This Air Fryer Tempeh recipe is a quick and totally delicious way to prepare tempeh! Marinated in a smoky maple-soy glaze, then air fried for 10 minutes, you'll love this sticky and flavorful cubed tempeh on salads, grains, and as a protein-rich snack.
Air fryer tempeh is vegan, easily made gluten-free, and can even be made without oil. And the sauce uses pantry-friendly ingredients! Oven instructions included.
Why You'll LOVE Air Fryer Tempeh
Friends, I know this is a bold statement considering how many different ways there are to prepare tempeh, but I think air fryer tempeh is now my FAVORITE.
I think you'll love it, too, because it's:
- seriously low effort.
- the perfect blend of salty, sweet and smoky.
- made with pantry-friendly ingredients.
- full of satisfying fiber and protein.
- versatile! Add air fryer tempeh to salads, wraps, bowls, or as an appetizer or snack.
- Tempeh - any brand of tempeh you like is fine; just make sure to choose a gluten-free variety made with 100% soybeans if you need GF (some have grains added). Honestly, I think the pure soybean ones taste best!
- Tamari - if you don't need gluten-free, soy sauce or shoyu may be used instead.
- Maple syrup - this is important for the overall flavor; you want pure maple syrup, not imitation.
- Sriracha - gives the marinade a thicker, glaze-like consistency and adds delicious tang. We're not adding enough sriracha to make the tempeh spicy, but you can always add more later if you like it hot!
- Liquid smoke - I use Colgin's hickory or mesquite; these can be found in almost any grocery store.
- Oil - choose a neutral cooking oil like avocado or grapeseed; if you avoid oil simply omit it. The tempeh will lose some of the richness and look more dry on the outside, but it will still taste good. I tested the recipe several times without oil, but in the end the versions with oil won out.
- Vinegar - a little bit of apple cider vinegar rounds out the sweet-and-tangy BBQ vibes
See recipe card below for quantities and the full recipe.
- Whisk together the marinade in a large bowl or other dish.
- Cut the tempeh into either 24 or 36 pieces. I tend to prefer the smaller pieces because that means there's more surface area for the tasty marinade. The cubes will be ½- to ¾-inch.
- Toss the tempeh in the marinade and set aside for 30 minutes. I like to pass through the kitchen once or twice during that time to spoon the extra marinade from the bottom of the bowl over top just to make sure all the pieces are well coated.
- Put about 1 cup water in the bottom of the air fryer basket, and preheat the air fryer to 350 degrees. When preheating is complete, arrange the tempeh in a singler layer. Cook for about 10 minutes, checking on it at the halfway point and during the last couple of minutes. See the Tips section below.
Do I have to add water to the bottom of the air fryer?
Have you ever heard people suggest that you should steam tempeh before preparing it because steam reduces tempeh's natural bitterness? Well, adding water to the air fryer basket seems to have that effect here. But as a bonus, it's not an extra step!
To answer the question, you don't have to add water, but during recipe testing we found that it created a more delicious tempeh.
It's like we're steaming and air frying the tempeh at the same time. The steam keeps the marinade nice and sticky and the tempeh moist yet firm and meaty.
Even with the steam some of the edges still get nice and chewy and caramelized.
If you don't have an air fryer that's no problem! We also tested this recipe in the oven. Here's how to do it:
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
- Bake the marinated tempeh for 20 to 24 minutes or until as chewy and caramelized as you like.
This Smoky-Maple Air Fryer Tempeh is delicious as-is, but you can also add it to wraps, salads, noodles, grain bowls, and tacos!
It's also a flavorful appetizer to serve at a dinner party. Start the air fryer when your guests arrive, then serve these tasty morsels alongside your favorite vegan cheeses, dips, and crackers.
And for dessert, give the air fryer basket a quick rinse and prepare these juicy air fryer peaches!
- Gluten-free - I suppose this isn't really a variation because the recipe is gluten-free as written, but just to point out the two main things to watch out for: use gluten-free tamari, and select a tempeh made from soybeans only (some varieties include grains).
- Oil-Free - if you strictly avoid oil in your diet you'll be happy to know you can simply omit it. The result isn't quite as flavorful and the tempeh will appear more dry on the outside, but thanks to the water in the bottom of the air fryer, it doesn't actually dry out. The end result is still delicious!
- Spicy - we love this tempeh with a few dashes of cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes added to the marinade. For extra spicy, serve the air fryer tempeh with additional sriracha or other hot sauce.
- Korean BBQ - for a slight twist, toss the tempeh with this Korean BBQ sauce instead of the included sauce recipe.
After you try this air fryer tempeh, be sure to check out these easy tofu nuggets!
Equipment & Batch Size
I use the 6-Quart Instant Vortex Air Fryer, but any comparable air fryer should work with this recipe.
If you plan to cook two packages of tempeh at once (doubling the recipe), a 6 quart machine should be large enough. Otherwise you'll want to work in batches.
You'll also need a large bowl or container for marinating the tempeh.
Store leftover tempeh in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The texture is best when it's fresh from the air fryer; the air fryer can also be used to reheat leftovers.
I haven't tried freezing this particular tempeh yet because we always gobble it up! But in general tempeh is freezer friendly.
Air fryers vary quite a bit, so the first time you try any air fryer recipe it's a good idea to keep a close eye on the food. Check it at the halfway point and during the final 2 to 3 minutes of cooking.
I suspect that our air fryer runs hot compared to most. So you may find you need to slightly increase the temperature and/or adjust the cook time. When the tempeh is piping hot and has yummy browned bits on the edges you'll know it's done.
It also helps to sneak a test bite. 🙂
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I hope you enjoy this sticky, sweet, and smoky air fryer tempeh as much as we do! If you try the recipe be sure to leave a comment below to let us know.
Air Fryer Tempeh Recipe
- 8 ounces tempeh (1 package)
- 1 ½ tablespoons tamari (for GF) or soy sauce
- 1 ½ tablespoon maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons cooking oil such as avocado or grapeseed - For oil-free, omit or sub 1 Tbsp tahini.
- 2 teaspoons sriracha
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- ½ teaspoon liquid smoke
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- scant ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- To make the marinade, in a large bowl or dish, whisk together all ingredients except the tempeh. Cut the tempeh into either 24 or 36 squares. I prefer smaller pieces because it creates more surface area for the flavorful marinade. The cubes will be approx. ½- to ¾-inch.
- Toss the tempeh in the marinade making sure all pieces are well coated. Set a timer for 30 minutes. Once or twice during that time spoon the marinade from the bottom of the bowl over the tempeh.
- Once the tempeh is marinated, add ¾ to 1 cup water to the bottom of the air fryer basket then insert the rack. Preheat the air fryer to 350 degrees. Once preheated, arrange the tempeh in a single layer (refer to photos in post above if needed). It should be sitting above the water line.
- Cook for about 10 minutes, checking on it at the halfway point and during the last couple of minutes to make sure it isn't burning. The tempeh is done when piping hot and caramelized around the edges. Serve hot.
Estimated Nutrition (per serving)
Nutrition information is an estimate and will vary depending on the exact amounts and specific products and ingredients used. We calculate this information using the online calculator cronometer.com.
This was my first recipe in my new air fryer and I was very pleased. The marinade made the tempeh tasty. Will make it again. Thank you 🙂
Lori, I really like the marinade in this recipe. I've used it several times for tempeh and tofu. Both turned out great! I've tried it without the oil and also with the suggested substitution of tahini. I haven't had liquid smoke on hand, so increased the smoked paprika. It's great as is and also with an increased amount of sriracha and garlic powder! BTW, it also works well with the tempeh cut into bacon style strips. Thank you for this great go-to recipe!
Fantastic recipe! We love it! Thank you so much for sharing 🙂
The tempeh turned out awesome! I was skeptical of the added water, but followed the directions - I think it did help to keep it moist while also crispy. Thanks for an easy and delicious way to prepare tempeh in the air fryer 🙂
Was your air fryer difficult to clean after making this??
No, I wouldn't say it was difficult at all. The non-stick surface goes a long way to help with that, and it's not like you're dumping a lot of sauce on the surface. All air fryers are built differently, though, so that could play into it. Hope that helps!
My husband and I tried this last night and loved it! However, I forgot to get the liquid smoke, so I doubled the smoked paprika and it was amazing! We served it with roasted potatoes and I put the few pieces we had leftover on my salad for lunch today with some balsamic. Not only was it delicious, but very easy to make and loved saving the steaming step by adding the water to the air fryer. 🙂
Great! I'm so glad you enjoyed the tempeh, Sherri. Thank you for taking a moment to let us know!