13 Tips You Need When Cooking With An Air Fryer

A few years ago, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the whole air fryer thing was just a trend, a passing fad that would come and go like so many other kitchen appliances that are loved and then discarded as soon as the next best thing comes along. But now, it seems clear: Air fryers aren't going anywhere. They're a great alternative not just to frying but also to baking, roasting, and microwaving. Plus, they're small enough that even those with tiny kitchens can reasonably keep them on hand for whenever they need to cook up that package of frozen French fries or transform boring Brussels sprouts into the best side dish ever.

But unless you know what to do with an air fryer, it can be easy to mess things up and end up with a less-than-delicious meal or even a huge mess that takes some serious time to clean up. Clearly, you want to avoid that, and you want to make sure every air fryer meal you prepare comes out cooked to perfection, right?

We've gathered some of the most useful tips and tricks you need to ensure that your air fried food comes out perfectly every time. Follow these simple guidelines, and you'll see why so many home cooks can't stop raving about their air fryers.

Choose the right air fryer for your cooking needs

Before you even get to cooking, you need to make sure you pick out an air fryer that meets your specific needs. That's right — not every air fryer is created equally, and different brands and models offer different benefits and present different drawbacks. For example, you'll want to think about how many people you're cooking for on a regular basis and how much room you have on your kitchen counter. If you live alone in a big city and don't have much counter space, a small air fryer is going to be your best bet. But if you have a family of six and plan on cooking regular meals in your air fryer, a tiny machine just isn't going to cut it.

Perhaps the best way to choose the right air fryer is by reading reviews online and seeing what people have to say about the different models available. Ask your friends and family members about what they like and dislike about their own air fryers, and make your decision from there. Just keep in mind that a more expensive machine isn't always going to be better than the others available — really think about what you need and what any given air fryer can offer.

Preheat your air fryer

You already know what to do when you're working with an oven or frying your food in a pan on the stove. But when it comes to cooking with an air fryer, you may not be familiar with the steps you have to take before you actually start cooking. Something that surprises a lot of first-time air fryer users is the fact that you have to preheat your air fryer before you start cooking. But don't worry — this shouldn't take too much time. Insider notes that this process should only take about two to three minutes, so you can turn your air fryer on just before you're ready to start cooking.

Why is this necessary? Technically speaking, it won't completely ruin your food if you don't preheat your air fryer. However, you're going to cut down on your cook time a lot if you remember to take this step. Preheating means that your food will cook much faster than it would if you didn't. And don't we all want dinner on the table faster?

Don't put too much in your air fryer basket

Maybe you have a small air fryer that you usually just use for yourself but you want to cook a big batch of whatever you're making for friends who are coming over to visit. Or maybe you're just making more food than you normally do in your air fryer. Whatever the case may be, you may be tempted to fill your air fryer's basket with as much as it can possibly hold so you can get cooking and start eating faster. But we're here to tell you that overcrowding your air fryer basket it almost always a bad idea, especially if you're going for that crispy, crunchy texture that air fryers are famous for.

That's why Cooking Light says it's so important not to add too much to the basket at once. If you do, your food is likely to steam instead of "frying." That will leave you with soggy vegetables and protein that's missing that lovely browning you're used to when you put less food in the basket. Have a big batch of food you need to cook? Your best bet is to fry it in batches. It may take longer this way, but the results will be well worth it.

Use foil for easier cleanup

Some people think that using an air fryer means that you don't have to use any oil at all, but that's not usually the case. Instead, you'll just be using less oil than you otherwise might. And that oil combined with the juices, marinades, and seasonings from your food can make a big, big mess in your air fryer. And since it's important to clean your air fryer after every use, it can start to seem like a huge chore just to use the air fryer you love so much.

However, one tip from BuzzFeed can save you tons of time and hassle: Use foil. Lining the bottom of your air fryer's basket with foil means you have to worry less about cleanup. This is especially useful when you're cooking something that has plenty of sauce or spices that would otherwise drip and fly around the machine. And if you don't have foil, parchment paper can also work in a pinch. Just keep in mind that the food you're cooking needs to be heavy enough to hold the paper or the foil down so it doesn't blow around in the machine once you turn it on.

Use your air fryer to reheat leftovers

You know the drill: You go out to a nice restaurant and are served a huge portion. You eat a lot of it at the restaurant, but there's no way you're going to finish it in one sitting. So, you ask for a box and take it home. However, once you heat it up in the microwave the next day (or, let's be honest, later that night), you realize that all of those delicious flavors have changed. There's no more of that crispness the dishes once had, and you're left with a sogginess that's just not appetizing. It's happened to all of us, and it's a huge bummer, especially after you dole out so much cash for a nice meal.

Well, if you have an air fryer, you're in luck because a lot of leftovers taste amazing once you put them in the air fryer. Those soggy fries suddenly become crisp and fresh-tasting again, and the fried chicken that's gotten cold and sad in the fridge is given new life after a few minutes in the air fryer. Of course, your air fryer isn't ideal for all of your leftovers — that leftover ceviche, for instance, probably isn't a good fit — but it can easily transform a lot of foods even after they've been sitting in the fridge for a day or two.

Use the drippings in the air fryer drawer

At Tasting Table, we think it's important to reduce food waste as much as possible. The USDA says that about 30% to 40% of the food supply in the U.S. is wasted. That is literally tons of food that nobody, not even animals, will ever eat. Obviously, this is a huge flaw in the food system, but it's not just big businesses and corporations that play a part. A lot of that wasted food comes from our own fridges, freezers, and pantries. If you want to save money and reduce waste, then finding new ways to use existing ingredients is your best bet. Luckily, an air fryer can help you do just that.

You know how when you cook something full of fat, the drippings collect in the bottom of your air fryer? If you're like most people, you just throw that stuff away. However, those drippings are full of flavor, and they can be used to make gravies and sauces, according to BuzzFeed. The next time you cook bacon or something fatty, make sure to save those drippings so you can use them to make your next meal even more delicious.

Open the basket to check how your food is coming along

If you're used to cooking in the oven, then you know that constantly opening the door to check on your food is generally a bad idea. It can extend your cook time or even lead to undercooked food if you don't pay careful attention to how quickly your dish is cooking. However, when you're dealing with an air fryer, you won't really have the same problem. Opening your air fryer while it's on is totally fine, per Allrecipes, and it won't affect the cooking process (unless, you know, you leave it open for minutes at a time).

Not only is it okay to open the basket from time to time, but we actually encourage it. It allows you to see how much longer your food needs to cook, and it's a great opportunity to add more ingredients, like sauce, oil, or spices. And since cooking with an air fryer can be more forgiving, it's great for home cooks who are just learning how to cook their food to perfection.

Add oil to your food halfway through the cooking process

One of the things we love most about using an air fryer is the fact that you can use a lot less oil than you otherwise would. However, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't use any at all when you're cooking with your air fryer. Oil can make your air-fried food crispier and overall more enjoyable, but you don't have to use a lot of it when you choose this cooking method. In fact, using a spray bottle of olive oil (or whatever other oil you're using) is a great way to ensure that you use just the right amount.

Of course, you should apply the oil to your food before you start cooking, but Insider tells us that it's also a good idea to add a few extra spritzes of oil halfway through the process of cooking. That adds an extra crispness to your meal, and it also helps cut back on sticking. And since it's okay to open your air fryer from time to time to see how your food is coming, it's not hard to add a spritz or two while you're at it.

Use a meat thermometer

When it comes to cooking veggies or pre-cooked frozen items in your air fryer, you can pretty much tell when your food is done just by looking at it. But when it comes to meat? You have to be a little more careful to make sure everything is cooked through. This can be especially tricky if you're not used to using an air fryer. Keep the meat in the air fryer for too long, and you'll end up with a tough, overcooked piece of meat. On the other hand, if you don't cook it for long enough, you could end up with undercooked meat, which can pose all kinds of health problems you should clearly avoid.

So, just what are you supposed to do to make sure that your meat is cooked to perfection in your air fryer? We suggest investing in a meat thermometer. You can find a good meat thermometer for a reasonable price, and it ensures that you're never over- or under-cooking your meat. Plus, it's not just useful for air-frying — you can also use your meat thermometer when you're baking, roasting, or grilling as well. It's a simple tool that can make a big difference in your kitchen, especially when you're just getting started with your air fryer.

Keep your air fryer close to heat-resistant materials

Pretty much any cooker you use is going to get hot. Like really, really hot. This isn't a problem when it comes to your stove or your oven because these appliances are already designed for safety in the kitchen. But when it comes to your air fryer, you need to be a bit more careful to make sure that heat isn't going to cause problems in your home. That's why Today recommends keeping your air fryer away from anything that can burn or melt and instead placing it near materials that are heat-resistant.

Make sure that your air fryer is placed on a surface that's heat-resistant, like a marble countertop. And try to make sure that the vent isn't blowing onto anything that can burn or melt, like plastic. Generally, air fryers are safe to use in your home, but you should pay careful attention to make sure yours doesn't heat anything it's not supposed to be heating.

Place meat in a single layer

Cooking meat in your air fryer is a great idea. It's easy to get brown, crisp edges that make even the most mediocre cut taste amazing. However, it's also easy to get things wrong and end up with meat that's less than appetizing. This all comes back to our previous tip of trying not to overcrowd your air fryer's basket too much. This one is all about the meat, though: It's important to place meat in a single layer in your air fryer, says BuzzFeed.

If you decide to stack pieces of meat on top of each other, they'll still cook, but instead of getting nice and crispy, they'll end up soggy and bland. This does mean that cooking big batches of meat can take longer in the air fryer than it would in the oven, but we think it's worth the extra cook time to get them nice and crispy.

Keep shaking the fryer basket

While it is possible to make mistakes with your air fryer, it's generally a pretty easy appliance to use. One of the few issues that can come up is uneven cooking. The parts of your food that are exposed to all that moving air will get nicely browned and crisped, but if you have pieces that are touching each other, those parts may not get the love they deserve. That's why it's important to keep moving the fryer basket around, per Insider. This ensures that every part of the food you're cooking gets cooked evenly, leaving you with crispy edges all around.

Of course, you don't have to shake the basket constantly. Just do it a few times during the cooking process, and you'll be good to go. And if you're cooking something that isn't amenable to shaking, like pork chops, for example, you can always just flip them halfway through the cooking process. Trust us — it's no more complicated than cooking on the stove or in the oven.

Add water to the air fryer drawer to reduce smoking

If you're like many air fryer users, you'll notice an issue when you're cooking foods that are high in fat: The air fryer starts smoking like crazy, and you don't know how to fix it. One way to prevent this is by cleaning your air fryer regularly (which you should be doing anyway). However, if you're cooking something like bacon that's naturally very fatty, you could experience this smoking problem even if your air fryer is as clean as can be.

Allrecipes offers a simple solution for this issue: Just add a thin layer of water to the drawer that's beneath the fryer's basket. This will ensure that the fat doesn't start to smoke during the cooking process. You can add this thin layer of water even if you've already started cooking — just pull out the drawer and add that water in. Who would've guessed this common problem had such a simple solution?