Yes, you can make fried recipes healthier, and an air fryer is the ticket! If you’re new to this countertop appliance, we’ll teach you how to use an air fryer, share some of our best air fryer recipes, and offer a few product recommendations (we've tested quite a few). So go ahead, indulge in french fries and pickle chips made in the handy appliance.

By Andrea Beck
April 26, 2019
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

If you haven’t tried the air fryer trend yet, the time is now. This handy kitchen tool can make food perfectly crisp without frying it in tons of oil, and that alone is reason enough to try it for yourself. Tasty air fryer recipes like air fryer pickle chips are another good reason, too. Learn how to use an air fryer so you can start making healthier french fries, fried chicken, desserts, and more. And if you’re not sure which air fryer to buy, or what might work best for your family, we have a few suggestions.

1. Preheat the Air Fryer

Just like your oven, an air fryer needs time to preheat before it’s ready to start cooking. Most air fryers need only a few minutes to preheat, meaning your fryer should be ready after just five minutes or less. To preheat your fryer, set it to the temperature at which you'll be cooking (you might have a digital display or a dial to set the temperature). Some air fryers don’t require preheating, but it’ll probably take slightly longer for your food to finish cooking if you don’t preheat. When you're still learning how to cook with an air fryer, be sure to follow the instructions in your recipe for the proper temperature to use on your fryer.

2. Make Sure Your Food Is Dry

Especially if you’re frying a recipe with a marinade, make sure you pat your food dry before putting it in the fryer. The drier your food is when it goes in, the crispier it’ll be when it comes out. Extra liquid can also cause splattering and smoking, so even if you think your ingredients are dry, give them one last pat with a paper towel before adding them to the basket.

Air Fryer Safety Tip: Avoid cooking foods with high fat content, like bacon, in your air fryer. The excess fat can start smoking while you're cooking.

3. Add a Small Amount of Oil and Add to Basket

While we wish it were possible to fry without any oil at all, air fryers do need a little oil to make your food crispy—but you’ll use a lot less than a traditional fryer. Toss your food with a small amount of oil (around a tablespoon or less) to evenly coat it, then add it to the air fryer basket. Make sure you don’t overcrowd the basket with food—if you do, it won’t get crispy (and that’s the best part). It's better to cook in batches to ensure everything cooks evenly.

4. Fry and Stir

Set your food to cook for the time indicated in your recipe. Don’t go too far, though—most recipes call for stirring your food halfway through cooking or giving the basket a gentle shake halfway through. This will help everything cook evenly and get nice and crispy. If you’re cooking a food that’s high in fat, like chicken wings, you might also need to check the bottom tray a few times to empty out any excess fat. Once the cooking time is up, remove the air fryer base and release the basket. Remove your food from the basket and let it cool a few minutes before digging in.

How Does an Air Fryer Work?

While it might seem like magic, there's a simple explanation for how air fryers work. As you know, instead of using hot oil to fry your food, air fryers technically don't do any frying at all. Instead, they use high heat to bake your food, creating a crispy exterior and tender interior. The heat comes from a coil close to the food basket, and a fan circulates the air evenly throughout the fryer, which is how you end up with a crunchy coating all the way around.

Air Fryer Tips from Our Test Kitchen

Want to make the most of your air fryer? Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind each time you fire it up:

  • Make sure you clean your air fryer after every use. Most foods will probably leave behind at least a few crumbs or drops of oil, and you don’t want it sticking around in your fryer because it could start to smoke the next time you use it. And don’t forget to check the bottom tray for any extra oil; clean it out along with the basket.
  • Don’t limit yourself to just frying. Your air fryer can cook just about anything you’d normally bake in the oven. That includes veggies, kabobs, and desserts, too (like cinnamon rolls!). Like your Instant Pot, this countertop appliance is very versatile, so put it to work.
  • Try using air fryer inserts. You won’t be able to fit a whole cake pan in your air fryer, but if baking and making other nonfried recipes in the air fryer interest you, you can find plenty of pan inserts for baking and cooking. You can also find tools like elevated racks that let you cook an entire meal at once (like veggies on the bottom and meat on top).

Get the recipe: Air Fryer Scotch Eggs

Our Favorite Air Fryers

If you don’t already have an air fryer, you can be overwhelmed when taking in all the choices available. And how much is an air fryer, anyway? Trust us: You can still get exactly what you want without breaking the bank (some are under $50!). Here are a few of our top picks.

Image courtesy of Walmart.

Best Budget Find: Farberware 3.2-Quart Digital Air Fryer

If you want to give air frying a try but don’t want to commit to a pricey model, try this 3.2-quart digital Farberware air fryer. The basket is large enough to make a couple of servings of your recipe at a time, and the digital display makes it super easy to set your cook time and temperature. As an added bonus, the food basket is dishwasher-safe so you don’t have to worry about cleanup!

Buy It: Farberware 3.2-Quart Digital Oil-Less Fryer, $38, Walmart

Image courtesy of Amazon.

Popular on Amazon: GoWise 3.7-Quart Air Fryer

GoWise’s 3.7-quart air fryer is a little pricier, but it’s one of the most popular air fryers on the market. It has more than 1,400 five-star reviews on Amazon, and it includes a lot of presets to make your cooking even easier. You can choose options on the digital screen for fries, chicken, steak, fish, cake, and more (it has almost as many options as an Instant Pot). You can also find a lot of accessories online made specifically for GoWise air fryers, so you won’t have to search long to find a cake pan, grill pan, or nonstick liner that fits your fryer.

Buy It: GoWise 3.7-Quart Air Fryer, $64.98, Amazon

Image courtesy of Target.

Best for Families: NuWave 6-Quart Digital Air Fryer

You might have heard of a NuWave air fryer before because it’s a popular brand for this trendy kitchen tool. This 6-quart model is great for families because it has a larger fryer basket that fits enough servings for everyone at your table (no need to fry in batches). Six presets include chicken, steak, and fries, and the touch-control panel is simple to use. This model also includes a basket divider so you can fry a couple of different foods at once without needing extra accessories to keep them separated.

Buy It: NuWave 6-Quart Digital Air Fryer, $126.99, Target

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