When it comes to cooking in an air fryer, many people know that it's a healthier way to cook with all of the delicious flavor of deep frying and without many of the health issues that come from eating deep-fried foods.
Some may ask, "Do you put oil in an air fryer?" The answer is, it depends!
You can certainly choose to cook with or without oil, so the questions really become why use oil in an air fryer, when it's best to use it, which are the best oils to use, and when to skip the oil.
We'll address these as we go, so keep reading!
Understanding How an Air Fryer Works
For someone who's used to frying, roasting, or sautéing foods with the help of fat, such as butter or oil, it might seem a bit foreign to cook without oil. Once you know how an air fryer works, though, it all might make more sense.
Rather than depending on fat to conduct the heat and cook the food, an air fryer depends on hot air, which circulates and cooks from all directions while creating a crispy texture. This minimizes or even eliminates the need to use oil.
The Pros and Cons of Using Oil in an Air Fryer
As with anything else related to cooking, this isn't a black-or-white issue; there are both benefits and drawbacks to using oil for cooking air fryer recipes.
The Benefits of Using Oil
Using a small amount of oil will help the fryer crisp up the food. Hot air does a good job, but adding that little bit of fat will create the sizzle that allows for a nice crunch.
Oil is also good for adding flavor. While you'll be seasoning your food, the oil will add more depth, particularly if you're using something flavorful, like olive oil or sesame oil.
While most air fryer baskets and trays are covered with a non stick coating, using a spritz of cooking spray or a drizzle of oil will prevent sticking even further.
Finally, using oil can help reduce cooking time a bit since the fat will conduct additional heat to the food.
The Benefits of Not Using Oil
Adding oil means adding calories and fat, so if you're watching your weight or otherwise concerned about it, leaving out the oil might get you closer to your goals.
Some oils have a lower smoke point and can cause some smoking if you're using a high cooking temperature. This can be avoided by picking an oil with a higher smoke point or by reducing the temperature in the air fryer.
Oil can make things messier. While it's good to avoid sticking, using more than a tiny bit can cause some residual greasiness that you'll have to contend with later.
Types of Oil to Use When Air Frying
The type of oil you use while cooking in your new air fryer will depend on what you're trying to achieve in terms of flavor, the nutritional value of the oil, and the temperature you'll be cooking with.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil is a common oil that most of us cook with regularly. It has a distinct flavor and is a healthy type of oil. The problem is that it has a low smoke point, so you'll want to avoid this if you're cooking at 350 degrees or higher.
Vegetable oil is another popular oil that most people have in their houses. It has a higher smoke point and can be used in air fryer recipes calling for a temperature of up to about 400 degrees.
Canola oil is similar to vegetable oil in that it has a mild flavor and a similar smoke point. You can use this in place of vegetable oil in most recipes, including those for the air fryer.
Often regarded as one of the healthiest oils to use, avocado oil has a very high smoke point of over 500 degrees and a very mild taste. This can be used in recipes calling for high temperatures, as most air fryers don't even go that high.
Peanut oil is a good oil to cook with if you're making an Asian recipe or something you'd want to add the peanut taste to. It has a high smoke point of 450 degrees and is well-suited to air fryer cooking.
How to Use Oil When Cooking in an Air Fryer
There are a few different ways to use oil when cooking in an air fryer. Unlike in a pan on top of the stove, you're not going to want to just pour a couple of tablespoons into the air fryer basket.
Remember, using oil in an air fryer basket depends on using it sparingly. The best way to apply it is with either a spray bottle or a brush.
Before preheating, you can spritz the basket with a small amount of oil from your spray bottle, which allows the oil to heat up along with the air fryer itself. Then, when you add the food, it will sizzle as it touches the hot oil, adding to the crunch factor.
Another way to use oil in an air fryer is to use a brush to coat the food with the oil. This is best done before adding any seasonings since it will help those spices stick.
When Not to Use Oil in the Fryer
While you might prefer to use oil in the air fryer when cooking something dry, like fresh ingredients such as broccoli or potato wedges, you definitely don't need to when you're cooking foods that are naturally oily or greasy.
For example, if you'll be making chicken wings or bacon in your fryer basket, those already have a good amount of fat that will render as they cook. Adding oil to already-oily foods will likely make them greasier than you might want.
The same applies to frozen foods like French fries, pizza rolls, or fish sticks. These are often coated with oil before they're frozen, so adding more will often result in food that's too wet or greasy.
Finally, foods with a coating of flour or breadcrumbs usually shouldn't have oil added, particularly on top of the dry coating. These will usually soak up the oil and can become too soggy.
In addition, adding a coating of flour will help crisp up the food anyway, so you don't need oil to help create a crunchy crust.
Alternatives for Cooking in an Air Fryer Without Oil
If the answer to how much oil you want to have in your air fryer is "none," there are some alternatives you might want to consider.
The first is to consider using a small spritz of cooking spray instead of something like extra virgin olive oil. While technically this is adding oil to the air fryer, it's usually a negligible number of calories and a very small amount of fat.
Note that cooking sprays shouldn't be used in a nonstick basket; instead, add it to the food itself.
An egg wash is another way to coat foods without using oil. Whisk an egg with a small amount of water, and then you can use a brush to apply it to the food before adding breading or a heavy coating of seasoning. This will help it crisp up nicely.
Parchment paper is a great way to eliminate sticking without having to rely on olive oil in your air fryer. Just cut the paper to fit the basket. Do be sure you're using parchment paper without any coating, and not wax paper.
Cooking With and Without Oil
Whether or not you decide to use oil in an air fryer, you may want some tips to follow to help you make the most of your new appliance.
Tips for Cooking With Oil in the Air Fryer
When putting oil in an air fryer, you'll want to be sure to know how much oil to use. A light coating, perhaps with the aid of an oil sprayer or some other method that reduces the amount of olive oil you are using, will be best. You can also use Pam cooking spray or one of the other commercially available cooking sprays.
Use the right type of oil. While many of us will default to olive oil, canola oil, or coconut oil, it's best to think about cooking temperature as compared to the smoke point of the chosen oil. Also, think about whether you want any flavor imparted from the oil.
Be sure to clean the air fryer well after use. While this isn't only applicable to cooking with oil, you won't want to let it sit, as some oil will go rancid. Use warm, soapy water to clean the air fryer basket and any racks you're using. Wipe down the outside of the machine with a damp cloth.
Tips for Cooking Without Oil in the Air Fryer
If you want to cook without oil in an air fryer, it helps to use a nonstick basket, as this will prevent a mess later. Parchment paper, as described above, is a good alternative if your basket isn't nonstick.
Be sure to preheat your air fryer adequately. A nice, hot surface will begin to cook the food more quickly and can minimize sticking. It will also make everything more crisp.
Flipping the food or shaking the basket is a good idea, particularly if you're not using oil. Use tongs or a spatula to avoid breaking the food. For small pieces, you can just shake the basket a few times during the cooking cycle.
Consider using a dry coating, like breadcrumbs or panko. These will often help minimize sticking and will give you a nice, crunchy texture.
Using Oil in an Air Fryer
Since many people start using their air fryers in an effort to eat healthier, it makes sense that you'd want to use the healthiest oil, the right amount of oil or oil spray, and possible alternatives to avoid using oil at all.
It's very possible to use your air fryer to create delicious foods without needing to use any oil. The secret is knowing how to best use your appliance to make a crispy, crunchy coating that tastes good and adds to the satisfaction of your meal.
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