6 things I wish I'd known before I bought an air fryer

The truth is out there about air fryers

Young man cooking with modern air fryer to cook healthy food without using oil at home in kitchen
(Image credit: Complexio/Getty)

The humble air fryer is currently the most desirable consumer item on the planet, except for maybe certain consoles. Air fryers have captured the zeitgeist and the hearts of TikTok people by being fast and easy to use, vaguely futuristic and affordable. They're energy efficient as well, which will only become more important as energy prices head to the Moon. 

T3's various air fryer experts – pre-eminent amongst them being me, obviously – have done enough air frying to to know what YOU need to know before buying one. We've made all the mistakes people make with air fryers, we've found ways that an air fryer is better than an oven, and we've got the best air fryer chips recipe. Now, we're able to share with you all the things we wish we knew before we bought an air fryer – or, more accurately, before air fryer manufacturers starting sending them to us in droves. 

1. Air fryers do not fry

Deep fried items

Deep fried foods: not like air fried ones

(Image credit: Pexels)

Do air fryers really fry? Hell no. I have no idea why they even got the name 'air fryer' in the first place. Air fryers bake and roast while blowing vapourised fat around with a fan. Exactly like a fan oven does, although the smaller cavity and more powerful fan does make it quicker and arguably more effective.

So while you can get delicious crispiness from an air fryer, you can't 'fry' anything in any meaningful sense. On the plus side, as a result of this non-frying, most air fryer recipes are a lot healthier than their deep fat fryer equivalents 

2. …But you do have to use oil with them

Other than when cooking chips, I usually use quite a lot of oil when air frying, despite what the instruction manuals say. Food just tastes nicer and cooks better with some fat involved. 

Sprayed oil is better than poured when it comes to air frying. However, one thing to be aware of here is that a lot of shop-bought oil sprays contain lecithin. Bizarrely, this does not interact well with non-stick surfaces at high temperatures, and turns into a weird gunk that is hard to remove and, paradoxically, rather sticky. 

I find this hasn't been a problem for me as I only spray the food, not the basket. However, I have heard some horror stories from people who are more liberal with their fatty spraying, so be aware. There's always the option of buying a reusable spray and filling it with standard-issue cooking oil with no lecithin added, of course.

4. You can do a lot more than just chips

An air fryer, as we have now established, is essentially a small fan oven and not a deep fat fryer that cooks with magic instead of lard. The great news about that is that it means it's a lot more versatile than many people think. You can bake, roast and reheat leftovers and whatever you do with it will be fast, energy-efficient and hopefully lip-smackingly delish

4. The air fryer parts you use most are easy to clean but the outer parts… not so much

Xiaomi Mi Smart Air Fryer

Simply place the basket in your very small dishwasher

(Image credit: Xiaomi)

We have a handy guide to how to clean an air fryer – it's easier than you probably think! That's true of the most important parts of the device, anyway. Alas, I have some concerns about cleaning the less glamorous but more essential parts of most air fryers. By this I mean the heating element, the fan, the bit the basket sits in, the various inexplicable nooks and crannies, etc. 

The low price and compact size of most air fryers, compared to standard ovens, doesn't fill me with huge optimism about their likely longevity. The fact that it's hard to de-gunk some of the most important parts of them is another warning sign. Not a red light perhaps, but certainly nudging into amber.

5. There's a war going on in the air fryer community! 

Tower T17021 Family Size Air Fryer on pink background

The classic air fryer shape

(Image credit: Tower)

Most people think an air fryer looks like the above. Strictly speaking, that is exactly what most of them do look like. However, there are a load of 'air fryers' that are actually multi-cookers which include an air frying function. Rob Clymo loves his Tefal Actifry Genius XL 2in1. I won't be parted from the multi-function monster that is the 15-in-1 Ninja Foodi SmartLid OL750UK. I think it's great that in one device I can do air frying and Instant Pot-style pressure cooking, not to mention slow cooking, steam roasting and… 11 other things that I admittedly don't really need to do. 

However, on the other side of the divide, air fryer fundamentalist Carrie Marshall regrets buying a multi-function device to replace her old air fryer, and swears the results from the specialised fryers are more crispy. I haven't asked Millie Fender what she thinks, but most of her 47-or-so air fryers seem to be the compact, air fry-only type.

6. Air fryers can be quite large

Ninja Foodi MAX SmartLid OL850UK

As you can see, this one is considerably larger than its owner's head

(Image credit: Ninja)

This is particularly true of the multi-function type, but even the 'just a frying basket in a box' type will take up quite a significant amount of your precious worktop space. The good news is that many an air fryer buyer finds they use their new machine all the time, and don't need to store it away, or resent the space it takes up. But if you think you'll only use it once or twice a week, be aware that it'll still be taking up quite a bit of your real estate on the days you're not using it.

I'm lucky in that my kitchen is huge, anyway. 

Duncan has been writing about tech for almost 15 years, during which time he has attended every event going, apart from Apple ones, as he mysteriously doesn't get invited to them. He has covered everything from smartphones to headphones, TV to AC and air fryers to the movies of James Bond and obscure anime. 

Duncan's current brief is everything to do with the home and kitchen, which is good because he is an excellent cook, if he says so himself. He also covers cycling and ebikes – like over-using italics, this is another passion of his. Duncan also edits T3's golf section because fuck it, someone has to. Dave Usher does all the real work on that bit, though. In his long and varied lifestyle-tech career he is one of the few people to have been a fitness editor despite being unfit and a cars editor for not one but two websites, despite being unable to drive. He also has about 400 vacuum cleaners, and is possibly the UK's leading expert on cordless vacuum cleaners, despite being decidedly messy. A cricket fan for over 30 years, he also recently become T3's cricket editor, writing about how to stream obscure T20 tournaments, and turning out some typically no-nonsense opinions on the world's top teams and players.

Before T3, Duncan was a music and film reviewer, worked for a magazine about gambling that employed a surprisingly large number of convicted criminals, and then a magazine called Bizarre that was essentially like a cross between Reddit and DeviantArt, before the invention of the internet. There was also a lengthy period where he essentially wrote all of T3 magazine every month for about 3 years. 

A broadcaster, raconteur and public speaker, Duncan used to be on telly loads, but an unfortunate incident put a stop to that, so he now largely contents himself with telling people, "I used to be on the TV, you know."