By now, we can all agree: Air fryers are amazing. They conveniently cook and crisp foods in a matter of minutes with a fraction of the fat and calories of traditional fried fare.
But if you don't use this A+ appliance properly, you won't achieve the terrific taste and texture it's known for — or worse, you can potentially place yourself at greater risk for foodborne illness (more on this later).
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Here, Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, dietitian, chef and author of The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook, dishes on the ten most common air fryer mistakes people make, plus provides tips to get the best results from this awesome appliance.
1. You Don’t Use Enough Oil
While using less oil to fry foods is the whole point of an air fryer, using too little oil can backfire.
"If you use too little or no oil, there's a chance you won't get the even brownness, ideal crispness or taste that you expect, and seasonings may not 'stick' to your food," Newgent says.
And that's not all. "Nutritionally speaking, you'll absorb fewer antioxidants from the food," she adds. For example, your body can better absorb the free-radical-fighting antioxidants lycopene and beta-carotene found in tomatoes when paired with olive oil.
Fix it: Lightly toss or brush foods with a healthy oil (think: olive oil) — or spritz with oil from a spray bottle — before air frying them, Newgent recommends.
2. You Use Too Much Oil
Conversely, you shouldn't overdo it with the oil either. "Remember that an air fryer is more about the air — it's not a deep fryer — so more oil doesn't mean more crispness," Newgent says. In fact, the opposite can occur: Using too much oil can lead to a bit of sogginess, she explains.
Also, excess oil will be collected in the air fryer's drip tray, which can cause burning or smoking, Newgent says. Not only is this a waste of money, but it's also a big mess that'll require more cleanup.
Fix it: Again, a modest amount of oil will do the trick. Stick to a spritz or a light brushing of oil.
3. You Overcrowd the Basket
You may want to save time by conveniently cooking a big batch in one shot, but not giving your grub room to breathe could mess up your meal.
"Overcrowding can result in unevenly air-fried food with less crispness and a somewhat steamed taste and texture," Newgent says. Even worse, your food might end up undercooked, increasing the risk for foodborne illness, especially when it comes to temperature-sensitive products like raw chicken, she says.
Fix it: "Ideally, make sure foods aren't touching, allowing the hot air to evenly surround each piece of food and cook it evenly throughout," Newgent says. "Air-fry in batches if you need."
4. The Foods Are Too Lightweight
It's an air fryer, not flyer — you don't want it to fling your food all over the place.
"Lightweight foods or ingredients, like small pieces of leafy greens or spices, can fly into the heating element, causing smokiness, and not in a good way," Newgent says.
Fix it: Once again, "oil is your air fryer friend — it can help to add weightiness to light foods and stickiness to spices," Newgent says.
5. The Foods Are Too Wet
While it's good practice to wash certain foods prior to cooking, excess dampness can put a damper on your delicious dish. "Too much wetness can result in a steamy taste and texture and won't allow for proper brownness or crispness," Newgent says.
Fix it: "Before air frying, pat dry any wet or moist food to avoid sogginess," Newgent says.
6. You Don’t Rotate the Food
Though air fryers are largely hands-off cooking appliances, you might need to tend to your food from time to time.
"An air fryer is kind of like a self-driving car: It may still need a little bit of your guidance," Newgent says. In other words, you can't just leave your food in the air fryer and expect it to be evenly cooked without rotating it midway.
Fix it: "Rotating or flipping food when it's halfway cooked can lead to more even crispness," Newgent says.
7. You Only Use the Air Fryer to Make Fried Foods
Don't limit yourself to fried chicken and french fries. "Since an air fryer is basically a countertop convection oven, you can cook foods in it that you might roast, bake or even grill (not just fry)," Newgent says.
Fix it: Use your air fryer to cook a wide variety of foods from healthier baked goods, veggies like whole roasted cauliflower, toasted nuts, grilled sandwiches, leftovers and more, Newgent says.
8. You Don’t Check the Food’s Temperature
You shouldn't toss safety precautions out the window when you turn on an air fryer.
Just like when cooking with other appliances — big or small — you still need to follow food safety practices to reduce the risk of foodborne illness from improperly cooked foods, Newgent says.
That means it's still necessary to test the internal temperatures of air-fried foods.
Fix it: Use a food thermometer — especially when air frying raw meat and poultry — to check the internal temp of the food and ensure proper doneness, Newgent says.
On the flip side, this safety practice can also help prevent overcooking too, she adds.
9. You Don’t Clean the Air Fryer Often Enough
A dirty air fryer can be disastrous. When you don't clean your air fryer, excess grease can burn, causing a smoky, smelly mess and ruining the flavor of your food, Newgent says. Infrequent cleaning also increases the chance of cross-contamination and foodborne illness.
Fix it: "Simply clean your air fryer regularly, especially after cooking sticky, sloppy or extra-greasy food," Newgent says. "Most parts that need cleaning are dishwasher-safe, which makes it easy."
10. You Don’t Preheat the Air Fryer
Preheating preps the basket, so your air fryer is nice and hot as soon as you add your food. If you don't preheat, it may result in unevenly cooked, undercooked or not-crispy food, Newgent says.
Fix it: "Though not essential, pre-heating the air fryer for at least three minutes before use may provide more optimal results," Newgent says.