I'm picky about kitchen gadgets. Often more novelty than helpful, they're maybe used once before they're relegated to cabinets and drawers, taking up valuable storage space and generally getting in the way.
Something fancy to help chop garlic? No thanks. A butter cutter? Definitely not necessary. I don’t even like my slow-cooker all that much—I’m more partial to the simple Dutch oven. That said, I was very skeptical when I received an air fryer as a gift. Where would I put this bulky appliance? And did I even need it in the first place?
An air fryer is a countertop kitchen appliance that cooks food through convection—hot air circulates around the food giving it a crispy, brown exterior, allegedly like that of deep-fried food. I’ve tried many baked recipes that promise that same deep-fried taste—rarely do they deliver. I figured the air fryer would yield similarly disappointing results, with the added inconvenience of a big, expensive appliance.
And at first, that was exactly the case. Nothing I "fried" crisped up much better than it did in the oven, so I chalked the clunky appliance up to a glorified mini convection oven and swiftly moved on—until I read an article that suggested preheating the air fryer first. This made sense to me: I preheat a regular oven before use and bring oil to a hot temperature before frying, so why wouldn't I do the same with an appliance that's designed to "fry" food, too?
Even though according to the manufacturer, my Philips air fryer doesn’t require preheating, this simple step changed everything for me. Once I began preheating my air fryer (just seven minutes at 400ºF), anything and everything I cooked crisped up so nicely. And, as a bonus, using the air fryer for veggies freed up my oven up for other things, like the main protein or dessert.
Now, without fail, I use my air fryer every single day. I use it to roast potatoes, sweet potatoes, or Brussels sprouts, and you wouldn’t believe how good crispy broccoli tastes! I’ve also used my air fryer to make crispy chicken tenders and General Tso’s chicken.
Foolproof tricks to using your air fryer
In addition to preheating the oven (even if the recipe you’re using doesn’t mention doing so), I’ve learned a couple of tricks that help ensure the food crisps up perfectly:
1. Don’t crowd the basket. Though the air fryer I own can allegedly make four servings worth of food in one batch, I beg to differ. If the basket starts to look crowded (i.e. if there is no space between food items, or food covers more than ¾ of the cooking surface), it’s too crowded. Go the extra mile and make another batch because if the basket is too crowded, your food will steam rather than crisp, making the whole point of the machine useless.
2. Always cook on 400ºF. When it comes to the air fryer, the hotter the better. For french fries, Brussels sprouts, and other hearty veggies, I cook at 400ºF for about 14 minutes (shaking in between, which ensures heat hits all sides of the food). I cook chicken for about 20 minutes at the same temperature. More delicate vegetables like green beans can stand up to the high heat, but require less time—somewhere between 7-10 minutes.
3. Use oil sparingly. Toss fresh veggies in no more than a teaspoon of olive oil, skip it altogether for frozen foods, and use a spritz of cooking spray for chicken. Trust me: You won’t miss the flavor of the oil. Just be sure to add some salt and pepper, or even Italian herbs or cumin.
Is an air fryer worth it?
Although I really do love my air fryer (go figure!), the appliance isn’t without drawbacks. It’s a bulky machine that takes up a lot of counter space, and it’s not practical to think you’d lug it in and out of some cabinet or pantry every day.
Despite its size, the frying basket is small—sometimes I can barely fit enough food for two people. In order to make four crispy chicken sandwiches, I have to make two separate batches. But to keep everything hot and ready to serve at the same time, I had to line my trusty sheet pan and hold the first batch in a warm oven.
As my family expands, I don’t know how practical that will be, considering it doubles cook time. But for now, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for crispy, guilt-free food.