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Soft, creamy, and easy, this Air Fryer Butternut Squash makes an impressive and delicious side dish. The outsides get a little crispy and the insides become smooth, sweet, and creamy in this show-stealing side.
Hey Internet, I love winter squash. It’s actually one of my favorite things about fall and winter.
Surprisingly, I only have a few winter squash recipes: air fryer delicata squash with fall kale salad, vegan butternut squash carrot ginger soup, and these vegan mini frittata cups featuring winter squash. Though actually, pumpkin is a type of winter squash, and in that case I also have vegan pumpkin risotto, vegan pumpkin mac and cheese, vegan pumpkin curry, pumpkin and sweet potato soup, pumpkin pie vegan custard, actual vegan pumpkin pie, vegan gluten-free pumpkin bread, even vegan pumpkin lasagna.
The simplest of my vegan squash recipes, though, is this new one. This air fried butternut squash uses only 3 or 4 ingredients (the fourth is optional!).
Seriously, air fryer butternut squash is going to be your new favorite thing after you try this recipe.
Diced butternut squash gets drizzled with oil (that’s the optional ingredient; I’ll explain in a bit) and sprinkled with salt and pepper (or whatever seasonings you like) and air fried until the outsides get a little brown and a little crispy, and the inside become soft, creamy, and sweet. I LOVE IT.
If you like your butternut squash sweet, you can add a little sugar, cinnamon, etc. If you’ve never tried Ceylon cinnamon, you don’t know what you’re missing. In my opinion, it’s way better than the standard cinnamon you find at the grocery store.
However you want to season your air fried butternut squash, I know you’re going to love it. Air fryer squash in general is just such a fun way to eat it, and it’s faster than the oven!
Why This Recipe Works
Air fryer butternut squash is not complicated. It’s really not.
First, you’re going to need to cut up your butternut squash.
Which, actually, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. Many grocery stores sell pre-diced and peeled butternut squash in their prepared produce section. The one qualm I have with this is that the pieces can be unevenly cut which makes them cook at different times. Try to even out the batch if you can (cut the larger pieces in half).
But if you do feel up to cutting it (and it’s much more economical this way), I have a few suggestions for you to make it easier.
First, a good peeler. I LOVE this vegetable peeler. It makes a huge difference for me. I can peel butternut squash (or any other squash, even pumpkin), beets, carrots, potatoes, etc. It also has a julienne side. And it’s about the same price as most peelers, so it really doesn’t get much better than that, in my opinion.
As far as dicing the butternut squash, be sure that you have a really sharp knife. I get my knives professionally sharpened (it's like 5 bucks a knife, totally worth it) twice a year and it makes a big difference. If you're not cooking every day like I am, once a year should be good enough. You certainly can sharpen your knives at home, too, but I prefer to have mine professionally sharpened.
You don’t need to have an expensive knife set, though I think it’s a great investment if you spend a lot of time in the kitchen. A reasonable knife set or even just a few good knives (I recommend a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife as the minimum) will do you well as long as you keep them sharp.
Some people actually make air fryer butternut squash with the squash just cut in half lengthwise. This is pretty, and I tried it, but it doesn’t give you any crispy edges and it’s not as easy to eat. I prefer my air fried butternut squash diced. Of course, you make your air fryer squash the way you like it!
Anyway, back to chopping. If you are having trouble chopping your squash, you can try the microwave trick. Poke a few holes in your squash with a fork and microwave it for a few minutes. This will make it easier to cut.
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Cutting the Butternut Squash
Here’s how I recommend chopping your squash for the perfect air fried butternut squash: First, thinly slice off the top and bottom.
Now cut the neck part of the squash so you’re left with the long piece and the round bulb piece. I like to cut about a half inch above where the bulb begins. Set the bulb piece aside for a moment.
Slice through the neck of the squash vertically. Working with one half at a time, slice the piece in half lengthwise, and again in the same way, so you have 4 long strips. Cut those into small cubes, about ½” large. You’ll get the feel for it.
The exact size of your dice doesn’t so much matter as the consistency is the important thing. You want all of your squash to cook at the same rate so you don’t burn any pieces or end up with undercooked pieces.
For the bulb, cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and membranes. I love using a grapefruit spoon for this. I highly recommend saving the seeds and roasting them (instructions in my vegan butternut squash carrot ginger soup recipe), but that’s not relevant for today’s recipe.
Repeat the cutting process to the emptied squash bulb halves. I like to cut them in half lengthwise, and again. Don’t worry too much if there are weird small pieces, those will get a little more crispy but they’re still delicious. Now just cut your strips into cubes.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- 1 small butternut squash: I like to use a butternut squash on the smaller side for air fryer butternut squash because there’s a lot to cook and it really turns out better when you air fry the butternut squash cubes in a single layer. No matter the size of your squash, cook in a few batches (or save the rest for another time if you’re cool with a smaller portion) for best results. This method will work with any other winter squash (delicata, acorn, buttercup, honeynut, etc.).
- 1-2 tablespoons of neutral high heat oil, like grapeseed oil, optional: This is an optional ingredient, but if you’re not oil-free I would not recommend skipping it. The oil allows us to get slightly crispy and browned edges on our air fryer butternut squash (as does cooking them in a single layer). Oil-free air fried butternut squash will still be soft and delicious (this is how I usually eat it), but will likely not get crispy edges, at least not without overcooking them, which I don’t enjoy. If you are using oil, I recommend a neutral flavored, high heat oil like grapeseed or avocado oil.
- Salt and pepper or seasoning of choice: I love the contrast of the sweet squash with salt and pepper, but if you want your air fryer butternut squash to be sweet, try adding cinnamon and a sprinkle of sugar or another warming spice.
How to Make Air Fryer Butternut Squash
- Add peeled and cubed butternut squash to a large bowl.
- If using oil, drizzle the squash with the oil and stir with a spatula.
- If you are not using oil, I recommend tossing the squash with a tablespoon or two of water or broth so your spices are able to adhere to the squash cubes.
- Sprinkle on your spices and stir again to combine.
- Add the squash to your air fryer in a single layer. You may need to do this in a few batches. Cooking the squash in a single layer is crucial to getting crispy and browned edges. Cooking air fryer butternut squash in a thicker layer will result in the squash just becoming steamed. Still tasty, but that might not be what you’re looking for.
- Cook the squash at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees Celsius) for 14-20 minutes, shaking the basket vigorously halfway through (be careful, the hot oil can splatter). If your air fryer was already hot from a previous batch, check it a little sooner. Repeat with remaining squash.
- Serve immediately and enjoy alongside your favorite main, or as an appetizer.
- Refrigerate leftover cooked squash in an airtight container for up to 4 days and reheat on low heat in the air fryer for best results. If you have leftover squash that you did not cook, you can store this for up to a week in the refrigerator in an airtight container or reusable food storage bag.
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Frequently Asked Questions
I’d recommend at least peeling the squash and cutting it in half lengthwise. I’d also scoop out the membranes and seeds. I’ve seen people make air fryer butternut squash this way and I’ve tried it. It turns out very similar to roasted butternut squash. But I prefer my air fried butternut squash to be a little crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, which is why I dice it first.
There are two tricks actually. Most important one: air fry the squash in a single layer. Depending on the size of your air fryer, this might be as little as a cup or two, or it could be more if you have a larger basket in your air fryer. The single layer allows the cubes to be hit by the convection air on all sides, rather than being smothered by layers of squash and essentially steaming the squash. The second trick is oil. Using oil definitely helps. You only need a tablespoon or two for the whole batch of squash.
Yup. To make the spices stick, just sprinkle the cut butternut squash with water or broth. Then, in the air fryer, cook your butternut squash in a single layer. If you don’t mind your butternut squash steamed, you can do all the squash at once. It’s still tasty. But to get a little browning on the edges, cook your squash in a single layer and repeat as needed.
Yes, if the squash is cubed (sometimes it comes mashed). You may need to cook it for more or less time depending on the size of the dice.
Pro Tips for Success
- Try to chop your squash in similar-sized pieces so they will cook evenly.
- Shake the basket in your air fryer at least once during the cooking process. If you have the sort of air fryer that uses a rack instead of a basket, use oven mitts to pull out the rack, stir with a spatula, and place back in the air fryer.
- Don’t skimp on cooking the butternut squash in a single layer. It makes a big difference in the texture of the air fryer squash.
- A larger air fryer will allow you to cook more squash at a time. I use a 5.8 quart air fryer.
- Air fryer butternut squash is great with any seasonings. I like salt and pepper because I love the contrast of salty and sweet. If you want your air fried butternut squash to be more sweet, try cinnamon and a pinch of sugar. Savory spice options include garlic, onion, smoked paprika, chipotle powder, chili powder, etc.
What to Serve with Air Fried Butternut Squash
But here are my favorite mains to serve with air fryer butternut squash:
- Vegan Turkey
- Vegan Ham
- Beyond Meat Meatloaf
- Vegan Shepherd’s Pie
- Vegan Chicken and Dumplings
- Lentil Mushroom Loaf
- Vegan Cacio e Pepe
- Vegan Mushroom Risotto
- Tofu Schnitzel
- Vegan Paella
- Tuscan Vegan Ragu with Butter Beans