer of breading, the salty olive flavor is cut by the cream cheese filling. These are a must-try.

    The author holding a fried olive bite
    Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

    3. Must Try: Mozzarella Sticks

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    The air-fried mozzarella sticks were a serious hit. They cooked quickly in the air fryer: After only eight minutes of cooking, they were already perfectly browned and oozing with melted mozzarella cheese. The mozzarella sticks I heated up in the oven never achieved the same satisfying texture. I let them cook for a few minutes longer than the directions indicated, but the breading just never got that crunchy. By stark contrast, the air fryer version tasted restaurant quality, as if they just emerged from a deep fryer: hot, gooey, crispy, and sooo cheesy.

    4. Must Try: Mandarin Orange Chicken

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Trader Joe's Mandarin orange chicken certainly has a devoted fan club. So I'm here to tell you that if you truly love this Chinese-inspired chicken, you need an air fryer. There's no denying that the oven version is delicious; but cooked in the air fryer, this stuff tastes like it was just delivered from your favorite takeout restaurant...except it's even better because it's so crispy. After about eight minutes in the air fryer, you can already tell that this chicken is going to be crunchy as heck, and it maintains that crunchy texture even after it's tossed in the Mandarin orange sauce. Paired with some rice and steamed broccoli or sautéed greens, this air fryer chicken is the lazy dinner hack you've been dreaming of.

    5. Must Try: Kale and Cauliflower Gnocchi

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I make Trader Joe's kale and cauliflower gnocchi all the time, both in the oven and on the stove-top. The stove-top method has always been my go-to because I like how the outside of the gnocchi gets a little crunchy when it's sautéed in butter or olive oil. But this air fryer method might have become my new favorite. I air fried the gnocchi for about 10 minutes, tossing them once about halfway through. The resulting gnocchi tasted better than both the oven-roasted and pan-seared version. Beneath the thin, crispy exterior, there's creamy, melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi. I served the gnocchi with marinara sauce for dipping, but you could also definitely toss it in your favorite pasta sauce.

    6. Must Try: Hot and Spicy Chicken Wings

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I recently made a handful of store-bought, frozen chicken wings in the air fryer, and the Trader Joe's hot and spicy wings easily blew away the competition. These are good when cooked in the oven, but in the air fryer they're next level. The tender, high-quality chicken is enveloped by a thin, crispy layer of breading. Dipped in some blue cheese, this air-fried frozen snack tastes like it came from your favorite wings spot.

    7. Must Try: Gyoza

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I freaking love dumplings, and Trader Joe's gyoza are a staple in my freezer. Now these gyoza are meant to be steamed, and the directions say to heat them up with some water on the stove-top. This method is great for when you're adding the gyoza to soup, but they taste a bit bland on their own. When you air fry the gyoza, however, they become so much more flavorful. The dumpling wrapper gets golden and crispy like a panfried dumpling so there's something to really sink your teeth into. On the inside, though, the shrimp filling is tender and delicious. If you're eating the gyoza in soup, stick with the stove-top instructions. But if you're having them as a snack or on their own, air frying is the way to go.

    A crispy, air-fried gyoza.
    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    1. Skip It: Vegetable Samosas

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I love Trader Joe's vegetable samosas, but for me the spiced, curried veggie filling is really the star of the show and the pastry doesn't really stand out. The air-fried samosas didn't really get much crispier than the oven version, and none of us could taste any noticeable difference between them and the oven-fried samosas.

    2. Skip It: Mini Chicken Tacos

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    I don't have many qualms with Trader Joe's, but these mini chicken tacos are one item I would suggest skipping altogether. For starters, the tacos look nothing like what's on the box. The filling is meager at best, and they don't taste like much. Both the air fryer and the oven versions fell short and didn't have the crunch I was hoping for. The oven version was slightly soggy and the air-fried tacos were only slightly more satisfying.

    3. Skip It: Mac 'N' Cheese Bites

    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Look, it's hard to go wrong with mac 'n' cheese bites. You could zap these in the microwave and they'd still be tasty. After all, they're breaded, fried mac 'n' cheese. I just don't think it's worth busting the air fryer out to cook these. I was expecting the air fryer to really blow me away here, but the breading just never got quite "fried" enough. In any case, the mac 'n' cheese interior is what really matters here and it tastes the same whether it's heated up in the oven or in the air fryer.

    TL;DR: While some Trader Joe's frozen foods tasted better in the air fryer than others, it's hard to go wrong here. Any frozen food that is usually pre-fried (falafel, potato pancakes, spring rolls, etc.) will taste even better when the reheating method is air frying.

    Even frozen foods that you'd usually heat up in the oven or microwave (sweet potato fries, chicken nuggets, turkey meatballs, popcorn shrimp, etc.) will get somewhat crispier in the air fryer and will heat up way quicker than in the oven.

    Mandarin orange chicken going into the air fryer.
    Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

    Oh, and if you're thinking about getting an air fryer but aren't sure where to begin, this list might help! And here are a bunch of air fryer recipes to inspire your home cooking.


    What are you favorite things to make in an air fryer? Share in the comments!