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The top 10 air fryer mistakes and how to avoid them

Air frying can save time – and the food can be tasty – but if you’re making these common mistakes you might not be getting the best results.

using an air fryer at home
Last updated: 27 March 2024

Need to know

  • Air fryers are essentially small benchtop fan-forced ovens. Their popularity In Australia has continued to grow due to their versatility and ability to cook crispy foods quickly with minimal preheat times
  • 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, Ninja 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 millions of recipes online, hundreds of cookbooks dedicated to this appliance, the abundance of accessories available, and the new brands entering the market, its popularity shows no sign of waning.

But if you're making these common mistakes you won't be getting the most from your air fryer and you might think all the hype is nothing but hot air.

We chatted to CHOICE's home economist and resident air fryer expert Fiona Mair to find the most common air fryer mistakes and how to avoid them.

Mistake 1. Skipping the preheat with fresh foods

pre heating an airfryer for seafood

Always preheat your airfyer before cooking fresh produce.

Most people know that air fryers are great for heating pre-cooked foods, but if you're cooking fresh fare such as meats, fish, vegetables or potatoes, preheating ensures you don't end up with a soggy, disappointing result.

"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."

Mistake 2. Trying to cook food in a wet batter 

This mistake is a consequence of calling what is essentially a small oven a "fryer". Unlike a conventional deep fryer, your air fryer won't handle wet batters (like tempura) and putting these foods in your air fryer can have disastrous consequences. Far from the crisp crunchy coating you'll get from deep frying, the coating will simply slip through the basket and you'll end up with a disappointing mess.  

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!).

Mistake 3. Overfilling the basket

If you need to cook up a big batch of chips, you might think filling the air fryer basket to capacity will mean you get to dig into those crunchy treats as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, less is more when it comes to getting the result you want and overfilling is a big 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."

Mistake 4. Not shaking things up

shaking fries in the air fryer

Shake your fries during the cooking process to ensure an even cook.

Air fryers often promise an easier cooking experience than traditional cooking methods, but it isn't a case of just switching it on and walking away. 

Fiona says turning larger items such as schnitzel or fish and giving smaller-sized food such as chips a swift shake 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 to remind you to shake the basket every five minutes."

Mistake 5. Not cleaning it properly

For some reason, many air fryer owners think their appliance doesn't need to be cleaned after every use and this can create some quite serious problems. Residue or crumbs can burn the next time you use it and leftover oil can smoke. That's going to affect your food's flavour, stink out your kitchen and it could even 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 the accessories are dishwasher-safe or need to be washed by hand.

Mistake 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.

Mistake 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.

Mistake 8. Not patting food dry

patting food dry before air frying

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.

Mistake 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.

Mistake 10. Buying the wrong-size air fryer

In our latest testing, CHOICE experts found that air fryers are getting bigger, and while that may present challenges for storage, it also means you can cook big quantities in fewer batches. 

"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 air fryer 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 air fryer that states it has a 10-litre capacity may only accommodate 500g of chips in the roller basket accessory.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.