Air Fryer Cooking for Beginners
Wondering how to use an air fryer? Here’s how to make the most of this trending kitchen appliance, with weeknight air fryer recipes to put on repeat.
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Air Fryer Flank Steak Fajitas. Article, recipes, and photographs by Ashley Strickland Freeman.
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As someone who has moved five times in the past 10 years, I’m often skeptical about adding new kitchen gadgets to our collection of stuff. Without fail, after every move we donated at least a boxful of things that were taking up space and never saw the light of day: a burger-maker we got as a wedding gift, a cracked hand-me-down ceramic crockpot insert from the 70s, three turkey basters, and a pile of random hand mixer beaters that might or might not fit our current hand mixer…to name a few.
Now that we are in our forever home, thankfully I have more storage space. However, I’m still wary of purchasing the latest trending countertop kitchen appliance. Will it just collect dust on the top shelf of my pantry?
For a while, I’ve seen the posts on social media about air fryers but never caved. Is air frying instead of deep frying really worth it? Well folks, I’m here to say yes. An air fryer is just as amazing as people say it is. Not only does the air fryer make deep-fried foods like french fries, chicken wings, and fried chicken extra crispy and golden brown, it’s also a great cooking method for veggies and salmon and even reheating pizza, with very little oil needed.
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Top tips for using an air fryer
I’m new to air frying, so I’m still learning how to take advantage of this super handy kitchen appliance. But I’m here to share the secrets I’ve learned so far. The following tips are great for beginners and experienced cooks alike.
1. Choose your air fryer wisely
The best types of air fryers, in my opinion, are those with a large surface area. So, wide air fryers versus tall ones. Why? Well, more surface area means you can cook more food at once while achieving a golden brown and extra crispy exterior. My favorite air fryer is a model like the Ninja, which has a large surface area (this one is also a multi-cooker and grills, roasts, and dehydrates, too).
2. Be sure to use the air fryer basket
The air fryer basket is an insert with little holes in it. I’m not a food scientist, but I’m pretty sure those little holes let the hot air circulate around the food and crisp it up to golden brown perfection. If you’re going for a healthier deep fryer-like result, then don’t forget to insert the air fryer basket.
3. Preheat the air fryer and basket before you cook
For the ultimate crispy texture, put the basket in place, then preheat the air fryer according to the directions for your fryer. My model sounds an alert once it’s reached the programmed temperature, and says “add food.” When you set the food in the hot basket and fryer, it will sizzle and essentially sear on the bottom.
4. Don’t overcrowd the air fryer basket
To prevent your food from steaming rather than getting nice and crispy, don’t be tempted to overcrowd the air fryer basket. Arrange your chicken wings, pork chops, etc. in a single layer and cook in multiple batches if necessary.
Extra Crispy Air Fryer Buffalo Wings, arranged in a single layer so they get golden brown
5. No peeking
It may be tempting to lift the air fryer lid and take a peek at the food inside, but try to avoid the urge if you can. Doing that makes the temperature inside drop and it may take longer for a crust to get golden brown.
Air fryer Q&A
Here are my answers to beginners’ top 10 air fryer questions.
1. What are the best types of air fryers?
There are so many models of air fryers available nowadays, from convection oven and toaster oven combos to stand-alone countertop air fryers. I personally prefer a stand-alone countertop model that can be stored away when not in use. My Ninja air fryer is wide as opposed to tall, so there’s more surface area to cook more food at one time.
2. How does an air fryer work?
Air fryers have a heating element in the top that pushes hot air down and around the food, like a convection oven. The hot air circulates and makes the food crispy and golden brown without deep-frying. This means you need only a little oil on the food for the same effect.
3. What amount of oil do you need?
Unlike deep-frying, where you may need several quarts of oil, all you really need to get an extra crispy “fried” result in an air fryer is a misting of nonstick cooking spray or a light coating of vegetable oil.
4. Do you need a special kind of oil?
For the best results, use oils with a high smoke point such as avocado oil or vegetable oil rather than olive oil.
5. What can you cook in an air fryer?
Pretty much everything! Traditionally deep-fried foods like fried chicken, chicken wings, chicken nuggets, and french fries are obvious choices, but you can also cook veggies like Brussels sprouts and even a baked potato in an air fryer.
6. How to preheat an air fryer?
Preheating an air fryer is easy. First insert the basket so it will heat up too. Then program the air fryer to the temperature and cooking time according to the recipe. Close the lid. The air fryer will alert you when it has come up to temperature. Open the lid and add your food — you should hear a sizzle.
7. How to convert cooking time for an air fryer?
All air frying recipes are different, but typically the rule of thumb is to reduce the temperature of a traditional baking recipe by 25°F for the air fryer. You’ll also want to reduce the cooking time by about 20%.
8. How to clean an air fryer?
Thankfully, air fryer baskets and air fryer trays generally have a nonstick coating, so cleanup is a breeze. For even easier cleanup, I like to line the bottom of the air fryer tray with aluminum foil.
9. Are air fryers inserts dishwasher-safe?
Generally, the air fryer basket and air fryer tray are both dishwasher-safe. Thanks to the nonstick coating, though, the air fryer inserts are easy to clean even by hand.
10. Can air fryers be used for reheating?
Absolutely! In fact, I’ve found that the air fryer is much better than the microwave at getting leftovers back to their crispy state — especially for pizza! Program the air fryer to 360° to 400°F and set the timer for 2 to 3 minutes. Add your food, and voila!
Best air fryer recipes
Now that you know a few of my air frying secrets, I hope you’ll try out some of the air fryer recipes I’ve created.
These party wings are tossed with a spice rub and a secret ingredient: baking powder. Along with the circulating hot air, the baking powder helps get the skin super crispy. The chicken wings are great plain or doused with the quick semi-homemade Buffalo sauce.
I grew up eating deep-fried “shake-and-bake”-style pork chops, so they’re a comfort food for me. With the air fryer, all you need is a spritz of cooking spray. I coat the pork chops in a mixture of panko breadcrumbs, lemon zest, Parmesan cheese, and parsley for a fresher approach than the chops I grew up eating.
The air fryer isn’t only for traditionally deep-fried foods. It’s also great for cooking salmon. The sweet and umami-packed glaze on this salmon caramelizes to a beautiful golden brown color thanks to the circulating hot air of the air fryer. Don’t forget to line the bottom of the pan with aluminum foil — it’ll make cleanup that much quicker.
I was skeptical about making fried chicken in an air fryer. Would the breading actually get crispy and golden brown without deep-frying? You bet! This healthier version of fried chicken legs made me a convert. I found that not flipping the chicken during air frying lets the breading stick better, so don’t be tempted to mess with it as it cooks. Feel free to try the recipe with chicken breasts or chicken thighs instead of drumsticks, too. Thighs take about the same amount of time as chicken drumsticks and breasts take a little less time.
Preheating the air fryer is crucial for this recipe in order to get good browning on the meat. You’ll hear a nice sizzle when you add the steak to the pan. Gently spicy, salty, and tangy Tajín seasoning flavors both the steak and vegetables, and the whole meal comes together in only 35 minutes.
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