Need to know
- Air fryers are essentially small benchtop fan-forced ovens – they're ideal 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, Aldi, Kogan and DeLonghi. We score them on aspects such as how well they cook chicken nuggets and roast pork, and how easy they are to use – reviews are available exclusively for CHOICE members
Has any other kitchen appliance achieved cult status in recent years quite like the air fryer? Judging by the number of viral recipes online, it seems people can't get enough of the supposed wonder machine.
But are you using yours correctly… or even cooking the right food in it?
Contrary to popular belief, there's more than meets the eye to airfrying. We chatted to CHOICE's home economist Fiona Mair to find out the most common air fryer mistakes to help you right the wrongs.
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. Using wet, loose batters
Newsflash: your air fryer isn't a deep fryer. If you place ingredients covered in a runny batter into it, the coating will slip through the basket... or off your food altogether.
"Batter needs to set immediately, which is why it won't work well in an air fryer," says Fiona. "Stick to precooked crumbed and battered foods instead as the coating will stay on much better than fresh versions."
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.
"If you make chips regularly, you might want to leave it out permanently," advises Fiona. "Just be aware that top-opening models could be out of the running if you have restricted space above the kitchen bench."
10. Having unrealistic expectations
Lastly, even though air fryers have their benefits, they're not miracle-workers. Bear in mind they can't cook absolutely everything, you can't leave food unattended, and they can't handle a household worth of food.
And – steel yourself – some foods are simply designed to be fried the old-fashioned way, in a pan or deep fryer.