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Our Top Tips for Air-Fryer Beginners

Give. Your. Food. Some. Room.

illustration of air fryer
Sarah Ceniceros

We've already established whether or not an air fryer is right for you (spoiler alert: It probably is!). Before your delicious future filled with air-fried chicken, donuts, and Brussels sprouts, learn the basics of how you to use your new appliance, plus read our top tips for any beginner.


Your Top Air Fryer Questions, Answered

Do I need to preheat my air fryer?

Some air fryer recipes will call for preheating, but TBH we've found that most of the time, this isn't necessary. Air fryers heat extremely quickly and start cooking your food instantly. Unlike a typical oven, the convection heat source cooks evenly from the beginning. So, we typically skip the preheat and get straight to cooking.

Do I need to flip the food?

Most of the time, especially with breaded foods, you will need to flip when cooking in the air fryer. Take chicken tenders, for example: You'll want to do one flip halfway through for even cooking. For smaller items like sweet potato fries, we'd never call for painstakingly turning each one, but it is smart to give the basket a good shake. You'll prevent any extra-skinny fries from over-cooking and redistribute the food into a single layer (lighter items tend to fly around the basket and land on top of one other).

Do I need to use oil?

Fast answer is no—oil is not necessary to help food cook in the air fryer—but some foods will benefit from a little oil. We're talking not even a tablespoon, less than we'd use to roast vegetables in the oven (!). A slick coating of oil will keep your fries or cauliflower from drying out too much and, of course, add some flavor.

Note that recipes will often recommend spraying breaded items with cooking spray, mostly so the food takes on nice color, but also to add a little moisture without the calories.

Do I need to clean my air fryer?

Sure do. At the very least, always give the basket a wipe down after use. It's likely that debris or oil was left behind, which will build up. Check underneath your basket as well; drippings will fall between the grates. Check out our step-by-step air fryer cleaning tutorial here.


Our Best Tips For Air Fryers

Give your food the room it needs

Like many cooking techniques, air-frying needs room to do its thing. Leave space in your basket so there's plenty of space for air to circulate around the food. Overcrowding will make your food take longer to cook and not as crispy.

Grease your basket

Dab a little oil on a paper towel and wipe it over the basket to help keep breaded items from sticking. Aerosol sprays aren't recommended directly on the baskets; they can cause the nonstick coating to peel off over time.

Avoid cooking super small items

Because of the intense heat and air that an air fryer uses, cutting foods too small can make them easily burn or fly around and get caught in the air fryer. Stick with average bite-sized cuts.

Make sure battered foods are as dry as possible

A lot of fried items have a wet coating that won't work well in air fryers; the batter will likely drip off before it cooks. We love panko bread crumbs for the air fryer. Panko provides a dehydrated surface to get nice and toasty in the hot air storm without turning sawdust-dry. (Bonus: It also acts as a barrier, preventing any leaking or dripping during the fry.)

Air fry your leftovers

Let's face it: The microwave usually zaps life—and crispy textures—from leftovers. The air fryer will revitalize leftover pizza or roast vegetables much quicker than the oven can.

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