Congratulations on your air fryer purchase! Whether you bought a new or used air fryer, it's important to take a good look at it and, if possible, the user's manual to learn about the specific product you have.
If you don't have the manual, you can probably find it online. If you're looking for hints and tricks on how to make the best use of your air fryer, I've got some secrets that will make it simpler to get dinner on the table.
How an Air Fryer Works
First, a quick primer on how an air fryer works. Similar to a convection oven, an air fryer circulates hot air around the food, making it crispy and delicious without the need for deep frying or otherwise using unhealthy methods.
The heat comes from a heating element, and a fan circulates the hot air around the fryer. The food sits in a basket or tray, depending on the style.
Most of the time, you'll want to flip the food or give the basket a shake approximately halfway through frying, but other than that, it's pretty hands-off.
One of the best things about using an air fryer is that it takes much less time to cook food than an oven or stovetop. The circulating air heats the food on all surfaces, rather than just the surface closest to the heating element, which is the case with ovens and stovetops.
Different Types of Air Fryers
There are various types of air fryer models, and it's important to understand how to work your particular appliance. Here are some of the various styles you might encounter.
Basket-style air fryers
Basket-style air fryers are the most common type. As the name implies, they contain a removable basket, which holds the food while it cooks.
Oven style air fryers
Some newer ovens function as air fryers and some air fryers look like small ovens. With these, you would open the door or air fryer drawer and slide the food inside.
Rotisserie air fryers
If you love rotisserie chicken, you might prefer an air fryer with a rotisserie attachment that allows you to slide a chicken (or other large cuts of meat) on it.
Multi-cooker air fryers
Some air fryers are also slow-cookers or pressure-cookers in addition to being an air fryer. This is a very versatile appliance and worth considering if you've also been thinking about buying an instant pot or something similar.
Setting Up Your New Air Fryer
Take your fryer out of the box. Be sure to remove all of the packaging; there might be plastic or cardboard in the air fryer basket, so take that out. Then wash the fryer to ensure any dust or oil is removed.
On basket air fryers, you can generally submerge the basket safely, but be sure to read the instructions. Use a damp cloth to wipe down the rest of the components.
Set up the appliance on a flat surface where there's an outlet nearby, and you should be ready to go!
Using Your Air Fryer From Start to Finish
Prepare Your Food for Air Frying
You can find vast numbers of air fryer recipes online, so part of the fun will be searching for the ones that look the best for you. Be sure to search for those geared toward air fryers in particular, at least while you're still learning how to use an air fryer.
Once you get the hang of it, you will become better at looking at an oven-based recipe and modifying it to be used in the air fryer.
Pay special attention to the temperature you should use and the number of minutes you should be cooking for. Keep in mind that the cooking time will be shorter for air-fried foods than for oven- or pan-fried foods. Also, check to see how often you need to flip the food or shake the basket.
Choose Your Air Fryer Settings
Depending on the style of your air fryer, you may have several settings to choose from. If you're going to be air frying your food, choose the "air fry" setting. As you get to learn how to use an air fryer, you might decide to also experiment with the different settings.
You'll also enter the temperature you want the fryer to be; check the recipe so you're sure. With some air fryers, you'll be choosing the cooking time when you enter the rest of the settings. Be sure to check your air fryer's manual.
Preheat the Air Fryer
Just like when you use your oven, you'll want to preheat your air fryer. Manufacturers recommend preheating, so most air fryers have an automatic preheat cycle; all you need to do is choose the settings and hit "start," and the fryer should preheat automatically.
In almost all cases, you're going to be adding the food to the air fryer after it's done preheating, not before. But be sure to check your recipe to be sure!
Consider Your Options for Using Oil
With an air fryer, it's not strictly necessary to use oil, which is what makes it a healthy way to cook and a great alternative to deep frying. The hot air method of cooking meat and other foods doesn't lend to a lot of sticking.
Some foods, though, particularly those that aren't naturally oily, will stick to the air fryer basket. Other times, you might prefer to use some oil to make the seasonings you're using stick to the food. You have a couple of different options to consider.
One is to simply rub your food (whether that's chicken wings, potatoes, vegetables, or anything else) with a small amount of oil before seasoning.
Another is to use cooking spray to spritz the air fryer basket before preheating or before adding the food to the basket. Or, you can dip a clean paper towel in the oil of your choice and use it to lightly coat the inside of the fryer basket.
Place the Food in the Air Fryer
Once the preheating cycle is done, the fryer will beep or ding, and at that point, it's time to add your food. By now, it should be completely ready to be added to the air fryer basket or tray. That means you should have it seasoned, oiled (if applicable), and ready to cook.
Open the fryer and gently place the food inside. Unless otherwise noted in the recipe, it's best to put the food in one layer. You can sometimes stand up vegetables against the sides of the basket to open up more horizontal cooking surface at the bottom.
If you can't fit everything in one layer, you'll need to cook it in two batches. Since plenty of air circulation lends itself to crispy food, though, you'll agree that this extra step is worth it!
Flip or Turn the Food in the Air Fryer Basket
At the appropriate intervals, you'll need to flip over your food or shake the basket to redistribute the pieces.
If you're cooking something relatively large, like chicken wings or large slices of potato, then you'll want to use tongs or a fork to flip each item over. If you're cooking something small, like roasted chickpeas, though, just give the basket a good shake.
Remember to keep everything to one layer. If you are shaking the air fryer basket, be careful to even everything out so there's no overlap for the best results.
Determine Whether the Food Is Finished Cooking
Air fryer recipes will give you an indication as to how long to leave the food in the air fryer to make sure it's cooked through, but that's not necessarily enough.
The size of the pieces of your food, your particular air fryer, and even the temperature of the food before you put it in the fryer can affect the cooking time.
Take a look at the food before you take it out. Does it look crispy and is it the right color? If not, you'll likely want to add a bit of time.
If it does look done, use a meat thermometer to check the temperature if you're cooking meat. While veggies can be eaten if they're not quite done, you don't want to try that with chicken or any other meat!
Check for minimum safe temperatures at foodsafety.gov and ensure your meat is fully cooked before serving or eating.
You don't want to overcook your food, so if you do need to add more time, try adding just a couple of minutes. Check again, and add time in small intervals.
The Best Foods to Cook in an Air Fryer
There's such a wide variety of foods that can be cooked in your air fryer, and it's fun to experiment and try new things. If you're starting out with a brand new air fryer (or new to you!), here's a handful of foods to get you started:
- Chicken wings: These are, of course, the food most people think of when it comes time to choose an ingredient for the air fryer! They turn out crisp and delicious, and you can add a flavorful dry rub as well as a range of sauces and dips once they're cooked.
- Frozen French fries: If you want your French fries to be crispy but also healthier than their deep-fried fast-food counterparts, use your air fryer to heat them through. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside... perfect!
- Homemade potato chips: Slice up some fresh potatoes, toss with a small amount of oil and your favorite seasonings, and "fry" them up! These will taste better than the ones you buy in the bags off the grocery store shelf.
- Vegetables: Many veggies will cook up nicely in the air fryer. Try broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots, or even kale. This is a nice way to make them palatable for kids and adults who don't necessarily love their greens.
- Fish: It can be difficult to cook fish perfectly, but using the air fryer can help. Your fish will come out crispy but maintain its nutrition and won't be greasy (a common problem when deep frying fish).
- Tofu: If you're looking for some plant-based protein options, consider cooking up tofu in the air fryer. It will be crispy and flavorful, depending on the seasonings you use.
- Hard-boiled eggs: You might not have considered this, but air fryers can be used to cook eggs. Even better, they'll be easy to peel, which is not always the case with eggs you cook in a pan of boiling water.
- Roasted chickpeas: You can take canned chickpeas, drain them and dry them slightly, sprinkle with your choice of seasonings, and roast for a crispy, crunchy snack that's healthier than potato chips or other deep fried foods.
Tips for Air Frying
When you start getting to know your air fryer, you'll have a lot of chances to experiment and really experience how air fryers work. Here are a few tips to get you started.
- Use an air fryer for reheating food. Whether it's pizza, leftover fried chicken, Brussels sprouts that are looking a little limp, or even leftover baked goods, you can use your air fryer to heat them up to make the food crispy and tasty. This will generally take only a few minutes.
- Don't use an air fryer for battered foods. Any batter is going to drip and make a big mess, so don't do this. Remember, cooking food in an air fryer means the food will be crisp without having to add batter or excess oil.
- Make sure your air fryer is on a heat-resistant surface. Your kitchen counter is a good place for it, but your kitchen table with a plastic or vinyl tablecloth is not. Keep in mind that as you air fry, hot air will be circulating.
- Consider using air fryer accessories. While you're figuring out how to use air fryers, it's also helpful to try the different types of add-ons you can get. Baking dishes will allow you to make baked goods, for example. Skewers and racks will also expand the types of foods you can cook.
- Try using silicone cups. If you want to try to make muffins, cupcakes, or something of that nature, silicone cups will stand up to the heat of the air fryer while holding semi-liquid ingredients without getting them all over the basket or tray.
- Use parchment paper to keep foods from sticking to the basket. You'll want to cut it carefully to fit in the basket before you add the food. This will also make cleanup easier!
- Bread your food for extra crunch. You can use breadcrumbs or crushed nuts (or even crushed Corn Flakes or crackers) to make the food extra crispy. While you shouldn't use batter, a dry crunchy topping will stick to your meat or veggies if you first dip them in a thin egg wash.
- Don't be afraid to use convenience foods in your air fryer. Not everything has to be homemade; you can also use your fryer for frozen foods from your local grocery store's freezer section. In addition to French fries, you might try pizza rolls, frozen chicken pieces, pierogis, or wontons.
Be sure to clean your air fryer properly. Part of learning how to use air fryers is learning how to clean the appliance well. Read the manufacturer's manual, but in general, you can use warm soapy water to carefully clean the basket and any tray that comes with it.
- Be careful not to scratch or damage your fryer. Remember that it has a nonstick coating, so don't use anything abrasive. Don't consider any part of your fryer to be dishwasher safe unless it expressly says so in the manual, and don't submerge any part containing electronics.
Maximizing Your Air Fryer's Potential
Learning how to use your air fryer comes down to getting comfortable with the appliance, learning how to use each air fryer setting, and understanding how cooking foods in the fryer will differ from making traditionally fried foods, deep fried foods, or even cooking in a regular oven.
Have a blast looking at air fryer recipes from a variety of different sources, and don't be afraid to experiment!
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