How to use an air fryer

Everything you need to know about your new favourite kitchen gadget

Xiaomi Mi Smart Air Fryer
(Image credit: Xiaomi)

The best air fryer will be your new best friend in the kitchen: I'm onto my second, because when I got my first one I hadn't already been bitten by the air frying bug so I went for small, cheap and cheerful. My current air fryer is still cheerful but while it isn't small and it wasn't exactly cheap it works in exactly the same way as any other air fryer, enabling you to get all the flavour of fried food without all the oil.

But how do you use an air fryer? That's not a stupid question, because the name here is deceptive: you don't fry anything at all. An air fryer is really a fan oven with superpowers, designed in such a way that the results are very close to frying without the unhealthy elements, without the smell and without the mess. They're a lot safer and a lot more predictable than deep frying too. 

Here's what I've learned about using an air fryer, in four easy, bite-size lessons.

1. Prepare your food properly

Air fryers are pretty intense, and that means they can dry out food if you don't take that into account. Chicken breasts are particularly prone to it, so it's a very good idea to brine them for a few hours in a salt and water mix: the results will be much more juicy.

For seasoning and coatings, air fryers are best with dry rubs: batters just fall off, so if you're craving tempura you'd better get your wok out. Things like cajun or jerk rubs work brilliantly though.

For foods such as chips, a little spray of cooking oil will help crisp them up.

2. Preheat the fryer

It can take a while for your air fryer to get hot enough to cook: like other forms of cooking you don't want to put the food in too early when the inside isn't hot enough. If your air fryer doesn't have its own preheat cycle it's just a matter of setting the right temperature and waiting for the ding or beep that tells you it's been reached. 

As a rule of thumb, take the normal cooking time and drop the temperature by 20 degrees C – so if you'd normally do oven chips at 200 degrees, do them at 180 in the air fryer. 

3. Watch your timing

It usually takes about 20% to 25% less time to air fry food than to oven bake it, so to take our chips again if the pack says 20 minutes then aim for about 15 or 16 minutes, giving the chips a good shake and an extra spray about halfway through. 

Air frying is more of an art than a science, though: cooking times will vary even with simple things like chips depending on how thick you cut them, how cramped the basket is (don't overcrowd it: the air can't circulate as well if you do and you'll get disappointing results) and whether you parboiled them in advance and if so, how long you did it for. There's quite a lot of trial and error involved here.

It's always better to aim low with your cooking times: you can't un-cook something you've accidentally overcooked.

4. Bring leftovers back to life

I feel this air fryer feature is often forgotten about: they are brilliant for reheating food, especially takeaway food such as pakoras, pizzas, battered chicken pieces and so on. The combination of high temperatures and efficient airflow makes reheating happen much faster, and it also helps to ensure that your salt and chilli chicken won't be teeth-breakingly dry the day after.

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)).