Just got an air fryer? Here's how to use it to get the best results

Frozen foods like mozzarella sticks, fries, chicken nuggets and vegetables are transformed in the air fryer.
By Vidya Rao

Air fryers are having more than just a moment — they are becoming a kitchen staple. The air fryer is essentially a countertop convection oven, which rapidly circulates hot air to get food crispy with minimal to no oil. There are a variety of models and sizes, and the magical appliance’s claim to fame is its ability to turn versions of guilty pleasure foods like Tater Tots and onion rings into crispy, better-than-takeout snacks without deep-frying. But there are a wide variety of foods that benefit from being cooked in an air fryer.

Kevin CurryGet The Recipe

Air-Fried Cauliflower Tots

Kevin Curry

Best foods to cook in your air fryer

Frozen foods like mozzarella sticks, fries, chicken nuggets and vegetables are transformed in the air fryer. Even homemade french fries are a breeze: Just slice potatoes into batons, rinse under water, toss in oil and seasoning and cook in the air fryer for 15 to 20 minutes. They turn out crispy without having to actually fry them.

Bacon is even easier. Add strips in a single layer in the basket and cook for 7 to 11 minutes, depending on the thickness and how crispy you want it. It’s faster than the oven, you avoid grease splattering from the skillet, and excess grease drains into the drawer so it’s a healthier option.

Just got an air fryer? Here's how to use it to get the best results

Everything from steak to baked goods and even whole chicken can be cooked in the air fryer. To really get adventurous with your air fryer, invest in some inserts that allow you to make cakes, muffins, skewers and even pizza.

It’s easier to list out what you can’t cook in the air fryer because this device is so versatile. Avoid foods with a wet batter like beer-battered shrimp — they end up sticking to the basket and causing a mess, and the texture comes out a bit gummy. Foods that are dredged and breaded, however, like chicken tenders or fish sticks, cook perfectly in the air fryer. Also, unless you’re making kale chips, avoid leafy greens in the air fryer — they don’t really benefit from this cooking method and can end up flying around the basket from the force of the air.

Panagiotis Kyriakos / Getty ImagesGet The Recipe

Air-Fried Cajun Sweet Potato Fries

Jernard Wells

Best practices for using your air fryer

If you’re new to the world of air-frying, well, you’re in for a treat. Here are some best practices for using your air fryer, which just might just change your life.

Place the air fryer on heat-safe surfaces. The air fryer unit gets really hot, so make sure you’re using it on a surface that can withstand the heat. Also, keep it several inches away from other appliances or kitchen items. Hot air blows out from the vent and, in my novice air-frying days, this is how I melted the outside of my coffee machine.

Jernard WellsGet The Recipe

Air-Fried Tipsy Tequila Wings

Jernard Wells

Preheat the air fryer. Just like your oven, you’ll want to preheat your air fryer before cooking; unlike the oven, it only takes a couple of minutes. This little extra step helps ensure whatever you’re cooking browns or crisps up nicely.

Get a spray bottle for oil. Depending on what you’re cooking, you may want to grease the bottom of the basket. You’ll end up wasting oil if you just pour it in the basket, as it will drain into the drawer and cause the unit to smoke. It’s not recommended to use the store-bought can of spray oil because the aerosols can damage the nonstick coating in the air fryer. Instead, buy a hand-pump spray bottle and fill it with oil. You can use it with other nonstick cookware, and it will help you overall cut down on the amount of oil you use.

Don’t overcrowd the basket. You want to get just a few extra fries in there — what’s the big deal, right? Well, you’ll end up with a pile of soggy potato mush that doesn’t live up to all the air-fryer hype you’ve heard about. Whatever you’re cooking, be it fries, vegetables or chicken, make sure you stick to a single layer in the basket; otherwise, the food will steam instead of getting crispy.

Shake the basket periodically while cooking. This will help the air fryer evenly cook smaller items that are inconvenient to turn individually, like fries, tots or broccoli.

Prevent smoke with water or bread. When cooking something fatty like bacon or burger patties, you may see smoke coming out of your air fryer as the grease that drips into the drawer overheats. To avoid this, you can add about 2 tablespoons of water to the drawer before you start cooking. This works well for foods like burger patties, but can make your bacon a tad less crispy, so as an alternative, you can also place a slice of bread in the drawer and it will absorb any grease drippings.

Pop the basket out of the drawer before dumping out the food on your plate. Otherwise, you’ll end up pouring any grease that’s collected in the drawer back on top of your food. It’s not cute. Just press the button on the handle and separate the basket from the drawer. Bonus tip: You can also save the grease and use it to make a flavorful pan sauce.

Clean both the basket and the drawer, every time. Keep the basket and drawer separated and wash each one thoroughly with soap and water. It’s tempting just to wipe out the basket and call it a day — trust me, I’ve been there. But crumbs and grease pile up and can affect the quality of your food going forward, so take the extra few minutes and wash out both.

Vidya Rao

Vidya Rao is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor focused on food, health & wellness and small businesses. She’s a journalism school and culinary school alum with a particular expertise in plant-based cooking.