Crispy, hot foods are just minutes away—but only if you avoid these air fryer mistakes.

Isadora Baum
August 14, 2018
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There’s no denying it—the air fryer is awesome. It gives you crispy, salty French fries in a matter of minutes with half the fat and calories you’d expect in a traditional restaurant order or McDonald’s run. And, there’s no comprising on the taste. In fact, you can even add in your own herbs and spices and use out-of-the-box ingredients to shake things up.

Yet—it’s all about how you use your air-fryer to really get that magical, “fried” goodness with a slimmed-down edge. If you’re making these super common mistakes with your air fryer, you won’t get the taste and texture you’re looking for.

You Forget to Pre-Heat

Those dials are on there for a reason, so pay attention to them. “Take the time (about 3 minutes) to set the air fryer to the proper temperature before you get cooking,” says Dana Angelo White MS, RD, ATC author of the Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, “Preheating the air fryer is best for optimum cooking, the temperature and air flow will be at right levels and food can cook to crispy air fried perfection,” she explains.

As for temperature, it varies, but it’s typically between 325 and 400 degrees F. “If you just toss food in there it won't cook as evenly,” she explains, and “preheating heats up the basket so the cooking surface is nice and hot when you add the food,” she says.

You Don’t Cook Veggies

Don’t just stick to making friend chicken in there—you can make fried veggie dishes that are delicious and packed with nutrients.

“Air fryers are a lot like counter top convection ovens - only turbo versions. The machine uses the power of hot circulating air to make food cook quickly,” she explains. “You can make everything from stuffed peppers, to asparagus, to sweet potato hash in the air fryer in minutes,” she says.

It’s great for making veggie-based meals and sides with a crisp texture and fewer calories and fat.

You Only Cook Foods That Are Already Fried

Don’t throw a fried chicken wing in the air fryer to get only more fried. “Use your air fryer for from scratch recipes. Convenience foods like bagged frozen french fries, fish sticks, and chicken fingers are already fried,” she says. “Preparing them in the air fryer will make them extra crispy, but wont save you any fat or calories,” she says. (And you can still get that crispiness by just using the air fryer for frying, as is.)

You Overcrowd the Basket

Give your food some room to breathe! You may want to save time and energy by making a big batch at once, but you run the risk of wrecking your meal. “Resist the temptation to jam a bunch of food into the air fryer basket, this will lead to an unevenly cooked mess,” she says.

“For the most even frying, pause cooking and gently shake the air fryer basket, this will help evenly distribute the food and promote even cooking,” she says. Shaking it once or twice during cooking will do the trick.

Prepare food in smaller batches, instead, or consider a bigger air fryer, such as the Phillips XXL, she says, which is awesome for crowds and party prep. “Standard air fryers are great for two-person cooking (or for one with leftovers), and some recipes can serve four,” she says.

Yet, the XXL model can make portions for up to six people. “I love the XXL for apps, recipes like asparagus wrapped with crispy proscuitto, zucchini ‘fries’ and air fried pickles,” she says.

There are also middle of the road "XL" models that are good for serving 4 people at once. “The units are pretty tall because of the controls, [where] fan and elements are all housed above the cooking basket,” she says. Here, you want room below the basket, as well, for air to circulate.

You Don’t Bake

Ditch the oven and use the air fryer for slimmed down sweets. “Use your air fryer for healthy baked goods such as breakfast casseroles, doughnuts and desserts,” she says. She recommends Raspberry Yogurt Cake and Zeppole with Cannoli Dip, which are easy to whip up and taste great.

“Invest in a few pans that fit in side the basket, such as a 6-in round baking pan or bundt pan,” she says. The pans fit right inside the fryer basket. You can drop them right in—they’re 100% necessary for baking in an air fryer.

You Use Too Much or Too Little Oil

While some recipes don’t use any oil, most do—and it’s still significantly less than oils used in standard fried recipes. You only really need 1-2 teaspoons for most recipes or 1-2 tablespoons for breaded items.

“For breaded recipes (chicken fingers, fish sticks) I like to mix the breadcrumbs with a 1-2 Tbsp of oil and it works great! For other recipes you can just brush lightly with oil - it ends up being only 1-2 tsp per serving (or less) for most recipes,” she says.

Again though, it depends on the recipe—“some recipes need no oil at all, others you can get away with a light coating of oil spray—I use all kinds, depending what I am making," she says.

Just don’t go too crazy with the oil. “Using too much oil can cause oil to drip and hit the bottom tray - this can lead the excess oil to burn and smoke! No fun,” she says.

Washing It Infrequently or Incorrectly

“I hand wash the basket and bottom tray with every use! Just hot soap water, occasionally they need a bit of a soak and a light scrub. Newer air fryer models make this even easier because they have removable parts that can just pop in and out,” she says.

You often can’t put it in the dishwasher, so be sure to check, and don’t make that mistake. You can also take a few shortcuts to make clean up a breeze.

“To make clean up easier you can do a few things—for example, spray the basket with nonstick spray before adding the food or line the bottom tray (the bottom inner portion of the machine) with aluminum foil,” she says.

And, don’t let it sit there dirty for a days. “Not cleaning is a big mistake. Just about every recipe I've ever made leaves some debris or crumbs behind. If those food particles stay in the unit they will burn quickly the next time you fire up the machine,” she says. This can not only smoke and smell but also ruin whatever new dish you’re cooking up.

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