3 things I wish I'd known before buying an air fryer

I love my air fryer, but there are a few things I wish I'd known much sooner

Xiaomi Mi Smart Air Fryer
(Image credit: Xiaomi)

I'm an air fryer evangelist. The best air fryers are genuine game changers, delivering guilt-free fried food that's just as tasty as traditionally fried food but with a fraction of the oil and in a fraction of the time. You can cook all kinds of things in them, although if I'm honest I'm more likely to do thick cut chips or spindly French fries in mine than anything particularly exciting.

But that's okay: gadgets don't have to be glamorous to be great, and as a busy parent my air fryer saves me tons of time and enables me to give the kids the food they crave without any of the guilt.

But all air fryers aren't the same, and in the last few years I've discovered a few issues that you might want to think about before you invest in one for yourself. Don't get me wrong, I really think you should get one. But I also really think you need to get the right one, and that means knowing a few things first. Like these three things in particular.

1. It's not a fryer

This is a basic but important thing: an air fryer isn't a fryer. It's a convection oven with a ruddy great fan in it. That means you can't do certain fried foods, such as tempura: anything that's battered, rather than rubbed or breadcrumbed, will lose most of its coating long before it's cooked. And if you put it on the air fryer's mesh tray, the batter will stick to that so hard you'll need dynamite to shift it later.

2. Some of them are a real pain to clean

Air fryers come in all shapes and sizes, and depending on what model you get they can be hard to clean. My first air fryer was a Philips one that looked like a motorcycle helmet, and while the basket insert was dishwasher safe the drawer it sat in – the bit where all the gunk accumulates and finds ways to bond to the surface like someone put down superglue – wasn't. 

My current one is a multi-function oven, and while that doesn't have the same problem it introduces new ones: the glass door gets just as dirty and is as difficult to clean as any conventional oven – unlike the best ovens there's no such thing as a self-cleaning air fryer – and the interior gets just as grubby with burnt-on food too. 

3. Appearances can be deceptive

My first air fryer was like a reverse Tardis: it was massive on the outside and only had room for two small chicken breasts inside. That's a common problem for the helmet-shaped models, which is why their manufacturers tend to offer additional models with labels such as XL, XXL or Actually Big Enough For Your Dinner. If you look at our best air fryer guide, you'll see that the ones topping our list are the bigger models.

No matter what shape of air fryer you buy, make sure you check two kinds of dimensions: the basket width, so you know how much you can cook at once, and the exterior dimensions. Some fryers are much bigger in real life than they look in pictures – I thought mine was the size of a microwave, but it's more like a small shed – and no matter what one you get, it needs to have space around it for air to circulate. How much space and where that space needs to be will depend on its shape, size and design: my one ventilates out of both sides while some others pull in air at the back and let steam out of the top.

It's particularly important to check the dimensions if air frying is an "also does" rather than your device's core function. For example, you can buy an Instant Pot that also doubles as an air fryer – but that means swapping the normal lid for one that's an inch taller, and the manufacturer also states that there should be at least five inches of space all around the fryer when it's being used. Given that the Instant Pot is already quite a hefty thing, that means you'll need to make quite a lot of room if you go for that option.

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written thirteen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote another seven books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com (opens in new tab)).