Need to know
- Air fryers are essentially small benchtop fan-forced ovens – depending on which size you buy, they're useful for people who want to cook fairly small amounts of food in a shorter time
- CHOICE experts say there are a few tricks to getting the best out of your air fryer
- Our experts review popular air fryers from brands such as Philips, Kmart, Breville, Kogan and DeLonghi. Reviews are available exclusively to CHOICE members
Has any other kitchen appliance achieved cult status in recent years quite like the air fryer? Judging by the number of recipes online, air-fryer-dedicated cookbooks and accessories, and the new brands entering the market, it seems people can't get enough of this handy kitchen helper.
But are you using your air fryer correctly, to ensure you're getting the most out of the appliance? We chatted to CHOICE's home economist and resident air fryer expert Fiona Mair to find out the most common air fryer mistakes to help you right any fry fails.
1. Skipping the preheat with fresh foods
Always preheat your airfyer before cooking fresh produce.
When cooking foods that aren't already precooked, such as meats, fish, vegetables or potatoes, preheating ensures you don't end up with soggy grub and – gasp! – food disappointment.
"It's important to preheat your air fryer when cooking these types of foods so it's the correct temperature at the start," says Fiona. "That way, food starts to cook and crisp immediately."
2. Trying to cook food in a wet batter
Remember, your air fryer isn't a deep fryer. If you place ingredients covered in a wet batter into it (such as, if you wanted to make tempura), the coating will slip through the basket, causing a mess and some disappointing cooking results. The food won't set the way it does when it's submerged in oil, meaning it won't have that crisp, crunchy coating.
You can now buy many different types of air fryer liners to help limit crumbs or cooking fats dripping down into your air fryer so these can be a clever option when cooking messier foods (see point 5, below, about cleaning your air fryer properly!).
3. Overfilling the basket
If you've (hopefully) learned anything from COVID-19, it's how to socially distance. Same goes for your air fryer – crowding and overfilling it is a no-no.
Ensuring ingredients have space allows air to efficiently circulate, resulting in crispy, rather than steamed, food.
"Overfilling the basket causes uneven cooking and browning, as well as uncooked soggy areas," warns Fiona. "It also limits the shaking process during cooking. Overcome this by cooking in batches."
4. Not shaking things up
Shake your fries during the cooking process to ensure an even cook.
Using an air fryer isn't as simple as switch on, walk away. Fiona says turning larger items such as schnitzel or fish, or a swift shake of smaller-sized food such as chips, is key to getting golden, evenly cooked creations.
"Some air fryers have a programmed setting that beeps to remind you to shake the food," she explains. "If not, you'll need to set a timer for every five minutes."
5. Not cleaning it properly
For best results, keep your air fryer clean. Why? Because any rogue residue or crumbs can burn the next time you use it, and leftover oil can smoke. That's going to impact your food's flavour, stink out your kitchen and perhaps pose a fire hazard.
"After each use, clean around the fan and wipe inside the unit with a microfibre cloth," advises Fiona.
Doing this while it's still warm makes cleaning easier, too. Don't forget to check the manual to see whether accessories are dishwasher-safe or need to be washed by hand.
6. Not giving the appliance proper space
Since air fryers are essentially small versions of wall ovens in fan-forced mode, they require space and ventilation during use. "Always allow airflow around your appliance – never put it into a cavity," says Fiona.
Air fryers should also be positioned on a stable, heatproof surface when in use, so keep an eye on your benchtop to prevent potential damage. "You may want to invest in a heatproof board the air fryer can sit on," she adds.
7. Adding oil when it's not needed
Air fryers promise tasty 'fried' foods without the oil – especially for precooked items. "Any packaged frozen foods such as chips, chicken or fish don't require oil as it's already in the coatings," says Fiona.
For fresh ingredients though, like homemade chips or meat, a little oil can encourage browning.
"Use an oil spray so you get a light amount – the purpose is to reduce the amount of oil you'd use when frying," she adds.
As a guideline, you'll only need up to one tablespoon of oil for one kilogram of fresh food.
8. Not patting food dry
Pat meat dry to stop it from steaming rather than air frying.
Moisture is your biggest enemy when it comes to air frying, says Fiona. "Any moisture left on the food will cause it to steam and reduce the crispness of the food," she says.
To encourage browning and crisping, pat dry anything unbreaded before cooking, such as meat, vegetables or fish.
9. Hiding it in a cupboard
Storing your air fryer in your kitchen cabinet means added faff to get it out and put it away each time. More faff equals less chance of using it – not exactly good bang for your buck.
"To get the most out of your air fryer, you might want to leave it out permanently," advises Fiona. "This of course depends on you having the space on your kitchen counter, particularly given air fryers can be quite large, bulky appliances (you may not even have room in your cupboard, so keep that in mind before you buy!).
"And be aware that top-opening models could be out of the running if you have restricted space above the kitchen bench."
10. Buying the wrong-size air fryer
In our latest testing, CHOICE experts found that air fryers are getting bigger, which although may present challenges for storage, it also means you can cook a greater amount of food in them.
"In air fryers that have drawers, we have seen an increase in the basket capacity for many models, which is perfect for larger families or when you want to cook a greater amount of food," says Fiona.
"These larger-capacity baskets can accommodate something as large as a 2kg roast meat joint or a kilo of chips."
Carefully consider the ideal capacity for you before you buy – too big and it'll be impossible to store, but too small and you'll be forever cooking food in multiple batches
Carefully consider the ideal capacity for you before you buy – too big and it'll be impossible to store, but too small and you'll be forever cooking food in multiple batches.
"Larger families will benefit from a drawer airfryer that has a 5-litre capacity or more. If you are wanting to use the airfryer for baking cakes and cookies, then look for a larger capacity drawer," she says.
But be wary of claimed capacity
Take the manufacturer's claimed measurements with a grain of salt as the claimed capacity or volume can be misleading.
Some manufacturers measure the whole space inside the air fryer rather than the actual useable capacity. For example a lid-opening airfryer that states it has a 10-litre capacity may only accommodate 500g of chips in the roller basket accessory.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.