How To Use an Air Fryer: Our Quick Guide to Get You Eating Immediately

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Have you just purchased an air fryer, and are now wondering how to use it? Or perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to receive one as a gift and are now wondering what to do with the thing. Or maybe, just maybe, you’re insanely responsible and doing research before purchasing one. Whatever the case, we’ll tell you everything we know about air fryers so that you can start enjoying the crispy rewards of your air fryer immediately.

The tricky thing with air fryers is that most foods don’t have air fryer directions on the back, and trying to follows those meant for a microwave or oven will result in under cooked or over cooked food. We’ll cover the basics below, so that you can feel confident cooking your first few meals in your air fryer.

We’ll cover:

  • Do air fryers actually fry food?
  • Do you need oil for an air fryer?
  • How do you use an air fryer for the first time?
  • How to preheat an air fryer?
  • How do you cook in an air fryer?
  • Air fryer tips and tricks
  • How to clean an air fryer.
  • What foods do you make in an air fryer?
  • And, a few of our favorite air fryers.

Do Air Fryers Actually Fry Food?

The short answer: Nope.

The long answer: Air fryers use convection cooking to “fry” food. This means that they have a large, powerful fan directly located under the heating elements and directly above the food that blows hot air around the food. Using hot air to cook the food results in food that cooks quicker, due to a greater heat transfer, cooks food more evenly, since the air is fully distributed around the food, and is crispier, due to the perforated basket that removes grease and fat and the previous mentioned fast and through cooking.

So, no. They don’t actually fry food. But they create food that’s just as crispy as fried food without all the extra oil. Air fryers are also the most efficient convection cooking appliance. They cook faster and crispier than countertop convection ovens, toaster ovens with convection modes, and traditional ovens with a convection mode.

Do You Need Oil for an Air Fryer?

The short answer: Nope.

The long answer: Like I mentioned above, air fryers are nothing like deep fryers. They cook with air, not oil. You can pretty much just throw the food you’re wanting to make in the basket and you.

However, some people feel like brushing a light layer of oil over their food before cooking helps it to crisp up even more. I’m not really a fan of this extra step, but some people swear by it.

How Do You Use an Air Fryer for the First Time?

When you first get your air fryer out of the package, there isn’t usually much to assemble. You’ll just have to was all the removable components, which is often just the drip backed and perforated tray. Make sure to use something non-abrasive so that you don’t scratch the non-stick coating.

Next you’ll need to find  suitable spot for it. They recommend a heat-resistant surface and that it’s at least eight inches away from a wall when cooking. However, it can be pushed further out when not in use, just don’t forget to pull it out a bit before you start cooking.

Next, you’ll have to make sure the air fryer is working properly before you start actually cooking something. This also has the added benefit of letting your air fryer get rid of any extra gases or chemicals that may have stuck around from the production process. Many manufacturers recommend that you do this for at least 10 minutes.

You may notice a chemical smell while you do this. It shouldn’t be strong, but having vets or an open window should get rid of it no problem.

Once this is done, you’re ready to get to cooking!

How to Preheat an Air Fryer?

This is a hot topic in the air fryer world. Some people insist that you need to preheat your air fryer to get the best and most predictable results. Manufacturers also recommend preheating your air fryer.

However, many people believe that pre-heating your air fryer is a waste of time and electricity. They simply add a couple extra minutes to their cook times and throw the food right in.

I personally fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t bother preheating the air fryer when I’m simply cooking something like fries or chicken nuggets straight out of the freezer. However, if I’m making something nicer like fish or vegetables, then I do like to preheat the air fryer first.

The nice thing about pre-heating an air fryer is that it only takes a few minutes. Since they’re so small, they only need a couple minutes to get to the proper temp.

How Do You Cook in an Air Fryer?

Most of the foods you cook in your air fryer will have a microwave guide and an oven guide, but not an air fryer guide. This creates a bit of a problem since air fryers don’t cook food like either.

Your air fryer will probably come with a handy guide of suggested cooking times and temperatures for common foods. However, even this guide won’t be perfect. The more food in a basket the longer things will take to cook, and the less food in the basket the shorter.

If you try to use traditional oven cooking directions to set the temperature, you may also find that you get better results by using a slightly lower temperature than recommended. Since the hot air is pushing heat directly into the food, it cooks like its at a higher temperature. Lowering the temperature can help keep the outside of your food from getting too crispy before the inside is properly cooked.

It’ll probably take you a couple weeks to really get a feel for your air fryer’s cooking needs. Especially in relation to how crispy you like your food. However, once you start to get it, you’ll be able to intuitively adjust recipes and cooking directions for your air fryers.

Air Fryer Tips and Tricks

Other things you might need to know before you start cooking and a few air fryer tips and tricks:

  • Move your air fryer out from the wall and other appliances before cooking with it. The manufacturers typically recommend around a minimum of 8 inches of clearance.
  • Don’t place anything on top of the air fryer and this will obstruct the air flow.
  • If your air fryer won’t start, double check that the basket is pushed all the way in.
  • You don’t have to turn off the air fryer to check on the food. The air fryer will automatically turn off when the basket isn’t in properly.
  • Air fryers are loud. This can be really irritating when cooking things that take longer. So we suggest putting them as far out of the way as possible.
  • Just shake the basket when you need to flip food. No need to grab out tongs or a flipper. I can flip almost anything from just shaking the basket quickly.
  • A light coating of oil may make your food crispier. Excess oils and fat will drip out of the basket.
  • If your air fryer starts smoking, that probably means that you have too much grease and oil in your tray. Adding some water will help catch the grease and oil without it smoking.
  • Cooking spray can damage the non-stick finish on your air fryer due to an ingredient called soy lecithin which can eat away at the non-stick surface. If you’re having problems with food sticking, try using a little oil instead.
  • Avoid using olive oil in your air fryer. Look, I love olive oil and it’s my go-to oil of choice everywhere else in my kitchen. But it has a low-smoke point which makes it a poor choice for your air fryer and will smoke at high temperatures. Vegetable oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and other high smoke point oils are much better options.
  • Cooking bacon? Make sure to cook it below the smoke point of its grease to prevent it from smoking or burning. Most people recommend cooking it at about 350 degrees.
  • To make cleanup a little easier, you can line the bottom bowl with tinfoil or parchment paper designed for air fryer use. Make sure these are properly weighted down so that they don’t lift up and touch the heating element.
  • It better to make a couple batches than to over crowd the basket. It’s tempting to try and fit as much food as you can into your air fryer, but the overcrowded basket will take longer to cook and won’t come out as well. Small loads won’t take much longer and you’ll get the crispiest food.
  • To get food as crispy as possible, use a paper towel to dry off extra moisture before cooking.
  • Be careful with the basket release button. The handle is attached to the inner basket, not the outer basket. So accidentally pressing this button when you’re carrying it will cause the outer basket to drop and cause messes and potentially burns and injuries.
  • Air frying presets are just so-so. I usually ignore these and always set the time and temperature myself.
  • Unplug your air fryer when not in use.
  • Never put your air fryer on a stove and keep hot pans on heat resistant surfaces.
  • Air fryers can get hot! Be careful not to touch the outside of your air fryer, especially the back, as this is where the air fryer gets the hottest. Make sure kids know not to touch the air fryer as well.

How to Clean an Air Fryer?

As we mentioned above, oil, fat, and grease build up on your air fryer can cause your air fryer to smoke. To avoid this, it’s important that you clean your air fryer after every use.

Always use a non-abrasive cloth when washing as to not damage the nonstick coating.

For the easiest cleanup, rinse or wipe down the baskets directly after cooking when all the oil and grease is still in its liquid form.

To clean your air fryer, simply pull out all of the removable baskets. For light meals, I usually just use a rag or paper towels to quickly wipe it down. For messier meals, I usually rinse them in my sink then wipe them down.

For really messy meals like wings or after several uses, I’ll give it a proper clean and run them through my dishwasher. A thorough scrub down by hand works great for this too.

While most air fryers have parts that are dishwasher safe, not all do. Double check your manual before putting your air fryer baskets into your dishwasher.

You can also use tinfoil or perforated parchment paper to make cleaning your air fryer a little bit easer. This is especially useful when you’re about to make something really messy like wings.

What Food Do You Cook in an Air Fryer?

Because of the convection method of cooking which uses dry heat to cook your food, any foods that require roasting, baking, and frying are good options for cooking in your air fryer. Foods and recipes that require other methods of cooking, like boiling, braising, and steaming, are not great options for your air fryer.

Some people get really fancy and cook gourmet fish and Brussel spout meals in their air fryer every night. However, since I have a large family, ours usually gets used for things like extra crispy chicken strips or pizza bites for lunch.

Here’s a bunch of food ideas that will work well in your air fryer.

  • Frozen foods: Fries, tater tots, hot pockets, pizza bites, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, mozzarella strips, etc. are all great options for your air fryer. In fact, my air fryer is by far my preferred baking method for these things. Homemade versions of these foods also come out amazingly.
  • Vegetables: Think about any vegetables that you would normally roast or grill and they will turn out wonderfully in your air fryer. Squash, Brussel sprouts, carrots, broccoli, cauliflowers, potatoes, and sweet potato fries are some of our favorite vegetables to air fry.
  • Chicken: In addition to chicken nuggets, I’ve also had amazing success with cooking chicken breasts, wings, and thighs in my air fryer.
  • Processed meats: I really enjoy cooking sausage, bacon, hot dogs, meatballs, little frankies, etc in my air fryer as well. They get a nice crispy texture that really elevates the entire eating experience.
  • Fish: I love how nice and crispy my air fryer makes my fish. I only wish I could make more at once.
  • Desserts: Lava cakes are especially popular to make in air fryers.
  • Reheating Leftovers: I love using this to reheat my leftovers from the day before. It’s a much better option than throwing food into the microwave because the microwave always leaves everything so soggy. Bleh!

A Few of Our Favorite Air Fryer Recommendations

Wondering if an air fryer or counter-top convection over is right for you? Check out our article comparing the two here.

What are you most excited to try in your air fryer? Share with us in the comments below!