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Air Fryer Southern Fried Catfish

Classic southern-style fried catfish in the air fryer! Crispy air fried catfish fillets in seasoned cornmeal breading, tender and mild fish on the inside with a golden brown crust on the outside.

Two air crispy golden air fryer catfish fillets on plate with lemon wedges.

Fried catfish is a southern tradition and is on the menu at every fish fry in the St. Louis area during Lent. And fish fries are crazy popular here! I get fried catfish dinners to go all the time at our favorite neighborhood grocery. They do a mean hot bar full of southern comfort food!

Hand holding a piece of air fryer southern catfish

Southern-style fried catfish is often soaked in buttermilk, coated in a seasoned cornmeal mixture and then fried. Same concept here but cooked in the air fryer until golden brown and crispy. It's delicious and super easy to make this mild-tasting white fish.


Dry ingredients in tray before mixing.

  • Catfish fillets  depending on the size, two large fillets for two people.
  • Buttermilk  for soaking, sometimes catfish can have a "muddy" flavor and a quick soak in milk or buttermilk gets rid of that.
  • Yellow cornmeal and flour  for the dredge.
  • Seasoned with  Cajun seasoning and lemon pepper.


Two photo process collage, catfish soaking in buttermilk and tray of seasoned cornmeal dredge.

  1. Soak the catfish fillets in buttermilk and several dashes of hot sauce.
  2. Mix together the cornmeal, flour and seasonings in a small tray or pie plate.
  3. Remove catfish from buttermilk and shake off excess.
  4. Dredge catfish fillets in cornmeal mixture until well coated.
  5. Place in air fryer basket, spray evenly with olive oil and cook for about 20 minutes, flipping a couple times until golden and crispy.

Two photo process collage, catfish fillets after buttermilk soak and then coated in cornmeal mixture.

Catfish fillet in air fryer basket, browned on one side and ready to flip.


Up close air fryer catfish with lemon wedges and hot sauce in background.


  1. Don't crowd the fish in the air fryer basket so it will cook evenly and get crispy. Use your judgement on cooking one or two fillets and the size of your air fryer basket, you can also cut large fillets into a couple pieces to fit better.
  2. I usually cook one piece at a time (unless the fillets are small) and keep warm in the oven while I cook the second fillet.
  3. You can use regular milk or buttermilk to soak the catfish, although my preference is buttermilk.
  4. Spray the basket well with olive oil spray to help keep the fish from sticking. No worries if a little of the breading sticks when flipping the catfish fillet, it'll be fine.
  5. If you have one, a fish spatula comes in handy for turning the delicate fish half way through cooking.
  6. While I usually make two servings of catfish, this makes enough seasoned cornmeal mixture for more fillets, enough for at least four pieces of catfish.

Air fryer southern catfish, such an easy way to make this beloved fried fish at home. You will love it, and definitely whip up some easy homemade tartar sauce to serve along side it! xxo- Kelly

Air fryer southern catfish on plate with tartar sauce and lemon.

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Crispy golden air fryer southern style catfish.

Air Fryer Southern Fried Catfish

Classic southern-style fried catfish in the air fryer!
5 from 9 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Cajun, Southern
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 2 servings
Calories: 222kcal


  • 2 (6-8 ounce) catfish fillets about 1 pound
  • ½ cup buttermilk, shaken
  • Few dashes hot sauce
  • ½ cup yellow cornmeal fine grind for breading
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning preferably unsalted blend
  • ½ teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil spray comes in a spray can
  • Tartar sauce, hot sauce, lemon wedges for serving


  • Place buttermilk in large shallow dish or pie plate, add a few shakes of hot sauce and mix to combine. Add catfish fillets and turn to coat. Let soak for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, make seasoned dredge. In another large tray or pie plate, add the cornmeal, flour and seasonings, a few grinds of black pepper and combine well with a fork or whisk.
  • Remove catfish from buttermilk to a plate, shaking off excess. Lightly pat dry and season with a sprinkle of salt. Place catfish one at a time in seasoned cornmeal mixture and coat well on both sides. Shake off excess and place on a plate.
  • Preheat air fryer at 400º.
  • Open and spray basket evenly with olive oil spray. Lay catfish fillets in basket, one or two depending on size, spritz catfish evenly on top with olive oil spray. Close basket and air fry at 400º for 8 minutes.
  • Open basket and carefully flip fish over with spatula, air fry for another 8 minutes.
  • Open basket and carefully flip fish one more time. Air fry another 2 to 4 minutes until crispy and golden brown.
  • Serve immediately with tartar sauce, hot sauce and lemon wedges.

Recipe Notes

  • This makes enough seasoned cornmeal dredge for more catfish, up to at least 4 fillets.
  • Use your judgement on how much catfish fits in the basket without crowding. Keep cooked catfish warm in a 180º – 200º oven.
  • You can cut large fillets in half into portions, if desired.
  • If you spray the air fryer basket first and top of the catfish, you should be good but if you feel the need for another spritz after flipping, go for it!
  • Fried catfish is delicious with homemade tartar sauce, hot sauce and/or malt vinegar!


Calories: 222kcal Carbohydrates: 38g Protein: 7g Fat: 5g Saturated Fat: 2g Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g Monounsaturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 7mg Sodium: 66mg Potassium: 250mg Fiber: 4g Sugar: 4g Vitamin A: 595IU Vitamin C: 1mg Calcium: 77mg Iron: 2mg
Did you make this recipe? Please comment, rate it and share! And mention me on Instagram @thehungrybluebird or tag #thehungrybluebird so I can see!
5 from 9 votes (6 ratings without comment)
Recipe Rating


Tuesday 16th of April 2024

Made this recipe. The catfish came out perfectly...well I could use some lessons on flipping the fish, but the flavor was excellent. Printed it and will be using this recipe in the future!

Thressa Young

Sunday 14th of April 2024

I have had this recipe for quite a while now and I thought I would try it. We both love catfish and after making this recipe, it will be the only one we use. It was delicious, I wish I had cooked an extra one. I need to check your other recipes now. Thank you

Kelly Wildenhaus

Tuesday 16th of April 2024

I'm so glad you liked it, Thressa!


Saturday 6th of April 2024

Easy and very tasty! I only cooked mine for 8 minutes per side then placed the cooked fillets in a preheated 200 degree oven, then turned it off just to keep them warm. I will be making this again...thank you!

Kelly Wildenhaus

Tuesday 16th of April 2024

So glad you liked the catfish in the air fryer! Keeping warm in the oven is the way to go as you cook more.

Mary Peacock

Sunday 27th of March 2022

I have eaten catfish all over the south. We don't soak in buttermilk unless it is a filet from a really big fish. Smaller fish do not have the muddy taste. It only takes about 20min in my air frier but I only cook the smaller filets.One thing many in Alabama like to eat with fried fish is raw carrot sticks. I tried it and it ws good.


Wednesday 30th of March 2022

Hi Mary. I've had it when it tastes muddy and I've had it when it does not so I soak in buttermilk all the time. That's interesting to know about the smaller sized fish and the carrot sticks, I'll have to try next time!


Thursday 22nd of April 2021

This recipe takes the cat out of the fish. It's clean-tasting, golden, and crispy. It's "Fish on Friday" any ol' day.