This air fryer guide for beginners is your one-stop-shop for getting started with air frying like a pro.
There are a lot of air frying beginners out there and we won’t try to tell you there isn’t a learning curve when you first start. But the good news is, it’s not a huge curve. With just some basic understanding about how an air fryer works, you’ll be cooking in your air fryer like a pro in no time! So lets dive into this air fryer guide for beginners.
AIR FRYER GUIDE – TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What is an air fryer
- How air fryers work
- Is air frying healthy?
- What to cook in an air fryer
- What you CANNOT cook in an air fryer
- Is an air fryer worth it?
- How much is an air fryer?
- What size air fryer do I need?
- How are air fryers sized?
- How to use an air fryer
– Opening the box
– How to clean your air fryer
- Start cooking
- Tips for air fryer beginners
- What are the best oils for air frying
- How to air fry food evenly
- How to air fry chicken
- How to air fry fish
- How to air fry vegetables
- How to air fry steaks
- How to air fry burgers
- How to bake in an air fryer
- How to make toast in an air fryer
- Air Fryer Recipes
WHAT IS AN AIR FRYER?
An air fryer is an appliance that claims to mimic deep frying foods without a ton of fat. They come in several shapes and sizes, but in general there are three styles of air fryers. Basket air fryers, countertop convection style air fryers and paddle air fryers.
HOW AIR FRYERS WORK
Air fryers typically have a small cooking space, which allows food to cook faster than in a regular oven. Typically in half the time in most cases. Hot air is quickly circulated around food, which in turn, cooks the food until it is crispy.
Does an air fryer really give you food that turns out just like something deep fried? Yes and no. Will it be exactly like something deep fried? No. However, the idea behind it is to give you crispy food without so much fat. On that, the air fryer really delivers.
The truth is, fat gives food a texture all all its own. Take that away, and your food will definitely be a bit different. But does that mean it won’t be crispy? No. You can still get crispy food from an air fryer. It just won’t have the fatty texture you’re used to in deep fried food. But we think that’s a good thing! The natural flavors of the food really come through, all while still being crispy!
IS AIR FRYING HEALTHY?
The food that comes out of an air fryer is only as healthy as the food you put into the air fryer. Meaning, if you make junk food, an air fryer won’t magically turn it into health food. If you put healthy food in, you’l get healthy food out.
Where the air fryer really shines, is that you can cook with very minimal fat and still get delicious, crispy food.
WHAT TO COOK IN AN AIR FRYER
Air fryers can cook so many things that it’s hard to make a list. It would be a very long list! Truthfully, air fryers do a fantastic job of cooking frozen foods. So if you buy frozen fries at the grocery store, your air fryer will definitely do a fantastic job of cooking them.
Does that mean it’s not great for “from scratch” food? Definitely not! We eat pretty healthy around here and we love using our air fryer for regular, real, everyday foods. So just because the air fryer is great with frozen foods, doesn’t mean you won’t get a delicious meal using fresh food. You absolutely will!
All that being said, if you do prefer to purchase frozen foods, almost the entire freezer section of pre-made foods becomes a delicious reality. No judgement here!
But truly, you can make delicious veggies and meats from scratch, all day long and they will be delicious. In fact, with the correct accessories, you can even bake, toast or make pizza in your air fryer! All with fresh, real foods.
WHAT YOU CANNOT COOK IN AN AIR FRYER
Air fryers do have two limitations.
- You cannot cook anything with a wet batter. (Take a look at all the holes in the bottom of that air fry basket!). So you cannot use a wet batter for chicken and expect to be able to air fry it. All you’ll get out of that is a hot mess.
- Big batch cooking is not going to happen. If you need to cook for many people, you’ll have to cook in smaller batches and be prepared to keep the cooked batches warm while you air fry the rest. Some air fryers have more space (quart capacity) than others, but even the largest of home-use air fryers will limit the amount of food you can make at one time. Remember, air flow is critical. If you restrict that air flow with tons of food, it won’t cook properly.
IS AN AIR FRYER WORTH IT?
Typically, when people ask this question, it usually means they are considering three things. Price, space and food. The actual cooking method is totally worth it, but is it worth the cost and the space another appliance will take up on your countertop?
- Price – Prices vary a lot with air fryers. And while it’s true that “you get what you pay for” with air fryers, there are some good quality air fryers out there that are still “middle of the road” in pricing. What many would call, affordable. So it really comes down to what your budget is. You can read more about our top picks, here.
- Space – You really have to determine if you can sacrifice the counter space when considering an air fryer. The smaller ones aren’t too bad, but you do sacrifice a few things with the smaller air fryers. Such as how much food you can make at once. That being said, even the smaller ones take up space. So your best bet is to measure the space you have, and find an air fryer that will fit.
- Food – Most people are thinking about how close an air fryer can really get to deep fried foods. They want to know if they will get the same texture and flavor from an air fryer that they would get with deep fried foods, all while using very little fat. Again, the answer is yes and no. We refer you back to the “What To Cook In An Air Fryer” section above.
HOW MUCH IS AN AIR FRYER?
The cost of an air fryer spans quite a large range. We’ve seen them for as little as $40 on sale, all the way up to $400 or more. However, the average user won’t need a top-of-the-line air fryer. But they may also get a little frustrated with the bottom-of-the-line air fryers too. So find a middle ground you are comfortable with in size and cost. You can find our top picks here.
WHAT SIZE AIR FRYER DO I NEED?
• 2 to 3 quart air fryers are great for single people or couples. These are considered smaller use appliances and are best for making snacks and small portioned meals. They take up less space, but are not intended for heavy cooking or larger meals. We call these, “snack-friendly” air fryers because that is what they are best at cooking.
• 3 to 5 quart air fryers are more standard appliances good for 2-3 people. Again, these won’t cook huge amounts of food, but they do a better job than the very small air fryers.
• 5 quart air fryers (or anything in between the 5-6 quart range are a good fit for 3-5 people. They tolerate heavier use and cook more food in general.
• 6 to 16 quart air fryers will take up more space on your countertop, but they will also give you far more cooking abilities. Think toasting, baking, roasting (hello, rotisserie chicken!) and other functions. These are very often the countertop convection style air fryers (think, large toaster oven), but they give you the ability to replace more appliances in your kitchen. Everything from your toaster to your conventional oven.
The largest air fryer available is 31.7 quarts. But this takes up so much room that it really makes no sense to bring it into your home kitchen.
All this being said, you should always purchase the larges air fryer you have room for and can afford. Larger air fryers have more capabilities and allow you more flexibility in how much food you can prepare in one batch.
HOW ARE AIR FRYERS SIZED?
In the description of any air fryer sales page, you most often find a measurement in quarts. This is how much food an air fryer can hold in one batch. (Note that some will list capacity in pounds or liters). That being said, not all food is created equal when it comes to how much you can cook in one batch. Remember that the key to air frying is air circulation. A quart of onions rings will cook very differently than a quart of chicken breasts. So use these measurements as a guide for getting the largest air fryer you can instead of focusing on how much food you can cook at once.
HOW TO USE AN AIR FRYER
Opening The Box
Out of the box, you’ll find several pieces. The number of pieces you have will depend largely on the style of air fryer you purchased. Some will have more parts than others.
- Basket air fryers typically have the fewest pieces. They are egg shaped and the only real components are the removable basket drawer and its insert (the part with the holes in it). Some even have two baskets for cooking separate meals.
- Paddle air fryers will have the food basket and paddle.
- Convection (toaster oven) style air fryers will usually have the most parts. But don’t let that put you off. They are not complicated. Typically, you’ll have a drop tray and one or two cooking trays. Some (like our favorite), comes with a rotating basket (with lid) and a rotisserie rod and end spikes with screws for securing your chicken on the rod.
How To Clean Your Air Fryer
Our best advice is to give your owners manual a good once-over. Make sure you understand which parts are removable, and which parts are washable. There are few things worse than jimmying your air fryer door off and then realizing it was never supposed to come off in the first place.
We highly recommend, before using your new air fryer, that you wash whatever parts are dishwasher safe in your dishwasher. Or wash them really well by hand. You will also want to use a damp cloth to wipe out the inside of your air fryer. Remember, the key word here is “damp”. Not dripping wet. You don’t want to get water in places where water shouldn’t be.
Note that many air fryers will have a chemical smell the first time or two you use them. This dissipates with time. Not all air fryers have this, but many will. We recommend running your air fryer without food for a round or two to avoid cooking that “smell” into your food. If you try this more than three times and the smell has not significantly reduced or disappeared completely, it’s probably best to return that particular air fryer for another one.
One way to do get through this process a bit faster is to sacrifice a potato or two. Cook some cut potatoes and then throw them away. Potatoes seem to aid in “soaking up” the smell a bit faster. But again, do NOT eat those potatoes. Toss them in the trash. And remember, this should only be happening in the very first few uses. Anything beyond that is not normal and you should return your air fryer.
The best way to start air frying is simply to jump in and start! Pick something simple like fries (fresh or frozen), and follow either some recipe instructions for time and temperature, or follow the guide book that will come with your air fryer. They will typically have a few simple recipes in there to get your started.
If you feel better starting with some frozen foods, by all means, go for it! But don’t be afraid to cut and season your own fries or bread your own onion rings.
Tips For Air Fryer Beginners
- Don’t fill the basket all the way. Only put enough food in your food tray or basket to create a single layer of food with some space around it. As you become more familiar with your air fryer, you will know how to adjust the amount of food you put in, depending on what you are making. But start small.
- Shake your basket or turn your food. This is not a microwave. You can’t push a button and walk away. You’ll want to open the basket drawer and shake the food around a time or two during cooking. If you have trays, consider some tongs so you can easily flip your food. While air cooking is easy, it’s not something you can ignore during cooking. (This is why we love the rotating basket on our air fryer. We actually can walk away and the air fryer does all the work with things like fries and roasted veggies).
- Remember that food will cook faster than in a conventional oven. Typically, in about half the time. So if you are going rogue and trying to figure out cooking times on your own, remember that simple rule of thumb. It won’t always be exact, but it’s a good place to start.
- Air fryers cook hot. So if you find your food is starting to burn, reduce the temperature. This may seem like common sense, but temperatures in an air fryer are often hotter than a normal oven due to the smaller cooking space. So you may need to regularly lower the temperature from what you are used to with your regular oven. Again, this is just general info for those of you who don’t like following recipes.
- If your air fryer has a pre-heat function, use it. That being said, many people often ignore it and simply add a few minutes onto the total cooking time, allowing the food to heat up along with the air fryer. If you choose this option, add anywhere from 2-5 minutes of cooking time onto the recipe cook time.
- Use tongs to remove food. Dumping your basket out could mean burning yourself if you have used any oil at all in cooking.
WHAT ARE THE BEST OILS FOR AIR FRYING?
We recommend a high smoke point oil. Something like avocado or almond oil. These oils have a smoke point of 400 degrees F. or higher. Canola oil, corn oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, grapeseed oil or sunflower oil are also good choices where smoke points are concerned.
All this means is that the oil won’t start to burn and smoke in your air fryer if it gets hot. There is a lot of information on how detrimental oils can be to the body when they pass their smoke point during cooking. So we tend to buy the best oils we can when air frying.
We have also found that oil in an oil sprayer is much more efficient and easy to use than simply pouring some oil on your food. It’s much easier to gauge how much you are using and far easier not to overdo it on the oil.
We have tried multiple oil sprayers and the Evo oil sprayer wins every time. The bottles are easy to wipe down when they get oily and the nozzles never clog. Each spritz is a measured amount, so you can even gauge with accuracy how much oil you are using.
HOW TO AIR FRY FOOD EVENLY
There are few things worse than air frying a meal only to find out that half of it is burnt and the other half is only partially cooked. How do you avoid this?
- Shake your basket or use tongs to flip your food (for air fryers with trays). Again, air fryers are not “set it and forget it” appliances. While they do a great job, you do have to make sure your food is rotating. And that means “stirring things up” a few times during the cooking process.
- Don’t overfill your basket or tray. Remember, air flow, air flow, air flow! If there isn’t space for the air the circulate, it won’t cook properly or evenly.
- For extra crispiness on things like fries or homemade onion rings, add a little starch. You don’t need much, but starch will help things get crispier.
- Don’t use too much oil. Air fryers are meant to cook with very little oil. So if you add a lot, not only will you be wasting oil, but you’ll also find that your food does not cook as well. While a little oil is a good idea, remember that a little goes a long way.
AIR FRYER GUIDE – HOW TO AIR FRY CHICKEN
- Chicken parts – If you are cooking chicken with bone in it, start with the bone side up and then flip to the skin side up. Finishing with the skin up will help crisp the skin nicely. For smaller parts like wing or drumsticks, rotate them often (about every 8-10 minutes or so) to get a nice browning all the way around.
- Whole chicken – Start with the breast side down in your air fryer. Rotate half way through to finish with a nicely browned breast on top.
AIR FRYER GUIDE – HOW TO AIR FRY FISH
Fish cooks very quickly in an air fryer. But it can also stick. Don’t be afraid to put down a piece of foil under your fish. But also, make sure the foil is only under the fish. It should never cover the entire bottom of the tray or basket or your fish won’t cook properly. Bring the foil strip up the sides just a bit to give you something to grab to lift your fish out of the basket or off the tray.
A very light spritz of oil from an oil sprayer over the top will keep it from getting too dry.
AIR FRYER GUIDE – HOW TO AIR FRY VEGETABLES
The trick to air frying vegetables is to cut them uniformly. We have both a french fry cutter and a mandolin slicer. Both have proved very helpful with air frying.
Once you have everything cut the same size, (and of course, peeled if peeling is needed) give your veggies a very light spritz of oil using an oil sprayer. You can add any spices you want to them by tossing them in a large mixing bowl with the oils and spices.
We have and love these cutters.
AIR FRYER GUIDE – HOW TO AIR FRY STEAK
Steaks can be quite large. And since air frying needs good air flow, you’ll want to make sure you cut your steak down to size.
Season it will with herbs, rubs or spices and cook to recipe directions. A light spritz of oil won’t hurt it, but is not totally necessary unless your recipe calls for it.
AIR FRYER GUIDE – HOW TO AIR FRY HAMBURGERS
Mix any seasoning you want into your ground meat in a mixing bowl. Don’t forget a bit of salt and pepper. If you want extra moisture in your burger, you can also mix in up to 1 tbsp. of a high smoke point oil. But this is not a necessary step. Some folks also believe in mixing in an egg. It’s an option, but again, not necessary.
Form your patties and place them directly on your air fryer food tray or in the basket. No foil is needed. Remember to flip your burgers half way through cooking. Note that turkey burger will puff up quite a bit, so don’t forget to press them down in the center a bit (like thumbprint cookies) while they are still raw.
AIR FRYER GUIDE – HOW BAKE IN AN AIR FRYER
Yes you can actually bake a cake in your air fryer! That being said, you’ll need cake pans and accessories that actually fit into your air fryer. You can find our suggestions for the best ones here.
You can also bake cookies in an air fryer. It’s best to have air fryer parchment paper for this, however. Typically, air fryer manufacturers will also sell parchment paper that fits their air fryer. But there are more generic ones you can buy. You can see two of them here.
We have found that having pre-cut parchment paper, particularly for things like cookies, help a lot. Nothing sticks and clean up is super easy!
AIR FRYER GUIDE – HOW TO MAKE TOAST IN AN AIR FRYER
This is a simple process. Set your air fryer to 400 F. and place your unbuttered slice of bread into the air fryer. Cooking times are:
- Light toasting – 1-2 minutes
- Medium toast – 2 minutes
- Darker toast – 3 minutes
Note that you may have to slightly adjust these times for your own air fryer. But these are good jumping off points for making toast in your air fryer.
Some air fryer accessory kits will include toast racks that allow you to toast several slices at a time. You can see those here.
AIR FRYING RECIPES FOR BEGINNERS
To be totally honest, there really aren’t recipes that are good for beginners, outside of something like french fries or other frozen finger foods. Again, the best way to get started is simply to jump in with a recipe and do it. Air frying is not complicated or difficult. So pick a recipe and give it a try! Just remember that each air fryer will cook a bit differently. So the biggest thing you’ll have to get used to is adjusting cooking times for your own appliance. But always start off with recipe cooking times. Then make a note (if you want to make it again in the future) about what a better cooking time will be in your own air fryer. Easy!