How to Use an Air Fryer
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How to Use an Air Fryer

Jul 06, 2023

Here's how to cut cooking time in half using this popular countertop appliance.

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Food & Wine / Russell Kilgore

These days, air fryers have proven to be one of the most convenient tools in a cook's arsenal, but knowing their capabilities and how to best use them must come first. But how do they cook foods so fast — and to a crisp? In simplest terms, they heat by a version of convection. This type of heating is categorized by hot air circulated by a powerful fan. Where a conventional oven relies on a gas burner or coil to produce enough energy to heat the space in an oven, a convection oven uses a heating element to produce a smaller amount of heat and a powerful fan to circulate the heat around the oven.

Air fryer uses this method to generate heat, but the main difference is that an air fryer typically has a basket or perforated tray that allows the hot air to reach every surface of the food — even the underside.

Air fryers aren't just for greasy snacks; you can quickly whip up dishes like salmon, meatballs, and even a Thanksgiving turkey breast in a fraction of the time. They’re also super convenient for getting deeply roasted veggies without the time or oil of traditional roasting — a superstar side veggie of this past decade, Brussels sprouts get incredibly crispy when air fried.

When you first unbox your air fryer, we recommend removing all pieces to wash thoroughly and dry, including the removable basket and drip tray. Since the air fryer cooks by hot air ventilation, place your air fryer at least six inches from the wall to avoid wall damage or an overheated machine. Before its first use, some manufacturers recommend running your machine for about 10 minutes to release any gas that has dissolved, been trapped, or absorbed in the machine's parts during production.

One of the best things about air fryers is that they don't require any preheating time. Unlike a conventional oven, you can just pop your food in and go. This is an incredibly convenient feature that cuts down on cooking time. Some recipes recommend preheating to ensure the air fryer is at the exact temperature needed, but for things like frozen foods, reheating leftovers, roasting veggies, and most things that don't require a precise temperature, no preheating is necessary.

A main draw of air fryers is that they use significantly less oil than regular frying and even roasting. However, a small amount of oil is usually necessary to achieve a crispy texture. A drizzle or a quick oil spray is all you need for restaurant-quality fries and golden brown fried chicken, while other foods don't need any oil, like pizza or leftovers you might reheat.

Some advocate for spraying the drawer or rack inside the air fryer, and while it doesn't hurt, it's unnecessary. The interior of air fryers is coated in a nonstick surface specifically designed to facilitate crisping all on its own. Of course, you can always add an extra spray to amp up the fried texture, but your coconut shrimp will still get crispy without it.

One thing to be mindful of is crowding the basket. Air fryers circulate hot air all over the entire surface of the food. It's slightly more work, but sometimes your best bet is to work in batches if all your crispy fish taco pieces won't fit at once.

Amy Margulies, registered dietician behind The Rebellious RD, warns against crowding saying, "Though tempting, you cannot pile up your food in there, as it is mostly cooking from the bottom up." She suggests putting batches in the warmer drawer or in a warm oven to keep your food crispy and hot while the rest is still cooking.

Food & Wine / Russell Kilgore

Air fryers work differently than regular ovens, so getting the temperature and cook time right can take some practice. Most foods cook much faster and brown quicker in an air fryer, so it's best to start with less time and add more if needed. Food that is already cooked generally cooks faster than raw foods, especially meat. Though frozen, pre-cooked items generally cook pretty fast as well.

For prepackaged foods that have oven cook times, an excellent guide to start with is to reduce the temperature by 25 degrees and the time by 25 percent. Unlike a regular oven, higher temperatures aren't needed to get some delicious browning on food; you can achieve that crisp exterior at just 350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas the same outcome would require 425 or 450 degrees in a conventional oven.

Compared to conventional ovens and toaster ovens, air fryers are a much safer appliance, but there are a few things to look out for. The exterior can get very hot, especially if it has metal on it. The inside basket and grate can also get extremely hot, so be sure to handle the basket like you would a hot pan coming out of the oven.

Once the air fryer is cooking, always stop it before pulling the basket out. The powerful fan blows impossibly hot air around that can easily burn you, not to mention bits of hot food or oil that may be flying around.

Food & Wine / Russell Kilgore

Though an air fryer is an appliance, it's best to think of it like a pot or a pan and clean it every time you use it, always following the instructions listed in the manual. Each model will naturally vary, but in general, the basket or tray should be cleaned with each use. If there's a drip tray or a drawer under the basket, be sure to wipe that out each time as well. How often you clean the inside of the appliance depends on how often you use it. If it's getting daily use, a deeper clean to prevent grease build-up will be necessary more often, around once per week.


In order to find the best air fryers on the market, we put more than 20 top models to the test. This 6-quart air fryer from Instant Pout outperformed the rest with its straightforward functionality, consistent and fast heating, and overall stellar performance. We recommend this one to anyone looking to streamline weekday dinners or impress a crowd.


During our testing, we loved this large-format air fryer toaster oven for so many reasons, but primarily, we found it a snap to use. The controls and dials are easy to understand, which gives you precise control of all settings for that perfect crispy golden exterior each and every time. Our testers were thrilled with the consistent and even results.


If you’re new to the world of air frying, knowing which to pick and what you might need it for can be daunting. We loved this model for beginners. It has all the capabilities you want from a quality combo appliance without any extra features that might complicate things.

Unlike a microwave, foil is safe to put in an air fryer, though we wouldn't recommend it. It might make cleanup easier, but adding the foil creates a barrier that blocks the hot air from reaching the food. The side touching the foil will never get as crispy as the top, and some foods, like breaded or frozen items, might even stick.

Yes, though we suggest using caution when doing so. Make sure to have food on the paper to weigh it down as to not touch the upper heating elements. And while parchment paper is good for things like baked goods, it blocks the drainage holes some dishes benefit from.

Air fryers are often advertised as a healthier alternative though their health benefits depend on what you cook with them. Jessie Hulsey, RD, LD, a consulting nutritionist behind Health Down South, recommends air fryers as a healthier alternative to traditionally fried foods. "Through the air frying process, food is cooked with minimal amounts of oil or fat, creating a healthier nutrition profile compared to other conventional cooking techniques such as deep frying and pan frying," she says. "Air-fried recipes can help reduce saturated fats in the diet and increase nutrition with every meal making it an ideal choice for anyone trying to improve their overall health."

That said, air frying with little to no oil is healthier than traditional deep frying, but many frozen or processed foods aren't the most nutritious. However, an air fryer's quick cooking and convenience can make it much easier to prepare veggies quickly and add healthier variety to meals.

It may seem like nearly everything can be cooked in an air fryer, but a few things are best left to other cooking methods. For example, most batters for things like cakes and quick breads that need gentler heat and time to rise don't do well in air fryers. Additionally, because of the rapidly circulating air, anything with lots of loose crumbs, nuts, seeds, or small pieces isn't well suited to the air fryer since those pieces can easily dislodge and fly around.

Nick DeSimone, former chef of nearly ten years, authored this piece. They have both professional and personal experience using air fryers and have used many types and brands over the years. Nick also spoke to two food experts, a dietician and a nutritionist.