Faster than an oven and using less oil than a deep-fat fryer, an air fryer is a brilliant way to get crispy food in a healthier way. As they cook in a slightly different way to other devices, it can take a while to get used to an air fryer, so you’re in the right place for advice.
From setting it up, to pre-heating, shaking, using oil, cleaning and more, you’ll be a veritable Professor of Air Fryology in no time. Before we dive in though, it’s worth covering the basics. Like what exactly is an air fryer?
In short, air fryers are a much healthier alternative to traditional deep fat fryers. Rather than using vast amounts of oil or fat to cook and crisp up food, air fryers use hot air. Like small but powerful ovens, they can produce everything from crispy chicken wings to perfectly cooked vegetables, chips, and even roast entire chickens.
While the results are a little different from frying something in a vat of hot oil, they’re still comparable, and much, much healthier. And with thousands of air fryer recipes available, you can make everything from starters to dessert, and everything in between.
So with the scene set, here’s everything you need to know.
What we used
These steps should apply to practically all makes of air fryer, specifically the ones with built-in baskets (as opposed to multifunctional electric ovens with built-in air fryer smarts). We used Cosori’s Premium 5.5-litre air fryer for this article but you can find other options in our guide to the best air fryers.
The short version
- Find a suitable spot
- Clean parts (if brand new)
- Add oil
- Fill the drawer
- Set timer, cook, and shake
- Safely remove cooked food
- Clean up
Find a suitable spot
The first thing you’ll want to do if you’re setting up your air fryer for the first time, is to find a convenient and safe space in your kitchen. Ideally, you’ll want to leave a generous gap between any walls and corners (at least 5-to-8 inches).
Other things that might affect where you place an air fryer is how far away they are from things, such as TVs and where children are doing their homework, as they can get quite loud. If your kitchen is more on the cosy side then there’ll be no escaping the racket, but the end results are worth it.
Oh, and as with most cooking appliances, make sure it’s placed out of reach from tiny hands, as some parts, like the back, can get quite hot.
If you’ve unpacked a brand new air fryer, you’ll want to wash removable pieces like the basket, rack and drawer. Popping it on for ten minutes or so might also be advised by some manufacturers to get rid of any box-fresh plastic smells. Fear not, for these will fade after a few uses.
Just like with ovens, you’ll find different opinions on whether you need to preheat an air fryer before cooking. We recommend it, as there’s no harm in doing so, and you’ll get more consistent results.
Some air fryers like those from Cosori and Ninja have a dedicated preheat function, while others can just be turned on for 3-5 minutes to reach the desired temperature. Check the recipe instructions you’re using for the best results, and leave the basket in the fryer as it heats up for maximum effect.
As a general rule, you’ll want to reduce the air fryer’s temperature by 20-30ºC if you’re reading the standard oven instructions. Cooking time should also be reduced by around 20%. The main thing is to check as you cook, and stop the air fryer early if your food is done.
You don’t necessarily need oil for a lot of frozen food, such as chips and fish fingers, but fresh ingredients, such as homemade chips and sausages will need some, and some foods will benefit from a bit of oil. It’s worth experimenting as you cook to see what gives you the best results. The benefit of an air fryer is that you need a lot less than with other cooking methods.
Often a tablespoon of oil will suffice, ensuring food remains moist and crispy as it cooks. You shouldn’t need more than three tablespoons of oil for food that needs it, such as chips. It’s best to coat the food directly rather than pouring oil into the air fryer itself, as you get more reliable, even results. If you’re using a spray oil, make sure it doesn’t contain soy lecithin, as that can be difficult to clean, and even damage the air fryer’s non-stick surface.
Unless otherwise stated in recipes, such as for chips, you should always cook most food in a single layer. If things are bunched up, the hot air won’t have as much room to circulate, and results will be sub-par, or even part-raw. It takes some getting used to, but it’s worth doing properly.
Set timer, cook, and shake
If you haven’t already set a timer based on your recipe, do it now, and pop your food-laden drawer/basket into your airfryer. Once cooking has started, it’s generally a good idea to occasionally remove the drawer and shake things around.
If you’re cooking small ingredients, then one shake is probably enough, but if you’ve got a bunch of fries or a full basket, you’ll want to do this step more regularly. This process ensures an even crispy finish across everything, instead of a mixture of overdone/underdone items. The shaking process also lets you visually keep an eye on how brown/crispy your food’s getting, letting you know the perfect time to stop.
Remove cooked food
It’s never a good idea to pour out a basket of hot fried food with potential puddles of searing-hot oil splashing around. Invest in a pair of silicone tongs, slotted spoons or skimmers to easily remove cooked items without scratching and damaging the internal non-stick surface.
Always clean up after your air fryer has cooled down. Baskets and drawers can be soaked, and most can be popped into the dishwasher, though it’s always best to check with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Other internal areas should remain relatively clean, but it’s still worth wiping down with water/gentle non-abrasive cleaning solutions to keep things looking fresh. The same applies for the outside too.
Generally, you should reduce the recommended fan cooking temperature by 20C to 30C, and the cooking time by around 20%.
Some air fryers can go up to 220C or 240C. With these cooking modes, you can cook faster and get crispier results for some foods. Hash browns, for example, do well if cooked fast at a higher temperature: we find 12 minutes at 240C is spot-on.
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