How To Use An Air Fryer (Tips and Tricks)
Are you new to air fryer cooking? I’m talking all about How To Use An Air Fryer! Your air fryer circulates hot air to make your food crispy and lower in fat and calories without heating up your kitchen! Whether you’re looking to buy an air fryer or have some simple questions about using your air fryer, I’m hitting all the hot topics!
Let’s Talk About How To Use An Air Fryer!
So I am sure by this point everyone has heard of, or owns an air fryer. You might have even had one and gotten rid of it because you just didn’t use it. Trust me, I understand! Air Fryers are everywhere now and a great option for beginners, as well as seasoned cooks! I want to break down the basics if you’re still on the fence!
What Is An Air Fryer?
An air fryer is essentially a small convection oven that doesn’t actually “fry” your food. It’s a small kitchen appliance that will fit right on your countertop with a heating element along with a fan. It does basically everything that your oven does, but quicker and with almost no oil. Air fryers’ promise is to produce crispy food like a deep fryer without the fat and extra calories. Air fryers are generally compact and convenient, and take up as much space as a toaster oven. There are multiple style of air fryers, and are a nice option for small batch cooking, healthy options, and quick meals without turning on your oven.
Is An Air Fryer the Same As A Convection Oven?
The answer here is yes and no. Yes, because the science of convection cooking is exactly what air fryers use. And no, because air fryers are much smaller, more compact, making the cooking process quicker, with rapid air circulation. They cook food very evenly due to the size and the use of the basket in the air fryer. The basket allows air to circulate, which is key, and not be blocked like in an oven making the heat even on all sides of the food producing a crispy exterior. Most air fryers require no extra preheating time, which again, makes the process quick!
Different Types of Air Fryers
There are multiple styles of air fryers, most commonly the basket style and the oven/rack style. I have had both styles are prefer the rack/shelf style, which is similar to a toaster oven. BUT let me break down what each has to offer, so you can choose what would work best for you and your lifestyle.
Basket Style Air Fryers:
Basket style air fryers are the most common style. They are generally the more inexpensive style of air fryer and are perfect for small households. They have a heating element on the top, with a basket/drawer you can pull out and load.
Basket Style Pros:
- Less Counter footprint. Basket style air fryers are built vertically meaning they take up less space on your counter.
- The basket style is great to cook meals for smaller families, or simply reheating fried foods like fries and wings. Shaking that basket is pretty great!
- Easy to clean! The air fryer basket is very simple to clean. They are made nonstick, so the wipe-off is easy, but also when things get a little messy you can fill up the basket with some water and soap and turn it on to cook for a few minutes, loosening everything up!
- Basket style tends to cook food a little faster, just based on the fact that it’s a little smaller!
- Preheats faster!
- Overall lower cost.
Basket Style Cons:
- The size is limiting and if you have a larger family (greater than 4 in my opinion) you will have to do multiple batches of certain food items. When I had my basket style air fryer, making chicken breasts required at least 2 rounds, as I could only fit 3 – 4 breasts in the bottom of the basket.
- You have to stir food at a regular intervals if you’re loading the basket for items like french fries or chicken wings. The fries won’t be in a single layer, so to ensure even cooking you will need to shake the basket to make sure even heat distribution.
- If you do have to make multiple batches of food air frying actually takes longer than in a traditional oven.
- You need to clean you air fryer after every use. This seems like a no brainer, but in the oven you cook on a baking sheet, that a lot of times can be lined with parchment paper for even easier clean up. Food in the air fryer will drip through the basket, causing you to have to clean it every time you cook. It’s generally an easy clean up, and like I said above, easier to clean than deep frying, but not quite as easy as washing a baking sheet.
- You can’t see your food while cooking.
- Louder than your oven.
Rack/Oven Style Air Fryers:
I have this style air fryer and really enjoy it. I have had the basket style, but I tend to get frustrated with one function appliances, and I enjoy the fact that with the oven style you can do more than just air fry. Also I have a larger family and the smaller capacity basket style was great for wings and fries, but since I don’t really make wings and fries that much, it would take multiple batches to make dinner!
Rack/Oven Style Pros:
- The capacity is larger. You can make more food in most rack/oven style air fryers than you can in a basket style, which is great for larger families. I prefer the rack style as I can make 6 chicken breasts easily on the air fryer rack.
- A lot of this style usually has multi-function uses. You can toast, bake, reheat, dehydrate, etc. It can easily replace your toaster on your counter.
- Can be extra handy for entertaining, as you have lots of options to cook, bake, air fry etc.
- You can purchase more mesh racks to fit in your oven (they usually come with one) so you can air fry multiple trays of food at a time.
- You can see your food as it cooks.
- Adjustable racks so food can be closer or further from heating element.
- Can accommodate more baking dishes.
Rack/Oven Style Cons:
- They take up more counter space than the vertical/basket style air fryer.
- You don’t get the satisfaction of shaking the basket! Mine comes with a shallow mesh rack which works great, but you have to manually turn the food if it requires flipping.
- Weight. The oven style will weigh a little more than the basket style because it’s a large piece of equipment generally not made of plastic. If you don’t plan on keeping this on your counter full time, moving it from place to place can get annoying.
- Cost of the oven style is usually a little higher than the basket style. This makes more sense because it is an appliance that isn’t a single purpose, you can use it for many things.
- Louder than your oven, but not as loud as the basket style (at least in the units I’ve tested).
What Air Fryer Is Right For You?
This is a tough question for me to answer for you, but I think the simple answer is to ask yourself how many people you cook for on a regular basis, and what you plan on using your air fryer for:
- Small Family? Basket style
- Large Family? Oven/Rack style
- Making full dinners? Oven/Rack style
- Reheating food? Basket Style
- The occasional use? Basket style
- Not a lot of counter space? Basket Style
- Want a multi-function appliance? Oven/Rack style
- Eat lots of frozen foods to reheat? Basket style
- Price Point? Basket Style
- What I have? Oven/Rack style
Do You Use Oil In An Air Fryer?
Only a small amount! Literally less than a teaspoon will do. Buying a mister like THIS ONE is perfect for coating anything you’re making. It will help make your breaded food a little extra crispy, mimicking the crispiness of deep frying. You can also brush it on lightly as well. If you add too much oil it will drip off the food creating a mess. It can also drip and get on the fan, which is not fun to clean. I do recommend when using a mesh basket in the oven style that you coat the basket with cooking spray very lightly so things don’t stick!
Benefits Of Using An Air Fryer
- The main advantage with air fryer cooking is the crispiness you can achieve without deep frying! This saves calories and fat, as well as being far less messy!
- Versatility. While the appliance is called an “air fryer“, it can do just about anything your oven can do with a few limitations (like size). You can bake, roast, and reheat to name a few.
- Size. This can be a con just as much as a pro. Counter space is prime real estate in a kitchen, so if you’re going to have an appliance out, you need to be using it a lot. Luckily the air fryer (especially the basket style) is small enough that it doesn’t take up much more space than a coffee maker!
- Perfect for small families. If you are feeding 4 or less, an air fryer is a great tool.
- Healthy cooking. You use far less oil than pan frying, deep frying, or even skillet cooking. Drizzling on olive oil over veggies to roast uses 1 – 2 tablespoons on average, but in an air fryer you won’t need nearly as much! Plus, you really shouldn’t use more oil in an air fryer, as it drips, or can blow around and coat the fan and heating element!
How To Clean An Air Fryer:
Depending on the style of air fryer you have clean up is usually pretty easy. You do need to clean the inside of your air fryer every time you use it to avoid burning, or smells. Here’s how:
- A warm, damp sponge or cloth with a little soap will do the trick most times! Just discard any debris, and wipe clean.
- Cooked on debris or fatty drips takes a little more effort to clean. You can soak the drawer and basket in soapy water and clean using a nonabrasive sponge.
- Make sure to wipe the heating element clean from any dirt or debris.
- You can also fill the drawer with the rack inside with about an inch of water and a little dish soap. Turn it on for 3 – 5 minutes and discard the water and wipe clean!
- For rack style air fryers, you can soak them in warm, soapy water, or even pop the rack in the dishwasher, as long as they are dishwasher safe!
- Use simple dish soap to clean your air fryer with non abrasive tools. You can also make a paste using baking soda and water for very hard to remove debris.
- Air fryer baskets are nonstick, so they are easy to wipe clean using a paper towel, or a warm soapy sponge. If you have a mess of drips from cooking you remove the basket and wipe clean the same way.
- Don’t use an abrasive sponge or Brillo pad on your air fryer. You will scratch the If you have a mess that is baked on, or really difficult to clean a warm soapy sponge should do the trick.
- You could even use a soft brush to get the tough mess.
- You can even fill your air fryer up with a little water and soap, turn it on and let it heat up (cook) loosening all the difficult mess.
Rack/ Oven Style:
- Remove the rack from the air fryer and wash it in the sink with warm, soapy water.
- Oven style air fryers have a drip tray that is easily removed. Anything that drips onto the bottom of the unit can be washed off easily with a soapy sponge.
- If your air fryer has burners on the bottom of the unit as opposed to the top make sure it’s cooled completely and wipe off any mess with a warm, non-abrasive, soapy sponge.
- Make sure to get all the debris out of the unit.
Do You Have To Preheat An Air Fryer
This is a hot topic. And I have found after tons of research and testing that it really just depends on the unit you have. Some recipes call for preheating, while others don’t, but I have found that you should refer back to the manufacturers recommendation on this one. My current oven style air fryer does not require preheating. It preheats as part of the cooking process.
Don’t Over Fill Your Air Fryer!
One of the most common mistakes in cooking in an air fryer is over crowding your basket. Air frying requires the circulation of hot air, and if you over-fill your basket air fryer the air just simply won’t be distributed evenly.
Temperatures and Times:
I couldn’t possibly list all the foods here and how long they take to cook. There are a few items you need to remember when cooking in your air fryer, especially if you’re converting it from the oven. Convection cooking/air frying cooks faster and hotter than a standard oven, so typically you will reduce the temperature by 25°F. FOR EXAMPLE: So if you reheat a slice of pizza in your oven at 400°F for 7 minutes, reheat it in the air fryer at 375°F for 5 minutes. There is no blanket conversion, and it does take a period of time to truly get to know your air fryer, but when you do, it will become second nature! Here’s a short list to get you started:
- Asparagus – 400°F / 8 minutes
- Cauliflower – 390°F / 15 minutes
- Frozen French Fries – 400°F / 15 minutes, shaking the basket to evenly distribute heat every 5 minutes
- Frozen Chicken Nuggets – 400°F / 12 minutes
- Chicken Wings – 400°F / 18 – 20 minutes
- Hard Boiled Eggs – 275°F / 15 minutes
- Shrimp – 400°F / 5 minutes
- Frozen Pizza Rolls – 375°F / 8 minutes
- Frozen Tater Tots – 400°F / 17 minutes
- Boneless Chicken Breasts – 370°F / 8 minutes on each side (or until they reach 165°F internal temp)
- Baked Potatoes – 400°F / 30 – 40 minutes (flip halfway through)
Tools and Extras:
There are tons of little extras you can purchase for your air fryer. It really comes down to what you are using your air fryer for most. I wouldn’t suggest going out and buying all the accessories until you use it for a few weeks at least and see what you think! Some air fryers even come with some fancy gadgets. Here are a few that I have:
Do You Use Parchment Paper In An Air Fryer?
Yes you can, but I only recommend using parchment when you absolutely have to. The parchment paper blocks the airflow, so you don’t get exactly the same crisping effect on all sides, which is what makes the air fryer special. They do sell the air fryer parchment paper sheets that have perforation for venting, and while this helps, it still isn’t the same as cooking without it. But with that said, there are times you should and should NOT use parchment in an air fryer:
- Ue parchment for cookies, or anything with a wet/soft dough that will drip through the holes of the air fryer rack, mainly baked goods: cinnamon rolls, scones etc.
- Don’t preheat your air fryer with parchment paper loose. It will fly around!
- Use parchment to prevent excess dripping (and clean up) for foods like unbreaded chicken breasts or shrimp, that don’t need to be extra crispy.
- Cooking tomatoes would be a good time to use parchment. I like roasted tomatoes on sandwiches and this is an excellent way to cook them in a pinch, but can create a mess.
- Place the parchment in the air fryer with space at the edges to allow for maximum air circulation.
- DIY air fryer parchment is easy to make. You don’t have to buy the pre-cut sheets. Just cut a piece of parchment to fit in the basket or rack of your air fryer and then cut slits of holes in the parchment for air circulation.
How To Use Aluminum Foil In An Air Fryer…
Yes you can. Foil can be a useful tool in cooking, but there are a few tips that you should know:
- DON’T completely block the air flow. Make sure to either perforate the foil, leave room at the edges for circulation or both.
- DO use foil as a “sling to easily remove your food from your air fryer basket.
- DON’T use foil when cooking acidic foods. The foil causes the food to break down quickly, which is said to allow aluminum to leach into your food.
- DO crumple up foil to elevate food in your air fryer basket. Place the food on top of the crumpled foil so it is closer to the heating element to brown your food mimicking the broiler.
What CAN’T You Cook In An Air Fryer?
There are absolutely foods that don’t work or benefit from air frying. Remember pretty much anything you cook in the oven will work in the air fryer. But here’s a list of foods to avoid putting in your air fryer:
- Anything with a wet batter. Want to make homemade corndogs? Your best bet will be deep frying those babies. A wet batter in the air fryer will drip causing a mess, and also the air circulation will blow the batter making it uneven.
- Rice/Pasta/Grains. This might seem obvious, but it’s worth noting that these foods need to boil in water. You can, however, make fried rice in the air fryer. I’ll be sharing a recipe soon!
- Popcorn. Please don’t try it.
- Bacon. Ok, this one actually CAN be air fried and it does turn out nicely, but I will tell you that the grease makes a MESS. Experiment at your own risk!
- Any food with too much cheese, It will drip out, again, creating a mess…you see a theme here, right?
- This isn’t so much something to cook, but do NOT put wax paper in an air fryer! Wax paper is paper…well…coated in wax. The wax WILL melt, leaving a waxy film all over your air fryer.
- I haven’t tried this one myself, but every piece of information I see regarding air fryers says don’t try and cook a whole chicken in one. It is said it will cook unevenly. Some of the larger units come with a rotisserie that I would imagine works great. None of the air fryers I have owned had a rotisserie, so I have yet to try it.
- Avoid leafy vegetables like lettuce. I am not sure why you would want to air fry lettuce, but it will either turn limp, or turn to dust if cooked too long. You can cook kale chips in the air fryer, but you will need to spray them with enough oil to weigh them down a bit. Leafy greens can easily blow all over your air fryer!
- Any food with a dusty dry rub. This will also blow all over your air fryer. If you are using a dry rub, simply mist it with oil before cooking to wet it and help it stick.
Air Fryers I Recommend:
Over the last few years I have owned multiple styles/brands of air fryers, trying to find the one that worked best for me and my family’s needs. Here are a few units that are great choices:
- Best Multifunction Oven/Rack Style: This is what I have and really love. It might not be the air fryer for everyone, because of the price and size. But after testing multiple air fryers, I found that having a larger capacity, as well as multifunction capability was what fit best in my lifestyle.
- Best Overall Basket Style. Here’s the deal, there are TONS of air fryers on the market, so choosing the right one can get overwhelming. This until does exactly what you need it to do, is priced well, and is a great medium sized basket.
- Inexpensive Option. This basic option is great if you’re just not sure what to get, want to spend less than $100, and don’t want to waste money on a unit that is too small, just to keep the price low.
- Small Option. I bought this unit for my son for his college apartment. It is a very small unit and is perfect for cooking meals for 1 – 2 people.
- Best Basket Style For Large Families. This unit is seems great. You have double the basket capabilities if that’s the style you like best! I really want to buy this one to test for you guys…let me know if you’re interested!
- Basket Style With Multi Function. This is a good option for those who want to do multiple things, but want the traditional air fryer basket style. You won’t get all the features of an oven style, but it comes close.