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How to use an air fryer: 10 expert tips for beginners

Are you the proud new owner of an air fryer? Make sure you're following these simple steps for air fryer success.

air fryer with chips navy background
Last updated: 05 January 2024

Whether you scored a discounted air fryer in the Boxing Day sales, or you unwrapped one on Christmas morning, you're probably keen to get cooking.

But before you start throwing things in, it's worth doing a little reading to make sure you're getting the best results out of your new appliance.

So here's everything you need to know to air fry like a pro. 

How to use an air fryer: Getting started

Ready to take your air fryer on its maiden voyage? Here are the basic steps to cooking your first meal.

1. Set it up

Remove all packaging and place your air fryer on a flat, clean surface (preferably your kitchen bench). Ensure there is plenty of space around the sides – your appliance's instruction manual will likely give you an idea of how much space your air fryer needs around it to operate safely. You may like to place your air fryer on a silicone trivet or heat resistant board or mat to protect your kitchen bench surface and avoid any heat damage – wooden, marble or quartz countertops may be vulnerable.

2. Prepare your food

This will obviously vary depending on exactly what you're planning to cook. If you're cooking fresh food like homemade chips or chicken wings, pat it dry before coating in a small amount of oil. Generally, you'll need up to one tablespoon of oil per one kilogram of fresh food. For example, if you're cooking a kilogram of chicken wings, pat them dry, toss the wings in a tablespoon of oil (and seasonings of your choice) before adding them to the fryer. If you're cooking frozen pre-made foods, you don't need to add any oil at all – they can be added directly into the air fryer. 

3. Choose your setting

Refer to your manual to decide which setting to use as the options will vary from one model to the next. 

4. Shake

Unless the model you have is self-stirring or has a rotating basket, you will need to remove the cooking drawer and give it a shake at least once during the cooking time (read more on this below).

5. Enjoy

Once the cooking time has finished, simply remove your food and enjoy. Remember to clean it thoroughly after every use, this will help your appliance operate effectively and will likely extend its lifespan.

choice tester fiona mair with two air fryers tested

Our resident high fryer Fiona Mair.

Expert tips to get the best results 

1. Add an extra shake

Most air fryer models will advise you to remove the cooking basket and give it a shake once or twice during the cooking process. But according to our air fryer expert Fiona Mair, you should always add an extra shake. 

"Definitely shake it more than advised if you want crispy, evenly browned results," she says. 

2. Lay down foil for crumbed foods

If your air fryer has a wire rack rather than a solid base, Fiona advises laying down a layer of foil or a specifically designed air fryer liner before cooking crumbed or sticky foods. This will ensure the coating isn't rubbed off during the shaking process and it makes cleaning easier too. 

Just make sure the foil doesn't completely cover the base of the basket – you want the air to flow from under the basket as well. Also, don't let the foil come up over the food near the element and fan.

3. Skip the preheat (except for meat)

One of the main advantages of an air fryer is that you don't need to wait for it to heat up before placing your food inside. 

Fiona says you can skip the preheating process for items such as crumbed foods and chips, but she says you'll get better results on cuts of uncrumbed meat if you let your air fryer heat up for five minutes or so before adding them to the cooking tray.

chicken wings in an air fryer

For uncrumbed meats, let the air fryer preheat for five minutes for better results.

4. Add water to the drawer when cooking fatty foods

"When you're cooking high-fat foods like chicken wings or bacon, grease can drip down into the tray causing mess and smells," says Fiona. 

She suggests adding a small amount of water to the base of the drawer (if the design allows) before cooking to stop the fat from smoking. Or using a liner specifically designed for air frying to prevent the mess. 

5. Avoid the dishwasher

Most air fryer manufacturers claim their baskets and other parts are dishwasher-friendly, but Fiona says you're better off washing them by hand. 

"Putting them in the dishwasher will end up damaging the non-stick surface quite quickly, and hand washing is quick and easy anyway," she says.

reheated pizza in an air fryer

Use your air fryer rather than a microwave to avoid soggy reheated pizza.

6. Use it to reheat leftovers

Ditch the microwave and use your air fryer to quickly reheat small portions while retaining texture and flavour. One CHOICE Community member uses an air fryer to reheat roast vegies, and Fiona recommends using it for pizza slices.

"A microwave will leave your leftover pizza soggy and unappetising – an air fryer will give you crispy, fresh-tasting leftovers in just a few minutes," she says.

7. Make healthy vegie chips

Your air fryer can make more than just standard frozen fries. Fiona says you can also use it to make your own vegie chips from scratch which can help add a little variety to your dinners or help you turn over a healthier new leaf. 

Cut a zucchini (or another vegetable such as pumpkin or sweet potato) into wedges, coat it with a mix of flour, egg, parmesan and breadcrumbs. Then place in a foil-lined air fryer for crisp, homemade vegie chips. 

Air fryer kale chips are also easy to make as well as being tasty and nutritious for all the family. Just roughly tear the washed and dried leaves, lightly coat with oil and a bit of salt then spread in a single layer in your air fryer basket and cook for about 4–5 minutes until crispy.

8. Roast nuts or chickpeas

According to Fiona, an air fryer is ideal for roasting nuts or chickpeas. 

"Nuts require frequent shaking and constant monitoring to avoid overcooking so they're much easier to cook in an air fryer than an oven," she says.

Over on CHOICE Community, one member recommends using an air fryer to freshen up nuts that are past their best, adding olive oil and salt or herbs for flavour.

roasted chickpeas fried in an air fryer

An air fryer is ideal for roasting nuts or chickpeas.

9. Don't overfill it

Although they can look big on the outside, Fiona says air fryers often have a surprisingly small internal capacity. 

"Follow the guidelines on cooking capacity, because if you overfill it you won't get good results," she says.

She recommends buying a larger, family-sized model if you're planning to cook for more than one or two people.

10. Wipe it out – every time

Cleaning up after a meal is always a bit of a pain, but it's worth taking an extra minute to wipe down the internal cavity of your air fryer after every use. 

"If you don't clean it regularly unpleasant odours and extra smoking can occur when you cook," says Fiona. "Just wait until it's cooled down and give it a quick wipe with a damp cloth."

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.