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Air fry like a pro with these 10 hot tips for cooking and cleaning

The fried-and-tested tricks every air fryer owner should know.

air fryer with chips navy background
Last updated: 26 October 2022

We've tested a lot of air fryers over the years and what we've discovered is that despite their tantalising name, they don't actually 'fry' at all. 

An air fryer functions exactly like a small fan-forced oven, circulating hot, dry air to cook crispy food. It's faster to heat up than an oven and uses little to no oil, making it a healthier way to 'fry' food too. 

The results can be mixed (an oven often gives a better finish), but the convenient appliance has gained huge popularity and a legion of adoring fans online.

choice tester fiona mair with two air fryers tested

Our resident high fryer Fiona Mair.

Our in-house kitchen expert Fiona Mair has been testing and rating air fryers for years, reviewing models from brands such as Philips, Tefal, DeLonghi, Healthy Choice, Kmart and more. 

To give new owners a red-hot start, we got her pro tips for mastering an air-fried meal. 

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 Fiona, 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 agrees 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.

Cut a zucchini (or another vegetable like pumpkin) 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.

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.