I review air fryers for a living and these are my golden rules for crisp and delicious cooking

I've made all the mistakes so you don't have to

How to use an air fryer
(Image credit: Philips)

If you’re looking for the best air fryer to buy it’s easy to be bamboozled by the sheer amount of range. Which one you plump for might be a budget thing, but some models also come with a dazzling array of features and functionality. This might leave you wondering just how many of them you’ll actually make use of.

Some air fryers almost do too much. If you’re just keen to get an air fryer to make chips then it might be worth sticking to a simplest-is-best strategy, and match that to the amount of cash you want to spend.

However, air fryers can do much more than cook chips if you’re prepared to give it a go. In fact, some of the more advanced machines, like the Philips Airfryer XXL, Tefal Actifry Genius XL 2in1 and Ninja Foodi 11-in-1 Smartlid models can tackle all manner of culinary challenges. And it’s a shame not to exploit all that potential if you’ve got an air fryer that’s got the specification to do much more than turn out crispy French fries ad infinitum.

When it comes to selecting the best air fryers for review and inclusion in our buying guide we frequently do start out by cooking a batch of chips. It’s a great benchmark, that’s for sure. And, as we all know, air frying food can be healthier, so producing chips that have minimal oil on show, while still remaining crispy is a great way to see if the appliance is up to snuff.

It is possible to make a hash-up of air frying chips and just about anything else actually though. I should know. Having tested countless air fryers, I’ve had my fair share of kitchen-based disasters.

What that means for you though is that I’ve made all the air fryer mistakes, meaning you shouldn’t have to. Read on for some top tips on getting the best from any air fryer, from budget to premium.

Purchase wisely

Philips Airfryer XXL

(Image credit: Philips)

Make your way directly to our best air fryer buying guide. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to buying an air fryer with models to suit all budgets. However, choose the best one you can afford because it’s worth spending a little more, especially if you’re looking to cook more than just chips. 

Premium models can cook just about any kind of dish, and in some cases almost end up replacing your regular oven such is their usefulness. 

Remember to think about the capacity too. If you’re eating solo, it’s no biggie, but if you’ve got a family, you’re going to need a larger model. Some have twin baskets or separate cooking levels, so you can heat more than one thing at a time. Shop around and see what’s on offer.

Oil is good

Cosori VeSync Pro Smart Air Fryer

(Image credit: Cosori)

Everybody bangs on about how little oil an air fryer needs to get the job done. Little wonder, considering the product name suggests it can somehow 'fry' using only 'air' – a nonsensical idea, unfortunately. 

In our experience, we always find we want to have some oil present. Air fryers can tend to make food a little dryer than normal frying, which can be a good thing if we're talking chicken wings, for instance. But if you want a little bit of oil to take that edge off then adding a small amount, like a teaspoon’s worth, will deliver more pleasing results. 

Since spooning small amounts of oil evenly over food is really rather hard, our favourite approach is a light squirt of an oil spray. Your choices with spray oil used to be boring and cheap sunflower oil and very little else, but you can get olive oil, rapeseed and all sorts now. You could even look into buying a reusable spray gun and using an oil you actually like and trust. Because turning oil into a fine mist via a tiny nozzle is actually rather hard, we have yet to find a reusable oil sprayer that we recommend, but we'll let you know when we do…

Wet and dry

Tefal Actifry Genius XL 2in1

(Image credit: Tefal)

Not all air fryers can handle wet or moist foodstuffs, though some like the Tefal Actifry Genius can. You can even do curries and what not in one of those and, because it has a revolving paddle, dishes like casseroles and other runny meals can be produced with ease. 

It’s a point worth thinking about if you’d like an appliance that can cut down on your kitchen workload. Alternatively, a machine like the Ninja Foodi 11-in-1 Smartlid or one of the best Instant Pot units are other options worth considering.

Get it hot

Xiaomi Mi Smart Air Fryer

(Image credit: Xiaomi)

First up, if you bother to read the manual you’ll find that best practice is usually to preheat your air fryer before putting anything in it. This makes a lot of sense because it’ll be up to full operating potential when you do add the food. 

The advice is the same whatever it is you’re cooking and, in the case of air frying chips, the extra benefit of preheating the appliance will deliver better, crispier, Frenchier fries. An easy starting point. However, do read the manual, because some air fryers get up to temperature so fast, they don't even need preheating. Even those that do should take no more than a few minutes.  

Don’t be greedy

Instant Vortex Plus with ClearCook air fryer

(Image credit: Instant Brands)

The most common air fryer error is to pile too much food into your air fryer. Along with heat, and some oil, air fryers need to have some space going on inside the cooking area in order to get that hot air circulating properly. 

Most models have a fan that blows the hot air around, so not having any cavities in-between the food means it’ll be less well cooked and certainly nowhere near as crispy. So, either do smaller batches, eat less or buy a bigger air fryer but definitely preheat.

Give it a shake

Instant Vortex new air fryers 2022

(Image credit: Instant Brands)

A very simple secret to getting better air fried chips is to carefully remove the cooking container occasionally during the frying time. Then, give the contents a bit of a shake, or at least stir them around with something like a wooden spoon. 

This will result in more even cooking and a redistribution of any oil. Ultimately, this quick and easy manoeuvre will help to produce much more impressive results. It’s a tip that works for most other food stuffs too.

Don’t push your luck

Instant Vortex Plus 4-quart Air Fryer

(Image credit: Instant)

You can cook an awful lot of things in an air fryer. However, experience has taught us that adding lighter elements, such as seasoning and herbs can be disastrous. 

Having a fan blowing the heat around inside your air fryer is great for even circulation and more impressive cooking results. 

The downside is that it can blow loose elements, such as those seasoning and herb sprinklings all over the place. It’s messy and annoying, so avoid unless you're a, cough, seasoned pro.

Don’t be afraid

Ninja Foodi XL Air Fryer

(Image credit: Ninja)

Even the most basic of air fryers usually lets you cook other things than just chips. If you’re more adventurous you could even try baking something, just as long as you keep an eye on the heat settings. 

You’ll frequently find any included manuals will offer up tips and tricks for cooking other things, with chicken wings and spring rolls being obvious easy wins. 

However, with practice it is possible to cook almost anything in an air fryer including a whole roast chicken if you can fit one in. Check that manual for user safety tips first, mind.

Room to breathe

Cosori Smart Air Fryer XL

(Image credit: Lizzy Briskin)

Your air fryer will get very hot during use. So, we’ve found that it’s wise to put the appliance somewhere raised up and with the ability to suck in plenty of cooling air as needed. If you’ve got prized worktops or a pristine backsplash area it’s a good idea to pop your air fryer on something like a large wooden chopping board. 

Make sure it’s well away from combustible items, like curtains, blinds and other kitchen worktop bits and bobs, like boxes or packaging. The machine will work more efficiently too if it’s able to operate at the right temperature.

Get it hot (again)

Xiaomi Mi Smart Air Fryer

(Image credit: Xiaomi)

The humble air fryer is a brilliant invention, but these things can get mighty toasty. In that respect you’ll want to keep a firm eye on progress as it is possible to incinerate some foodstuffs. We should know. If you don’t manage to do that you may end up producing food that is rather more crisp, though still edible than anticipated. 

Most air fryers can have the temperature adjusted, but it’s still a good idea to track progress visually. That means getting up and having a look. Some models with apps discourage this common sense approach, but there’s no better way of checking your dinner than giving it a quick once over with you own eyes. Sounds obvious, but it’s true.

Scrub up

Dreo dishwasher safe

(Image credit: Dreo)

Granted, the air fryer is a revelation if you’re resolved to cleaning that manky old deep fat fryer you’ve been using for the last few years. Many air fryer models have dishwasher-friendly components even if the main unit can only be wiped down, rather than being immersed in water. 

Nevertheless, make sure you clean your air fryer each time you use it. There’s less oil in evidence, but the combination of high temperatures and crispy bits inside the unit can frequently take the edge off the taste during future frying sessions.

If there are removable seals, clean those after every 1-2 uses as well. As for cleaning the interior, please don't use harsh cleaning sprays. Your best bet is a stiff nylon brush and lightly soapy water or the type of vinegar spray you clean windows with. If you're clinically eccentric, you could mix up bicarbonate of soda and water, like all the cleaning blogs suggest. However, do you know why nobody sells premixed bicarb and water? It's because it's a crap way of cleaning things that aren't frying pans.

Our favourite air fryer deals  

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Ninja Foodi MAX SmartLid OL750UK was £269, now £229 at Amazon (opens in new tab)
At £40 off this monster, 7.5-litre, 15-in-1 multi cooker gets a relatively small price cut but it's arguably the best such cooker you can get, so it's still worthy of consideration. This one out-Instant Pots Instant Pot by incorporating an air fryer without the need to change the lid. The 15 cooking modes include a brilliant steam roast setting as well as the usual pressure cook/slow cook/sear/ etc. A temperature probe makes cooking meat and fish all but foolproof.

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Tefal ActiFry Genius XL 2in1 was £284, now £215 at Amazon (opens in new tab)
Will you look at the size of this big mother. As you can see, and tell from the name, this lets you cook too things at once, so you can do the chips in the lower compartment while you air fry chicken above. The Tefal times it to perfection and stirs your food as it cooks.

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Philips Essential XL Air Fryer Now £229 (opens in new tab)
A firm favourite with many, especially as this is an 'extra large' air fryer. Rapid Air Technology gives healthy and delicious results, with an emphasis on crispiness. The 7-litre capacity is enough for 'up to 5 meal portions or 1.2 kg of fries' and you could cram a chicken in as well, should the mood take you. Fuel for all the family.

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Tower 10-in-1 Air Fryer Xpress Pro Combo was £139.99, now £129.95 at Amazon (opens in new tab)
Not just an air fryer this one. It’s actually better at roasting, grilling and producing deliciously sizzling kebabs than air frying chips. It’s fast and efficient, good for warming pizzas and handy for baking too. However, where this appliance really excels is on the rotisserie front.

…And some chosen by our deals bots

Rob Clymo has been a tech journalist for more years than he can actually remember, having started out in the wacky world of print magazines before discovering the power of the internet. Since he's been all-digital he has run the Innovation channel during a few years at Microsoft as well as turning out regular news, reviews, features and other content for the likes of TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Guide, Fit&Well, Gizmodo, Shortlist, Automotive Interiors World, Automotive Testing Technology International, Future of Transportation and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. In the rare moments he's not working he's usually out and about on one of numerous e-bikes in his collection.