How to use an air fryer

Instant Pot Vortex Air Fryer press image
(Image credit: Instant Pot)

For anyone looking to change up the way they cook, or who needs to make dinner in a hurry, or simply wants a healthier way to prepare what they might have previously deep-fried, air fryers have become a must-have kitchen gadget.

For anyone who needs to make dinner in a hurry, or wants a healthier way to prepare food they might previously have deep-fried, or just wants to change-up the way they cook, air fryers have become a must-have kitchen gadget.

The best air fryers use convection technology to push hot air around your food, enabling you to cook all kinds of foods, from fries and burgers to fish and vegetables, quickly and healthily. However, because they work in a different way to a traditional range, hob or oven, cooking with them calls for a slightly different approach.

Air fryers are now available from lots of leading kitchen appliance brands, including Ninja Foodi, Tefal, GoWise, and Philips, but although they’ve grown enormously in popularity in the last couple of years, they haven’t been around that long compared to many other home appliances. They started to become popular around a decade ago, with Philips creating some of the first machines.

Whether you’re using an air fryer for the first time, or just need some handy hacks for getting the most out of the one you already have, keep reading to find out everything you need to know about how to use an air fryer. 

If you’ve just bought an air fryer and you haven’t used it yet, it’s a good idea to start by giving your new appliance a quick clean. This will ensure that it’s ready to use, and will also help to remove that plastic ‘new appliance’ smell you get with a new product. 

Different models will vary in terms of cleaning instructions, but most will have a removable basket or drawer that’s suitable for washing. This can be done with warm soapy water, but bear in mind that the baskets are finished in a non-stick coating, so you’ll need to avoid using abrasive cleaners or harsh scrubbing brushes, as these can damage the coating and potentially make the appliance unusable. Some air fryer baskets are suitable for dishwashers, but always check the instructions for each individual product.  

Make sure the basket is fully dry before you place it in the air fryer, then you can plug the machine in and switch it on. One of the advantages of using an air fryer is that you won’t need to preheat it for 20-30 minutes, as you need to do with many ovens. If this is your first time using your air fryer, it’s advisable to let it run for a few minutes before you use it, which like washing will help to get rid of any new product odors. After this, you shouldn’t need to preheat your air fryer unless the manufacturer’s instructions say so.

Instant Pot Vortex Air Fryer

(Image credit: Instant Pot)

How much oil do air fryers use? 

Depending on what you’re cooking, some air fryers don’t require you to use any oil at all, relying entirely on hot air to cook your food. You’ll often need to add a small amount of oil though, and many models come with a small measuring spoon so that you can add just the right amount to your food. Some air fryers also come with recipe books, or basic instructions for cooking popular dishes such as fries, frozen foods, and meat. 

Some frozen fried foods will have plenty of fat in them already, so there’s no need to add additional oil to help with the cooking process. Foods that might require a little oil include homemade fries. Don’t be tempted to grease the air frying basket, as this can affect the air fryer’s performance.

How much food can you fit in an air fryer? 

The amount of food you can fit in an air fryer depends entirely on the size of the model you choose. The capacity is normally measured in quarts in the US, or liters in the UK. You can get air fryers as small as 1.2 quarts / 1.15 liters, and they range right up to 12 quarts / 11.5 liters, and even smaller models should be able to cook enough fries to serve two people.  These machines aren’t really designed to cook enough food for a crowd, however. 

What’s key here is not to overfill the air fryer basket. Doing this will result in slower cooking times, and you might end up with food that isn’t evenly cooked all the way through. If you’re going to be cooking for a family, consider choosing a larger-capacity model so that you don’t have to cook in batches. 

Try to spread out the food in the basket so that the hot air can reach all sides of the food for fast and even cooking. Your air fryer will come with instructions on how long to cook the most popular kinds of food, and you’ll notice that the cooking times are much shorter than you can expect from a traditional oven. 

You’ll need to take into account the shorter cooking time if you’re also creating side dishes separately – for example, if you’ve got fries in the air fryer but meat in the oven, it may be that you don’t need to start cooking the fries until the meat is almost done. It might take a bit of getting used to so that you can ensure all elements of your meal are ready at the same time. 

If you’re cooking an entire meal in your air fryer, to help make sure everything’s ready at the same time, some brands have designed appliances with multiple cooking zones. For example, the Ninja Foodi Dual Zone Air Fryer can cook two dishes at once, and you can even have them cooked using different cooking methods.

Things to avoid when using an air fryer

While air fryers are designed to make cooking food easier, there are still a few things to keep in mind when you’re using one. First up, as we mentioned above, it’s super-important to avoid overfilling the frying basket. While it might be tempting to pile food into your fryer so that you can prepare everything at once, you’ll likely end up waiting longer for it to be cooked – and what’s more, your food may not be evenly cooked.

Unlike some of the best Instant Pots, air fryers are not the kind of appliance you can fill up and forget about. These machines do require you to keep an eye on your food, and you may be required to give your food a shake around every so often, while if you’re cooking meat such as steak, you’ll need to flip it over halfway through cooking. 

When it comes to choosing the right kind of oil for your air fryer, most oils, including vegetable oil, olive oil, and peanut oil will be suitable, as long as they can withstand high temperatures, but again check your fryer’s instructions, as particular oils may be recommended for some food.

Sophie Bird

Sophie writes about all things appliance-related and is currently the Home Editor at TechRadar's sister site, Top Ten Reviews. When she's not testing coffee machines and appliances, Sophie is thinking of eating delicious food, and asking people what they're having for dinner.