7 dangerous mistakes to avoid when cooking in an air fryer

An air fryer on a kitchen counter
An air fryer on a kitchen counter (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The best air fryers can raise your cooking game, allowing you to make crispy, healthy foods in record time. Whether it’s a reheated chicken nugget or a gourmet chickpea, an air fryer offers a whole world of cooking possibilities. While cooking on an oven or stove can take hours of arduous labor, the ingenious design of an air fryer allows you to get everything done in record time.

Using fans to circulate heat around the inside area, an air fryer cooks food quickly while keeping it crispy and warm. There are multiple types of air fryers, but they mostly boil down to having a basket or swinging doors in front. They are one of the easiest cooking devices to understand and pick up, but there are still quite a few dangers when working with them. From melted plastic to potential house fires, here are seven dangerous habits to avoid when using an air fryer.

1. Burning food 

An open air fryer filled with food

An open air fryer filled with food (Image credit: Shutterstock)

When using an air fryer, you need to know how long it will take for your food to cook. Leaving it in for just a bit too long can cause it to start to get a bit too crispy or even burn. When your food burns, it can catch on fire especially if you are using a piece of parchment paper underneath. That chicken wing you left in for an extra 15 minutes can turn into a huge blaze very quickly, so it’s important to keep an eye on how long you’ve left your food in the air fryer.

Every food is different, and you should test out different recipes to find the perfect time for your specific model. But unless you are cooking a baked potato or chicken thighs, there’s no reason to leave any type of food in an air fryer for longer than 25 minutes. Even then, you should pause just to reorient your food in the tray by mixing it around. 

2. Leaving on the plastic 

A man putting a TV dinner into a microwave

A man putting a TV dinner into a microwave (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Air fryers are perfect for reheating a frozen meal you bought at the local grocery store. But in a rush, you might end up leaving it in the plastic container or with the packaging still on.  Unlike microwave or some oven foods, this is an absolute no-no and should never be done in an air fryer. 

For one thing, plastic can seep into your food and lead to health problems down the road. But in a more immediate problem, plastic can easily burn or catch fire, ruining your meal or burning down your home.

When cooking pre-packaged meals in an air fryer, you should always take it out of the packaging unless it’s been designed to go in. That small step can end up saving you a lot of time or even your life. 

3. Overcrowding the basket 

A chicken with potatoes in an air fryer basket

A chicken with potatoes in an air fryer basket (Image credit: Shutterstock)

When cooking in an air fryer, you want to make sure that the heat rotating inside can touch all of the areas of your food. It’s why you want to rotate your meal every once in a while while in the air fryer. But you should also make sure that you aren’t overcrowding the pan since it will keep anything you cook from reaching peak crispiness.

Each air fryer is different, but a good rule of thumb is to make sure that your pieces aren’t stacked on top of each other or clumped together. You might end up with fewer chicken nuggets or french fries in a single round, but those foods will taste a lot better when they aren’t soggy or drenched in oil from being overcrowded. 

4. Cleaning the basket 

An air fryer basket being rinsed with water

An air fryer basket being rinsed with water (Image credit: Shutterstock)

When you use a pot or pan, it’s common practice to wash it after each use to get all of the gunk and bacteria off. An air fryer should also be cleaned after every use, even if you don’t think it's necessary. Small crumbs can burn, become baked onto your food or catch fire. So when cooking with your air fryer, get into the habit of cleaning it, no matter what you are cooking.

To clean an air fryer, you should unplug it, take out all of the removable parts, and wash it with warm water and dish soap. Make sure to not use any material that’s too abrasive as it could end up taking off the non-stick coat. If there’s stuck-on or burnt food you can’t get off no matter how much you scrub, try leaving baking soda on the problematic areas and let it sit for 20 minutes. Just remember not to completely submerge the air fryer’s mechanical components in water as it will most likely not turn on again afterward. 

For more tips, here's how to clean an air fryer and get rid of baked-on grease.

5.You forget to preheat

The temperature on an air fryer being adjusted

The temperature on an air fryer being adjusted (Image credit: Future)

An air fryer might be a modern technological marvel but it still has a lot of the same hurdles a traditional oven has. No matter how fancy or expensive it is, your air fryer still needs time to heat up before you can put the food in the basket. Many models come with temperature gauges or displays so you’ll know when it’s hot enough to put food inside.

If you don’t wait for the device to heat up before you put your food in, you are at severe risk of ruining it or yourself. Food placed in while it’s heating up won’t cook properly, leaving it cold, uneven, or just plain gross. There can even be some potential health risks if food like chicken or steak is undercooked you can get very sick. So remember that patience is important in every facet of cooking. You don’t want to chop too fast or you might lose a finger and you don’t want to undercook your food or it could be worse. 

6. Not allowing space to vent 

A green air fryer on an open counter next to a plate of French fries

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Most air fryers use fans to spread heat around in a confined cooking space. But once that heat has done its job it needs to go somewhere which is why most models have vents. They can be located on the side, the back, or even the top and should never be completely closed off. 

To stop your air fryer from overheating, you need to give your air fryer some space away from a wall or other appliances.  If you don't, your air fryer can overheat and either stop working or at an extreme, catch on fire. 

7. Leaving your air fryer unattended 

A woman opening an air fryer in a kitchen

A woman opening an air fryer in a kitchen (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Like most kitchen appliances, an air fryer shouldn't be left unattended while turned on. Though it might seem easy to go to the other room or watch some television while your air fryer is cooking, your device could potentially malfunction or break leading to at best burnt food or at worse a burnt-down home. 

With children or pets around, that danger grows immensely since they can accidentally throw your air fryer on the ground or break it. 

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Steven Asarch

Steven Asarch is a writer and editor who lives on Twitch and YouTube. After graduating from Baruch College, he wrote for IBT Media,  Newsweek and Insider. In 2021, he executive produced the docu-series "Onision in Real Life" on Discovery +. As someone always looking to have the best smelling apartment possible, he's made it his mission to find the best air purifiers out there. His home has since become an air purifier haven, having stored and tested ten models for over three months. You could say he now knows everything there is to know about air purifiers, and what separates the good from the best.