If you love crispy tofu—but don't want to deep fry at home—then you HAVE to try air fried tofu. We've tested a lot of different ways of cooking tofu over the years. Long story short: this crispy breaded air fryer tofu is a total game changer!
A panko breadcrumb crust mimics a deep-fried exterior. Tamari is used to season the tofu—and it also hydrates the cornstarch to make sure there's no starchy mouthfeel after baking. This breaded air fryer method yields golden brown, crispy cubes of tofu. They're perfect for snacking (especially when seasoned with lots of black pepper!), or as a source of plant-based protein in grain bowls and salads.
Why make tofu in an air fryer
An air fryer rapidly circulates hot air in a small area, so it can cook and crisp foods faster than a conventional oven. In our side-by-side tests, the air fryer usually created a crisper and more evenly browned crust—all in a fraction of the time of an oven.
Lately, we've been cooking all the things in our air fryer (especially these Broccoli Tater Tots). And surprise, surprise, the air fryer also does wonders for tofu. Even if tofu was the only food we cooked in our air fryer...it'd be worth it. Yes, this crispy air fryer tofu tastes THAT good!
One of the biggest benefits of air frying is that you can get great results without much oil. In fact, this recipe is almost oil free. The only added oil is the light spray over the panko crusted tofu, right before baking. The spritz of oil helps the panko bake to an even golden brown color. It's amazing how little oil it takes to create a crispy crust in an air fryer!
You may already have most (if not all of the ingredients) at home already. Here's what you need to make this recipe:
- Extra-firm tofu: This is usually the most compact tofu sold at conventional grocery stores. If you can find "pressed" tofu—or if you have the time to press the tofu yourself—feel free! But we usually just use extra-firm tofu, straight from the package, because it's fast and convenient.
- Tamari (or soy sauce): The tofu will absorb most of the tamari, which helps season the tofu on the inside. Any unabsorbed tamari will help coat the outside of the tofu—to hydrate the the cornstarch (so that it doesn't look or taste powdery) and help the panko crust stick.
- Garlic powder: Helps to flavor this very quick marinade for the tofu. If you can't eat garlic, you could leave this out.
- Cornstarch: A bit of cornstarch helps create a crispy coating. It also helps thicken the unabsorbed tamari, so the panko coating sticks better. (If you're interested, this article is great at explaining the magic of cornstarch in cooking).
- Panko breadcrumbs: Panko is flakier and crunchier than regular breadcrumbs, so it makes the perfect "cheat" for a deep-fried coating—without the oil. You can use gluten-free panko if you'd like; but do not substitute with the panko for regular breadcrumbs.
- Oil spray: This recipe uses barely any oil! The only added oil is a quick spray over the breaded tofu, before it hits the air fryer. The oil helps the panko turn evenly golden brown. And, oil adds flavor, so a little bit on the crust is very much worth it. Use either olive oil or grapeseed oil spray (avoid PAM, if you can).
- Pepper (and salt): We highly recommend seasoning the fresh-from-the-air-fryer tofu with a generous amount of freshly ground pepper. And add salt if it needs it.
Step-by-step instructions (with photos)
Find the recipe card below for the complete recipe, including all ingredients and instructions.
Salt and pepper tofu
The simplest way to enjoy this tofu is to season it with a very generous amount of freshly ground black pepper (and salt, if needed)....then dig in. This salt and pepper tofu hits the spot when we're craving a salty but healthy snack. And the protein will hold you over until your next meal.
When it comes to how much black pepper to use, the answer is A LOT! Add what you think looks like a good amount of pepper...then add even more. Growing up, I loved crispy salt and pepper dry ribs, so this tofu combo brings back nostalgic memories.
A couple pro tips for seasoning breaded tofu: Firstly, the salt and pepper will stick better when the tofu is fresh from the air-fryer. So season while it's hot. And secondly, if you can give the tofu another quick spray of oil once it's out of the air fryer—then sprinkle with the pepper and salt, it'll stick even better.
Other serving ideas
Crispy breaded foods are best enjoyed immediately, while they're still hot and crispy! Here are some ways you can use this Crispy Breaded Air Fryer Tofu:
- Tucked into a grain bowl
- Tossed in a salad
- We usually add the tofu after tossing the salad with dressing, to keep the tofu as crisp as possible
- Served on the side of stir-fried veggies and rice
- We prefer to add it on the side or scatter on top, because tossing the tofu with saucy, steamy veggies will soften the crispy tofu coating.
- As "nuggets", with ketchup or another sauce for dipping
- On their own as a protein-rich snack with lots of coarse black pepper (see above)
- In tacos, as a plant-based filling
- In lettuce wraps, drizzled with sauce
Let us know how else you'd eat this crispy breaded tofu—we'd love to hear your ideas!
Crispy Breaded Air Fryer Tofu
- 12 oz extra-firm tofu
- 2 tablespoons tamari (or soy sauce)
- ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ⅔ cup panko breadcrumbs (more if needed, see note 1)
- Oil spray (olive oil or grapeseed oil)
- Black pepper (ideally coarsely ground)
- Salt (optional)
- Prep tofu: Cut tofu into cubes (¾-inch/2 cm). Pat dry with a clean kitchen towel.
- Season tofu: Transfer cubes to a shallow dish (see note 2). Pour tamari over tofu and sprinkle with garlic powder. Use your hands to gently toss to coat. Let marinate for 6 to 8 minutes, turning the cubes every couple of minutes, until most—but not all—of the tamari is absorbed (see note 3).
- Add cornstarch: Scatter cornstarch over tofu. Use your hands to gently toss to coat. (There should be no dry cornstarch visible—if you see any powder, keep tossing).
- Bread tofu: Working with one cube at a time, use one hand to swirl the cube in the residual tamari at the bottom of the dish to moisten. Dip tofu into panko and coat all sides (use your other dry hand to press the panko into tofu). Place breaded tofu in an air fryer basket and repeat. (Space out the cubes in a single layer in the basket.)
- Bake: Give the tofu a good spray of oil. Bake at 400°F (200°C) in the air fryer (no need to preheat) for 10 minutes. Give the basket a shake, spray lightly with oil (optional, but helps with browning), and bake for another 1 to 3 minutes, or until crispy and golden brown.
- Serve: Season tofu with black pepper (we like to use lots!) and more salt if needed. Enjoy while hot from the oven (see note 4).
- Gluten free option: Use gluten free panko breadcrumbs.
- Shallow dish: A pie plate works great here! Otherwise, use any shallow baking dish you have or a plate with a rim (so the tamari doesn't spill over the edge).
- Seasoning tofu with tamari: In this step, you want to let the tofu absorb most of the tamari (for flavor)—but not all of it! (See the step-by-step photos in the recipe post for a visual reference). The small amount of tamari at the bottom of the dish will help hydrate the cornstarch and moisten the tofu exterior so that the panko adheres. If your tofu ended up absorbing all the tamari, add a little splash of extra tamari, then continue with the next step of adding cornstarch.
- Serving suggestions: We highly recommend seasoning the tofu a hefty amount of freshly ground black pepper (and a sprinkle of extra salt, if desired). It's delicious on its own. Or, add to grain bowls or salad for a tasty plant-based source of protein. This breaded tofu is best served fresh, when it's hot from the oven. The panko crust will soften when coated with wet sauces, so if doing so, enjoy immediately.