Air fryer butternut squash is a wonderful way to enjoy the deeply caramelized flavor of this beloved winter squash. Shallow crosshatch cuts and roasting in halves lets the melted butter and seasonings seep into every bite for a delectable seasonal side dish.
Despite it being the end of July as I write this, I walked into Homegoods the other day on an (unsuccessful) hunt for matching nightstand lamps only to be bombarded by Halloween decor not even 10 feet into the store.
Retail America drives me nutty with this kind of stuff.
Instantly, I was thrust into a crappy mood unable to understand the kind of people that actually want to shop for fall accessories 1 month into summer.
That said, here I am with a recipe for air fried butternut squash, probably one of the most quintessential fall foods out there.
I know it’s technically a winter squash but I think there’s a little bit of a difference between eating a fall food in July and decorating your house with witches, pumpkins and spiders.
So with that statement, we’re rolling with this simple air frying approach to butternut squash which happens to result in one of the most delicious outcomes.
I’m a firm believer that when it comes to winter squash, simple is best for showcasing their savory sweet flavors.
This air fryer butternut squash recipe is no different.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED TO MAKE BUTTERNUT SQUASH IN THE AIR FRYER
- a small to medium sized butternut squash – alternatively, substitute the smaller honeypatch squash instead if you can find it.
- melted ghee (substitute with butter or coconut oil if desired)
- five spice powder (this is one of my favorite seasonings to pair with squash like in this koginut squash bowl recipe)
- sea salt
Crazy simple ingredient list, right?
Most squashes don’t need much to shine, it’s more about the method and getting that deep caramelization that extracts their natural sugars. The air fryer is a great tool to do just that!
HOW TO MAKE AIR FRYER BUTTERNUT SQUASH
Start by halving a small to medium butternut squash and removing the seeds.
I like to use a grapefruit spoon to do this as its serrated edges make it perfect for cutting into the raw flesh around the stringy seeds.
Save those seeds because roasted squash seeds are a delicious snack!
Using a sharp knife, make a shallow crosshatch pattern on the cut side of each half. This will allow the seasonings and all their flavor to seep into the squash while it air fries. I did this recently with a marinated london broil and was blown away by the flavor!
Brush the melted ghee onto the squash (reserve any extra) then combine the five spice powder and salt and sprinkle on top until the squash is liberally coated with the seasoning.
From oil sprays to muffin cups and from pizza pans to racks, we've got them all, and they make fantastic Christmas presents, too!
Lightly grease the trays or basket of your air fryer then place the squash cut side down and air fry at 400°F for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, flip the squash over so the cut side is facing up. Brush with any remaining ghee and continue to roast in the air fryer for another 10-15 minutes until the flesh is fork tender.
The size of your squash will determine the cooking time so be sure to poke it with a fork or knife to gauge when it’s ready. It should easily go through without much resistance when fully cooked.
Remove from the air fryer, garnish with some coarse salt and serve while warm.
DO YOU NEED TO PEEL BUTTERNUT SQUASH BEFORE ROASTING
Since we’re roasting the butternut squash in halves, you do not need to peel it before air frying.
This is different than usual when it comes to butternut squash because it’s not one of the winter squashes with an edible skin like kabocha or delicata (I love stuffed delicata squash for that reason!).
However, since the squash becomes so tender in the air fryer, the flesh is easily scooped out of the skin when eating and there’s no reason to peel it ahead of time.
CUBED VS. HALVED BUTTERNUT SQUASH
While there are many recipes that show butternut squash cubed when roasted in the oven or air fried, that requires the extra step of peeling the skin first.
It’s mainly for that reason that I like air frying butternut squash in halves. This approach both cuts down on the prep time and gives a lot more surface area to caramelize when roasting.
If you were air frying the squash to freeze for a smoothie, however, cubed would be best.
CAN I USE FROZEN SQUASH IN THE AIR FRYER?
You can but I don’t recommend it if you want that crispy, golden deep caramelization and sweet savory flavor.
If you’re planning to mash the butternut squash or make a soup, however, air frying it would be just fine!
WHAT IS FIVE SPICE POWDER?
Sometimes called Chinese five spice powder, this seasoning typically consists of cinnamon, star anise, fennel and cloves.
You can see how it’s the perfect balance of sweet and savory with those ingredients and one of the reasons I love pairing it with winter squash.
It’s also surprisingly delicious in this cream cheese chicken recipe!
Often, winter squash recipes either go fully in the sweet direction or fully in the savory direction. Using five spice powder to season air fryer butternut squash is the perfect balance of both.
If you prefer a sweeter version, add a tablespoon or so of maple syrup to the melted butter.
If you like an all savory approach, omit the five spice and use a combination of salt, pepper and garlic powder.
IS SQUASH GOOD IN THE AIR FRYER?
I’ve roasted squash in the oven a ton (like this roasted sweet dumpling squash and roasted koginut squash salad) and still love that method but, if you want to simplify and shorten the cooking process, using the air fryer to cook squash is a great option. It even works for spaghetti squash.
Especially if your regular oven doesn’t have a convection setting as that’s essentially what the air fryer is – a mini convection oven.
Convection cooking allows the air to flow all around the food resulting in an evenly roasted, crispy, caramelized outcome.
Which, in the case of squash, is exactly what you want for the ultimate depth of flavor.
I mean, just look at that crispy caramelized crust shimmering with a buttery sheen and dotted with flakes of salt.
How can you even resist it?!
MORE BUTTERNUT SQUASH RECIPES TO TRY:
Air Fryer Butternut Squash
- 1 small to medium butternut squash, halved and seeded
- 1 tablespoon melted ghee, or butter
- 1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- Using a sharp knife make a shallow crosshatch pattern on the flesh side of each butternut squash half.
- Brush the halves with the melted ghee until coated reserving any extra.
- Combine the five spice powder and salt then liberally season the squash so it coats the entire cut side of the squash.
- Lightly grease the trays or basket of your air fryer.
- Place the squash cut side down in the air fryer on a single tray in the middle of the air fryer for oven models or in the basket.
- Air fry the butternut squash at 400°F for 20 minutes.
- Flip the squash using tongs, brush with any remaining ghee and season with leftover spice mixture then continue air frying for another 10-15 minutes until the flesh is fork tender.
- Remove from the air fryer, garnish with additional coarse flaky salt and enjoy while warm.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Gina Matsoukas is an AP syndicated writer. She is the founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.