I've been air-frying my food for years — these are my top 5 tips

A white air fryer with the basket opened by hand on a table with surrounding ingredients, including eggs and oil
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Today's best air fryers can cook a variety of dishes from crispy fries to gooey cheesecakes. They use far less oil than a traditional fryer and are as easy to use as a microwave. I’ve been using an air fryer as my primary appliance since the category exploded in popularity back 2017. Since then I’ve become a seasoned enthusiast who has used a variety of these gadgets to make everything from moist salmon to tender wagyu steaks. 

Over the years I’ve learned how to get the most out of any air fryer. Although each model cooks at different power levels and layouts can vary, the tips below are universal. Read on to see how you can achieve delicious results and cut down on cleanup times. 

Avoid using aerosol sprays

Air frying requires much less oil than traditional frying. If you need to apply a coating, then a light spritz or brush directly onto the food itself is the way to properly achieve crispy textures. Aerosol sprays degrade non-stick surfaces over time because they burn at lower temperatures and damage the coating. Avoid them if you want your air fryer to last for the long haul.

Use a smart meat thermometer

Govee Meat Thermometer

(Image credit: Govee)

When cooking raw proteins such as steak, I probe the thickest cut of meat with this Govee meat thermometer ($25, Amazon) and then drop it into the basket. This thermometer’s wire is thin enough to allow the air fryer door to close and sends live updates to my phone. I set my target temperature to five degrees below my desired doneness level to compensate for carryover cooking once I take the meat out. There are so many variables to account for in each meal from differences in meat size to the range of energy an air fryer can output. A thermometer ensures the perfect doneness every time so there’s no guesswork on whether or not I'm going to under or overcook the dish. Check out our picks for the best meat thermometers for other options. 

Keep a journal to dial in your dishes

I keep an active note going on my iPhone to record cook times, temperatures, and overall results of recipes that I follow on my air fryer. You can fine-tune your timing and ingredients if you feel like the dish is missing something. And if you’re happy with how something came out you can simply write down the steps to replicate it for next time. Not all air fryers emit the same power levels, so you'll need to adjust recipe cook times to suit your specific model.

Don't overcrowd the basket

It can be tempting to stuff multiple chicken wings or filets into your air fryer’s basket to cook more food in a shorter amount of time. Don’t do this. Your proteins and sides need enough space to circulate hot air around them for an even and thorough cook. Clog up the basket and you’ll run into issues with color and crispness. Instead, arrange your food in a single layer, and cook it in batches. 

Air Fryer With Foil Placed Down For Chicken

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Keep it clean

When you finish cooking it is important to regularly clean your air fryer for hygienic and performance purposes. Simply wipe it down with a damp cloth once it cools and remember to check corners and the top of the fryer where oils tend to splash and gum up. Before you start cooking you can lay down aluminum foil to capture crumbed or sticky food residues to make cleanup much easier down the line. Just be careful not to cover the element or fan as this will affect airflow. Check out our air fryer cleaning tips to make sure yours continues to work as well as the day you bought it.

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Hunter Fenollol
Senior Editor, Smart Home

Hunter Fenollol is a Senior Editor for Tom’s Guide. He specializes in smart home gadgets and appliances. Prior to joining the team, Hunter reviewed computers, wearables, and mixed reality gear for publications that include CNN Underscored, Popular Mechanics, and Laptop Magazine. When he’s not testing out the latest cooking gadgets, you can likely find him playing a round of golf or out with friends feeding his paycheck to a QuickHit slot machine. Hunter started his career as an intern at Tom’s Guide back in 2019 while in college. He graduated from Long Island University Post with a degree in Communications and minor in Advertising. He has been vlogging ever since the iPhone 4 took front-facing cameras mainstream.