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

Learn how to use this wildly popular countertop appliance, plus some of our best air-fryer recipes and product recommendations.

If you haven't jumped on the air fryer trend, the time is now. This handy kitchen tool can make foods perfectly crisp without the need for tons of oil; that alone is enough to try it for yourself. Delicious air-fryer recipes like air-fryer pickle chips are another good reason. 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 based on results in our test kitchen.

Red Digital Air Fryer
Blaine Moats

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, rather than using hot oil to fry your food, air fryers technically don't do any frying at all. Instead, the high heat (from a coil close to the food basket), combined with a fan that circulates the air evenly throughout the unit, creates a texture close to what you find in deep-fried foods.

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 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, 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 higher 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 Place in Basket

While we wish it were possible to fry without any oil, 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 coat it evenly, then add it to the air fryer basket. You can also utilize a nonstick cooking spray made with a healthier oil such as avocado oil ($5, Target) with a high smoke point. 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

Air Fryer Jalapeño Poppers
Caitlin Bensel

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 food high in fat, like chicken wings, you might also need to check the bottom tray a few times to empty any excess fat. Once the cooking time is up, remove the air fryer base and release the basket. Next, remove your food from the basket and let it cool for a few minutes before digging in.

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.
  • 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 other air fryer tools ($26, The Home Depot), such as elevated racks that let you cook an entire meal at once (think veggies on the bottom and meat on top).

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 what you want without breaking the bank. Here are a few of our Test Kitchen's top picks.

Now that you know how to use an air fryer don't limit yourself to just frying! Like your Instant Pot, this countertop appliance is very versatile, so put it to work. Your air fryer can cook almost anything you'd typically bake in the oven. That includes veggies, kabobs, and desserts (like chocolate chip cookies!).

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