9 things I’ve learned since buying an air fryer

An air fryer in a kitchen
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The air fryer has quickly become a must-have kitchen gadget for anyone who likes to cook. Using just a heating element and a fan, the best air fryers use intense dry heat to cook foods at high temperatures in relatively short periods. While a traditional oven spreads heat slowly inside its cooking chamber, an air fryer uses a fan to blast that heat across the food in a much shorter time. 

When we first brought an air fryer into our kitchen, I was apprehensive and confused. The single basket, multiple settings and unfamiliar cooking speed made me apprehensive to push the limits of what it could do. But after spending time with it and even concocting a few recipes, I’ve come to realize just how practical it can be. So here are a few tips for new air fryer owners to get the most out of their machines. 

1. Not an oil fryer

An open air fryer basket containing French fries

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An air fryer works quite differently from your traditional oil fryer and gives you a wildly different result. A traditional fryer drenches your food in oil and saturated fats, creating a crispier but less nutritious end product, while an air fryer only uses a small fraction of that oil just on the surface. 

No matter how much you cook, you’ll never be able to get the same results from an air fryer that you would from a grease trap and you’ll have to adjust your recipes accordingly. Additionally, due to the inherent nature of an air fryer you can't use a wet batter to coat your food like you can in an oil fryer. The batter just ends up on the bottom of your basket. This is one of the 9 things you should never put in an air fryer.

2. It can’t make a good Bloomin' Onion 

A Blooming onion

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When I first got my hands on our air fryer, my mind immediately went to the Outback Steakhouse classic Bloomin’ Onion. The idea of getting a crispy, delicious breaded onion snack that used less oil was immediately appealing and just made sense on paper. But after hours of experimentation, setting adjustments and wasted onions, I finally realized that it just doesn’t work. 

The final product is absolutely edible but an outback dupe it is not. The air fryer is great at reheating pre-frozen foods or crisping up small bites, but it just doesn’t have the power needed to make a restaurant-quality prop food. I wasn’t the only one who came to that conclusion, YouTuber Pro Home Cooks also gave it a shot to the same disappointing results. 

3. You might need a larger basket

Ninja DZ090 Foodi 6 Quart 5-in-1 DualZone 2-Basket Air Fryer

(Image credit: Amazon/Ninja)

Some air fryers, like our best air fryer winner from Cosori, use a basket that you can place your food into for cooking. That basket is perfect for small meals for one or two people, but past that, it can be difficult to manage. 

I use a single-basket air fryer and find myself having to cook larger meals in batches, which can be a hassle. For families, you may need to cook in multiple batches if the air fryer is all you have. If you see yourself needing larger amounts, it’s best to get one of the best toaster ovens with an air fryer function, like the Cuisinart Air Fryer Toaster Oven, or two baskets, like the Ninja Foodi 2 Basket Air Fryer, which gives you more room to cook with.  

4. Cleaning is a must

Washing an air fryer basket

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When we first started using our air fryer, we didn’t clean it after each use, which we quickly learned wasn’t smart. A basket air fryer can collect food residue and grime fairly quickly, which can easily turn into a health hazard. 

So it's important after every use to clean your equipment, even if it doesn’t look dirty, with soap and warm water. Larger convection oven options don’t need a full scrub down, but the trays you use should receive washes fairly often. Here's how to clean an air fryer for guidance. 

5. Super simple to use

An air fryer basket emptying out potato wedges

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An air fryer is an amazing kitchen tool because of how utterly simple it is. All you have to do is place what you want cooked inside, maybe flip it halfway through, and let the machine do the work. 

I’ve found it’s utterly amazing with frozen foods like chicken nuggets or French fries, giving them a nice golden crisp without a ton of effort. When using your air fryer with your favorite frozen meals, test out the settings and temperatures to give you your favorite result. Just try not to overcomplicate things and let the fryer do most of the heavy lifting. 

6. Extreme versatility 

Pork belly in an air fryer basket

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With some trial and error, you can come up with absolutely immaculate recipes that would impress even your most culinary-inclined friends. From eggs to cookies, the air fryer can cook almost anything. 

I managed to cook a pork belly, which is notoriously difficult to do, keeping the skin super crispy while still moist on the inside.  Getting that perfect balance in a traditional oven requires more steps and takes much longer. 

For more inspiration, we've found 7 foods you never knew you could cook in an air fryer.

7. Slow down there

A kitchen timer

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While cooking in an air fryer is faster than other methods since it does heat up quickly, it might still be slower than you think. 

When I first got a hold of my air fryer, I thought I’d be making chicken wings from scratch in five minutes, but the cooking process quickly humbled me. Our wings, for instance, ended up taking 20 minutes to cook, needing a flip halfway through.  

8. They need space 

An air fryer on a kitchen counter

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My air fryer takes up more counter space than my four-slice toaster, which has become a problem in my already cramped city apartment. An air fryer isn’t just a monetary investment, it also needs space to use.  

Unless you have the counter space and plan on using your air fryer quite often, it might be best to invest in a smaller model, like the Dash Compact Air Fryer. But a smaller air fryer will have a smaller capacity, meaning you’ll have less room to cook.  

9. Have fun with it

A woman opening an air fryer in a kitchen

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The air fryer was at first daunting and seemed like a complicated piece of kitchen wizardry I’d never get a hold of. But after days of practice and learning what the optimal amount of oil was, we started having some real fun. 

Like most ways to cook, creativity trumps all and you’ll need to have fun with your air fryer to get the most out of it. Just like a normal oven, an air fryer may run slightly hotter or cooler than other models, so you’ll have to do some testing of your own to perfect your technique. It also helps having a cheat sheet to guide you along your culinary journey, like this Air Fryer Magnetic Cheat Sheet Set ($7, Amazon). That way you’re not stuck with just following recipes. Cooking can be a fun experience, so try not to get too lost in the details and you’ll have way more fun.  

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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.

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  • Wytchysue22
    Good article. I'm an air fryer convert. Originally had a smaller one but have invested in a two drawer fryer. I use it exclusively, haven't put the oven on in 18 months. It's so handy for someone cooking for one. I use silicone liners, cuts down on the cleaning and doesn't effect the food. It's also useful for anyone like myself who is less mobile.
    It does take some countertop space up but worth it for the convenience.