Air fryers don’t actually fry anything. It’s just a catchier name than “countertop convection oven that browns food with hot air.” Instead of submerging food in hot oil, air fryers use a fan to blow hot air around food you place in a basket. This gives food a “fried” feel — crispy on the outside, moist on the inside — in less time, with less fat.
Yes, manuals can be boring. But even a quick flip through will hit the highlights of important topics like the best ways to use different settings, cleaning, and how to work each part (some have a basket, others have a tray). Most manuals also come with recipes to get you started.
Ovens take a while to warm up, but it only takes a few minutes to set your air fryer up for success. If you add food to the basket before your air fryer is warm and the hot air has started to move, it won’t cook evenly.
If you’re used to frying food in a big pot of oil, it might feel odd to scale way back. But most air fryer recipes that require oil only call for a teaspoon or two or a light spray. Some don’t need any. In addition to making your food soggy, too much oil can also drip onto the tray, burn, and smoke up your kitchen.
Extra virgin olive oil, and some vegetable oils, have a low smoke point. This means they’ll burn or become smoke at lower temperatures than other oils. Your food will dry up instead of crisping. Opt for extra light olive oil, avocado, grapeseed, or peanut oil in your air fryer.
Putting too much food in your air fryer basket is like overfilling your dryer with wet clothes -- some things will turn out OK but most won’t. If you crowd your basket with sweet potato fries, the hot air can’t move around evenly. Some pieces may cook fine, while others come out soggy. Look for a “max fill“ line on the basket or leave about a quarter of your basket space empty.
Light foods like kale chips have a tendency to blow around in the hot air or get stuck on the heating element and burn. Use a heat-safe trivet to hold them down. The fan may blow the top off your soon-to-be grilled cheese or chicken quesadilla as well. Use toothpicks to keep everything in place.
Let’s say you salt some broccoli, put it in the air fryer basket, and close the lid. Guess what happens next? The powerful fan whips the salt right off your florets, leaving you with well-cooked, but flavorless, veggies. To avoid this, mix salt and spices with a small amount of oil or spray your food lightly with oil before you add spices.
The traditional fry method locks breading and batter in quickly. But in an air fryer, anything with a marinade, dressing, or batter will drip through the basket onto the coil and cause it to scorch and smoke. Even freshly washed food may turn out soggy. Pat your food dry before you add it to the basket.
If you trim your green beans too much, they may fall through the air fryer basket or tray and burn on the coil below. Chop food down to a safe size for air frying, then cut again afterward if you need to.
Unless you like food that’s crispy on one side and soggy on the other, move your food around in the basket once or twice while it’s cooking. This helps hot air get to every side evenly.
With so many different air fryer models -- and so many different kinds of food -- there’s no one-size-fits-all rule for air frying. To avoid over- or under-cooking your food, check it while it’s cooking. This is especially important if you’re air frying meat, poultry, or fish: Put a food thermometer in the thickest part of the cut to make sure it’s done.
Air fryers can be convenient, but you still have to clean them. Leftover crumbs that fall through the basket can burn the next time you fire up your fryer. You also run the risk of contamination with raw meat. Most units aren’t dishwasher safe. Instead, wait for everything to cool down and then wash the basket, tray, and pan by hand in warm, soapy water every time you use them.
Air fryers do a lot more than french fries. They make short work of everything from breakfast casseroles, wings, and grilled cheese to doughnuts and banana bread. Use them to reheat pizza, too: It’s quicker than the oven and comes out crispier than the microwave.
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- Cleveland Clinic: “Are Air Fryers Healthy?”
- Metropolitan Library System: “Get Cooking: Air Fryer.”
- University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research & Extension: “Ten Cooking Tips for Your Air Fryer.”
- Consumer Reports: “How to Get the Most From Your Air Fryer.”
- Cooking Light: “7 Mistakes You’re Making With Your Air Fryer.”
- Mississippi State University Extension: “All About Air Fryers.”
- Ninja: “Why Is My Food Blowing Around When Air Frying?”