Just how many mistakes is it possible to make with air fryers? Alas, the answer is 'all too many' or, for the purposes of this article, '10'. Air fryers are miracles of modern technology that are quick, energy-efficient, relatively compact and even healthy if you use a minimal amount of fat with them. However, air fryers also require you to learn new cooking techniques, and be a little careful with how you use and maintain them. That's where the mistakes come in. Luckily, we have made all of them over the last few years, so now you don't have to.
Air fryers have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and now everyone either wants one, or has bought one. I am not going to lie: I was extremely sceptical about air fryers, not least because I tried some of the very early ones and they were, frankly, rubbish. However, I'm a convert ever since I acquired my faithful Ninja Foodi Max SmartLid – easily the best air fryer for my purposes, since it doubles as a multi-cooker and claims to serve up no fewer than 15 cooking settings in total.
Everybody makes mistakes; even me. If you've recently purchased a new air fryer, these are the mistakes you are probably making. So stop making them, already!
1. Buying a crap air fryer
If you are intending to use your air fryer as your main oven, don't fall at the first hurdle by buying a cheapo one. There are some good, affordable air fryers for those who only intend to air fry infrequently but if you want quality results on a daily basis, you really should get a top quality air fryer.
This need not involve spending huge amounts of money, as even the absolute top-of-the-range models from Ninja, Philips, Tefal et al are generally around the £250/$250/AU$350 mark. Case in point: the Ninja SmartLid machine that I use, and which features more bells and whistles than you can shake an air fried drumstick at. Thanks to its 'smart lid', the SmartLid does all the same things as an Instant Pot-style multi-cooker as well, so you're effectively getting two of the most sought-after cooking devices of the past 5 years, for the price of one.
2. Overloading your air fryer
An air fryer is essentially a small fan oven. The thing that makes it worth using instead of your actual fan oven is that its compact size and usually, much more powerful fan can give cooking results that you would struggle to get from a standard cooker. That's because the food is blasted with hot air, which cooks quickly, evenly and, most important, 'crispily', if that is a term.
However, an air fryer can only do that to best effect if the hot air is able to move around, over and – in most cases – under the food it's cooking. If you overload the cooking basket in your air fryer you might as well just shove it in a roasting tin in your big oven. That's especially true if you also fail to turn and/or shake it during cooking. So do that, too.
If your air fryer has shelves or multiple baskets, make use of them to space out your food as much as possible. Clearly if you're cooking something like chips or fries, it's not usually practical to space them out individually, unless your family only likes 2-3 chips each with dinner. But leave some space at the top of the cooking basket/s and give them a shake or two during the cooking time, so they get the chance to cook through properly, for maximum taste n' crisp.
While you're shaking your chips, you could also give them a bonus spray of cooking oil too, which brings me to the next terrible error people make with their air fryers…
3. Not using oil in your air fryer
Do air fryers really fry? No, of course not. There is a Big Lie – or, more charitably, a misunderstanding – at the heart of the air fryer industry, and it is the idea that you really can 'fry' food using 'air'. Clearly you cannot. So while you could cook with a tiny amount of oil as recommended – we call this 'baking' where I'm from – I generally use quite a lot of oil, although nowhere near as much as when I'm roasting in an oven, or doing actual frying in a frying pan or deep fat fryer.
Fat is essential for flavour, crispiness and even cooking. Another benefit of oiling your food when air frying is that it makes it slightly sticky, which means salt, pepper, herbs and spices will adhere to it. In certain air fryers – again, particularly the cheaper ones – seasoning can otherwise be a bit of a nightmare, as it is immediately blasted off the food when the fan powers up.
4. Using the wrong kind of oil
It appears there is a problem with shop-bought oil sprays. That’s because of an additive called lecithin, which seems to leave a funky residue on non-stick surfaces. Carrie had a waffle pan destroyed by it, and the internet is full of people moaning about sticky deposits from low-calorie oil sprays.
Having said that, I just spray it on whatever I’m cooking, rather than the basket – which is already non-stick so it doesn’t really need oiling. So I haven't really experienced this problem myself, but it does seem to be a genuine problem.
Luckily there is an easy way around this, and it's to buy a reusable oil spray – Amazon has loads of them (opens in new tab) – and then fill it with your favourite, additive-free oil.
However, the smoke point of oil is also an important thing to bear in mind here. Some cooking oils will start to smoke and burn at the high temperatures that air fryers reach. As a result, you are better off with sunflower, rapeseed (canola) and peanut (groundnut) oil, rather than olive oil. Olive oil has a much lower smoke point, and hence may add an unpleasant burnt flavour to your air fried supper. There is also a certain amount of evidence that burnt oils in food can be bad for your long-term health. So keep your olive oil for use at the end of cooking instead. Or just rub it on your skin and roll around in salt.
5. Using fresh veggies instead of frozen
Frozen vegetables are brilliant in the air fryer. You don’t need to thaw them first, and they become wonderfully crisp as they cook without the sogginess you might expect. And unlike the fresh veg I’ve been getting from the supermarkets lately, frozen vegetables don’t turn to mush fifteen seconds after you get in from the shops so there’s less food waste too.
6. Forgetting to add water (or adding too much)
If you’re cooking greasy foods such as bacon in an air fryer with a basket – and you should, because the results are fantastic – grease will fall down and start smoking. All you need to do to reduce this is to put a small quantity of water, around 1 tablespoon, in the bottom. That makes the grease float on cooler water instead of landing on the hot surface.
7. Not checking your food during cooking
If you’re used to traditional ovens you’ll know the importance of not letting the heat out, but that doesn't apply here: with air frying the difference between beautifully crisp and burnt to a cinder can be a fairly short period of time. In addition to shaking the food about halfway through the cook, check it as you get closer to the end of the cooking time.
8. Not cleaning your air fryer
Read our handy guide: how to clean an air fryer. It tells you everything you need to know. One benefit of buying a more premium air fryer in the first place – see mistake #1, above – is that it will have better non-stick coatings, and will be easier to clean, particularly if you have a dishwasher as the key parts will usually all be dishwasher proof.
You need to clean the removable, cooking parts after every use. I don't know why some people seem to have a problem with this concept. Do they also re-use the same frying pan or saucepan from last night's dinner without cleaning it? If so, that is gross.
It's also advisable to regularly clean any silicone/rubber seals, and keep an eye out for anything burnt on to the cooking element. A small amount of food matter on the interior or element isn't a problem as it will be cremated the next time you fire up your fryer. However if more builds up, you have a potential fire hazard, and will also start to get unpleasant flavours and smells added to your painstakingly-constructed recipes.
Do NOT, however, try to clean air fryers with oven cleaner, bleach or anything else remotely abrasive. It will not end well for you. People always recommend bicarbonate of soda mixed with water for this sort of thing – hey, why not?
Truth be told, if you are consistently getting food burnt onto the parts of the oven that cannot be removed and cleaned, you are almost certainly overloading your air fryer. I refer you back to Air Fryer Mistake #2, there.
9. Forgetting that the air fryer can dry itself
Drying a freshly washed air fryer basket can be quite tricky, especially if there are lots of nooks and crannies in the main pan. The answer’s right there in front of you though: run the air fryer for a couple of minutes and it’ll dry – and sterilise – itself. Easy!
What you shouldn’t do, despite what TikTok might tell you, is attempt to clean your air fryer by filling it with water and then heating it up. It may or may not clean effectively, but it certainly won’t be good for it in the long term and it could electrocute you, catch fire and/or explode. And that will really ruin the dinner time vibe.
10. Not experimenting with your air fryer
The name 'air fryer' naturally makes most people think of chips, sausages, and other things you fry, but the best air fryers are actually extremely versatile. You can cook practically anything in an air fryer that you could cook in oven or pan, and they are also great for reheating leftovers.
The general advice for cooking something in an air fryer that you'd normally do in the oven is to reduce the temperature by 10-20ºC – this will vary, as all air fryers are different, but you'll soon get the hang of it with yours. You should also reduce the cooking time – according to T3's Carrie Marshall, by 20%.
There are much better things to do with air fryers than making chips and heating up ready meals. Meat and fish in particular loves to be air fried and surprisingly, that is true for expensive steak as well as affordable salmon fillets or chicken wings. Standard air fried chips are really no better (or worse) than oven chips so it would be foolhardy in the extreme to only use your air fryer for that. Although what you can do is read my best ever air fried chips recipe. More advanced practitioners can then move on to finding out how to cook steak in an air fryer, how to make the best air fried chicken ever and the rest of the best things to cook in an air fryer.
11. Experimenting too much with your air fryer
Social meejuh is packed with wacky air fryer recipes. They’re probably fun to do if you’re filming yourself and getting likes from pals. But they sound gross and the results invariably look gross. Even something reasonably innocuous like air fryer ‘boiled’ eggs comes out vaguely Satanic, let alone air fried cinnamon bagels with hot cream cheese and all that sorta thing.
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