9 Common Air Fryer Mistakes—And How to Avoid Them

Whether your results are soggy or you’re worried about safety, if you own an air-fryer, this is a must-read.

Red Digital Air Fryer with French Fries
Photo: Blaine Moats

In case you missed it, an air fryer is essentially a pint-sized convection oven. It heats up fast, crisps food beautifully, and can make quick work out of sweet and savory recipes…that is, if you steer clear of some common air fryer mistakes. 

Admittedly, we weren’t immediately sold on the necessity of air fryers. But we, and apparently a good chunk of Americans, have now become devoted to the countertop tool. According to some industry estimates, more than 36% of American households have an air fryer. These innovations are so impactful, they change the way we dine and cook and eat, and what we stock in our kitchens.

Common Air Fryer Mistakes

Keep your appliance in tip-top shape and score better results with your future air fryer recipe adventures by studying up up—and steering clear of—these air fryer mistakes.

Investing in the Incorrect Size and Style

If you’re researching a new air fryer or buying your first, be sure to think about how you’d like to use your air fryer, including your MVP recipe types and your crowd size. A new cooking tool will quickly gather dust if it doesn’t meet your needs. If you have a large family or plan to meal prep with your air fryer, seek out a large or extra-large model so you don’t have to make several batches. Before you click “order” or check out at the store, be sure to ponder the model style that matches your M.O., too. A basket air fryer has a smaller footprint and heats up faster, while an oven-style air fryer is larger, allows for easy sneak peeks of the recipe progress, and often come with more functions, such as rotisserie, broiling, and toasting. 

Skipping the Preheat

Similar to when you use your oven (okay, well, except for a handful of specific recipes like Cold Oven Chicken), you’ll want to build in time during the prep process to allow the appliance to heat up before adding the food. That way, the ingredients can start cooking immediately after you close the door. Preheating helps prevent soggy results, which can easily occur if a food sits in its own moisture as the temp rises to the occasion.

Attempting to Cook Food That’s Too Light or Too Small

The strength of the air fryer fan can blow around light-as-air foods like kale chips or flip open a quesadilla, sandwich, or wrap. Similarly, ingredients that are too small can slip through the slots or holes and land on the bottom of the appliance, or worse, the heating element. (The latter issue can lead to smoking and fumes.) To avoid all of these problems, tuck light items under an air fryer accessory like a heat-safe metal rack, use toothpicks to secure portions that may fly open, and use a parchment liner to secure any small bites—and make clean-up easier.

Related: How to Use an Air Fryer for Tasty, Crispy (And Healthy!) Foods

Overfilling the Basket or Tray

Just like stuffing a sheet pan full of vegetables will trigger steaming rather than roasting, jam-packing the air fryer basket or tray will lead to less-than-optimal results. Overfilling can cause sogginess, uneven cooking, or much longer cooking times. To avoid this air fryer mistake, cook your recipe in two or more batches if needed to allow for breathing room between pieces.

Setting and Forgetting

Your slow cooker and air fryer might sit next to each other on the counter, but you can’t cook with them in the same hands-off way. One of the most common air fryer mistakes we hear about from readers is that they close the door and leave the food alone until the cook time is complete. Nearly all air fryer recipes benefit from flipping or shaking the food halfway through the cook time. Be sure to read your air fryer recipe instructions closely to determine the best point(s) in the cooking time to rotate your ingredients.

Allowing Wet or Fatty Foods to Drip on the Metal

Extra moisture (say, from a marinade) and fat (like what might drip off bacon) can trigger splattering, smoking, and likely, strong smells. Avoid cooking foods with high fat content, such as sausage, bacon, and marbled-meat burgers in an air fryer, and pat drippy foods, like wet marinated-meats, dry with paper towels before placing it on the tray or in the basket. The drier a food is when you begin to fry it, the crispier it will turn out. 

Rushing Through the Cleaning

Cleaning your air fryer thoroughly will help it last longer, perform better, and cook more safely. Excess build up of grime, grit, or residue can present a risk for kitchen fires. To clean your air fryer:

  • Unplug the appliance and allow it to cool.
  • Take out the basket, tray, and/or pan.
  • Hand wash the parts in warm, soapy water (or pop them in the dishwasher if your manual notes the pieces as dishwasher-safe).
  • Use a damp cloth or sponge to wipe the interior and exterior.
  • Check the heating element for any residue, and wipe down if needed.
  • Dry each piece and reassemble the air fryer.

Thinking Options End at Snack Foods

French fries and chicken wings are only the beginning. One of the biggest air fryer mistakes is not using it enough! Keep the multitasking tool handy for air-fryer seafood entrées like “seared” scallops and salmon burgers and air-fryer desserts including cookies and hand pies. Then come holiday time, free up oven space and round out your menu with air-fryer Thanksgiving recipes for all the menu classics (even dressing/stuffing!).

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