How To Use An Air Fryer: A Beginner’s Guide To This Favorite Kitchen Appliance 

 Last Update November 23, 2023

By Jenny Zhang

Home / Guides / How To Use An Air Fryer: A Beginner’s Guide To This Favorite Kitchen Appliance

Air fryers are the hot new kitchen appliance taking the world by storm. A convection oven that sits right on your countertop and makes your favorite fried foods without the grease? This sounds almost too good to be true! But there are so many air fryers available on the market nowadays, and each has so many different options. Knowing what to look for and how to use them can be daunting!

If you just got a brand new air fryer or are thinking of getting one, read below to learn how an air fryer works and how to use an air fryer to make your favorite foods! From succulent fried chicken to guilt-free sweet potato fries, air fryers have the power to transform your favorite dishes into healthier yet equally delicious versions.

What Is An Air Fryer

An air fryer is a kitchen appliance that cooks food using hot air, allowing you to fry, roast, bake, broil, crisp, dehydrate, and reheat various dishes. It's an incredibly versatile kitchen appliance that can be used in many applications. Although there are many different types of air fryers, they can be broadly categorized into two groups:

Basket-Style Air Fryer - This style of air fryer features a removable basket where the food cooks. They have less functionality and cooking options but take much less counter space.

Air Fryer Ovens - The air fryer oven has a similar appearance to a conventional toaster oven. It takes up more room but offers significantly more versatility in cooking options. They also typically can cook more food at once.

How Does An Air Fryer Work

Regardless of what type of air fryer you have, all air fryers work in the same way. Each air fryer has a heating element to create the hot air and a fan to circulate it. The food rests in either a food basket or a perforated food tray, each featuring a nonstick coating. The perforations or wire mesh allow the hot air to circulate the food, heating it from all sides simultaneously and making it crispy.

What Can Be Cooked In An Air Fryer

An air fryer can be used to cook juicy protein main dishes, healthy vegetable side dishes, and scrumptious baked goods. The cooking process makes it particularly suitable for crispy foods. It's great for cooking traditionally fried foods, maintaining that crunchy exterior without all the excess oil and grease.

Air frying can be used to cook:

  • crispy vegetables, like Brussels sprouts and baked potatoes

  • favorite frozen foods, such as chicken wings

  • foods typically cooked by deep frying, like chicken tender and french fries

  • greasy foods without the need to add more oil

It can also be used for reheating food to avoid the sogginess that microwaves tend to give leftovers!

How To Use An Air Fryer

Preheat Your Air Fryer

Preheating an air fryer is not always necessary, and whether you should preheat or not depends on the specific recipe and type of food you're cooking. But preheating can be an important step that helps ensure food cooks evenly and maintains a crispy exterior. A lot of air fryers have a preheat function or setting included. If your model doesn't have a specific preheat function, you can manually set the desired cooking temperature and allow the air fryer to run for about 2-3 minutes to heat up before adding food or follow air fryer recipes. Be sure to choose the right temperature. Typically, the air fryer temperature should be 25 degrees lower than if you were cooking the same food in an oven. When uncertain, refer to your air fryer's manual for guidance.

Preheating is generally recommended when baking or roasting items that require precise temperature control, such as cakes, muffins, or roasts. Preheating your air fryer helps your food start cooking immediately when you place it in the basket, whereas if you don't preheat beforehand, the food can take longer to cook and won't brown nicely. Preheating ensures that the air fryer attains the desired temperature before you add your food, resulting in more consistent cooking outcomes. If you're looking to achieve a particularly crispy texture, like with frozen french fries or breaded chicken, preheating can help kickstart the cooking process and contribute to better crisping.

You can skip preheating for straightforward recipes that don't require precise temperature control or where the initial temperature isn't critical. This includes many frozen foods, reheating leftovers, and basic air frying tasks. If you're preparing a dish where timing is crucial like when reheating pizza or cooking delicate items like fish fillets, you can often skip preheating to save time. If you're cooking foods that tend to brown quickly on the edges (like vegetables), you can put them in the air fryer before it's preheated and use that to your advantage!

Prepare Your Ingredients

Properly preparing your ingredients is key to achieving great results. Depending on what you're cooking, you might need to marinate, season, or coat your food in a light layer of oil or cooking spray. For example, toss sliced potatoes in a small amount of oil for crispy french fries and season with salt and your favorite spices before placing them in the air fryer basket.

Load Your Air Fryer Basket

Don't overcrowd the basket! Filling the basket to its capacity may be tempting, but this will cause the food to cook unevenly. Arrange the food in a single layer in the basket for crispy foods that are all finished cooking simultaneously. Avoid stacking or layering the food in the basket. If needed, you can cook in multiple batches to ensure even cooking.

Select Your Preset (Optional)

All air fryers have a manual air fry function, where you determine the cook time and temperature. However, many of the best air fryers feature multiple preset programs. Refer to your air fryer instruction manual to determine if there's a specific air fryer setting suitable for the type of food you're preparing.

Start Cooking

Insert the air fryer basket into the air fryer itself, and start cooking! The total cooking time for air fryers is often much quicker than if those same foods were cooked in an oven, so stay within a reasonable distance. You'll need to move on to the next step in a few minutes!

Shake Halfway

Some air fryer recipes may require you to shake the basket or flip the food halfway through the cooking process. This step ensures that both sides of the food become evenly browned and crispy. Check your recipe or refer to the cooking instructions for guidance.

Check for Doneness

Towards the end of the cooking time, keep a close eye on your food to avoid overcooking. You can open the air fryer to check for doneness without disrupting the cooking process. For meats, it's advisable to use a meat thermometer to ensure they've reached the desired internal temperature.

Remove The Food And Enjoy!

Some popular air fryers will automatically turn off when the cooking time finishes. Others will beep but continue to stay on - similar to a traditional oven. Know how your air fryer works! When the food is finished cooking, remove the basket or tray, set it down on a safe surface, remove your food, and enjoy!

Air Fryer Dos And Don'ts

DON'T fill the basket with oil! Although air fryers are used to cook fried foods, it does this without the use of any oil whatsoever! Outside of a quick spritz of cooking spray, never add any oil, fat, or bacon grease to your air fryer.

DO use your air fryer in a well-ventilated location so that the exhaust has ample space to circulate. You can store it next to the wall, but it should be moved away from the wall when you start cooking.

DON'T touch the air fryer basket or air fryer drawer when it first comes out of the air fryer. It's hot! Set it on a silicone trivet, pot holder, or other heat-resistant surface.

Do keep in mind that cooking times may vary depending on the model and size of your air fryer, so it's essential to monitor your food for the desired level of doneness.

DON'T use parchment paper to line your basket or tray! While it may be attempting to line your basket when cooking greasy foods, it's important to know that they can block the ventilation holes. Result in uneven cooking.

Do start by thoroughly reading the user manual that comes with your air fryer and learn about air fryer safety. Remember that various models might come with specific instructions and safety guidelines that you should know.

DON'T overcrowd the basket, as it can block airflow and lead to uneven cooking.

Do preheat when it's necessary.

DON'T block the vent during operation. Proper ventilation is necessary for the appliance to function safely and efficiently.

How To Clean An Air Fryer

After enjoying your meal, it's essential to clean your air fryer. Most air fryers are easy to clean, thanks to a nonstick coating. Some models are dishwasher-safe. Be sure to check the manual for your specific cooking appliance! Otherwise, use warm, soapy water and a non-abrasive cloth or sponge. It's easier to clean the air fryer right after cooking when the basket is warm but not hot.

Jenny passionately advocates a holistic and natural approach to health and well-being. She has a Bachelor of Science degree and years of working in food sciences, specializing in organic & natural products. She is committed to helping others embrace a balanced, natural lifestyle that fosters well-being. Jenny believes that a harmonious balance between nutrition, fitness, and mindfulness is the key to unlocking the full potential of one’s well-being.