I never really considered myself to be a cook obsessed with gadgets. Sure, I have had a CrockPot since I graduated from college, the Instant Pot has truly changed my life, and I use my Vitamix practically every day. But I'm never one to go out and buy the latest and greatest cooking tool unless I have solid testimony from other chefs that the gadget is worth it. So when I was recently gifted an air fryer, I was excited to try it out but also skeptical. How could any food taste as good as it would be deep fried and not use tons of fat as all air fryers claim?
Like most people, I don't fry at home because it makes a big mess, and you have to dispose of the grease afterward. Plus, there are the hefty calories that come along with fried food. But who doesn't enjoy a crispy fried piece of fish as a guilty pleasure once in a while? Based on how trendy air fryers currently are, it seems a lot of people do. Four million air fryers were sold in the past year, and that represents a tenfold increase in just two years, according to the market research firm NPD Group.
I read up about air fryers before I tried mine and was intrigued about how they work. Air fryers don't really "fry" food at all; they are similar to a counter-top convection oven. The small electric appliance has a heating element and a fan that blows air around in a cooking chamber. In an air fryer, the air moves very quickly in a circular fashion so that it reaches all of the surfaces of the food and creates a crisp crust on the outside. It's able to cook food at a fraction of the time a typical oven does.
In some models like the one I have above, the food is placed in a perforated basket which increases its contact with the hot moving air and intensifies the heat.
The problem with this style of air fryer is that you can't see what's happening to your food, and it's pretty limiting in the quantity of food you can cook at once. So, I'd recommend getting one that has multiple functions such as bake, toast and broil like the one my boyfriend has below. It's just like a counter-top oven but with an air fryer to boot!
Whatever type of air fryer you choose, they will all brown and crisp food on the top and bottom although some are more consistent than others. Like most appliances, they range greatly in price, from as low as $60 to as high as $600. Regardless of what model you select, there are some tips you should know in order to achieve the best air frying results.
Top 10 Air Frying Tips
1. Preheat the air fryer.
Just like your oven, an air fryer should be preheated, and most recipes will call for it in the instructions. If your air fryer doesn't have a preheat setting (mine doesn't), just turn it to the temperature you'll be cooking your food at and let it run for about 3 minutes before putting food in it.
2. Don't skimp on the oil.
While the air fryer doesn't require liquid oil like deep frying does, there's still a little bit of fat involved. If you are going to be air frying battered food a lot, stock up on spray oils such as extra virgin olive oil, grapeseed, coconut, avocado and organic canola. Don't use PAM or similar sprays. The lower quality oils and additives like propellants can damage the nonstick coatings on some air fryer baskets. The coating could start to flake off after repeated exposure to cooking spray.
All battered food will need a good spray to start and then again about halfway through the cooking process. Not all foods require oil (i.e. think fatty meats like bacon) but a little spray ensures you aren't scraping your food off of the pan once it's done cooking.
3. Grease the basket.
Even if your food does not require oil, always take a moment to grease your air fryer basket or pan to ensure your food won’t stick.
4. Stop to flip or shake.
I always set my air fryer's time to a little less than half of the cooking time in the recipe. When it is done, I remove the basket and either flip the food if it's larger pieces (like fish) or shake if there are smaller pieces (like okra). Then the food gets another coating of oil to ensure a crispy crust. Be sure to completely spray any dry flour spots that still appear halfway through cooking.
5. Don't overcrowd your pan.
Just like you wouldn't want to overload a sauté pan, don't overload an air fryer's basket or pan. It can slow down cooking and keep air from reaching all of the food, giving you uneven results. To ensure this doesn’t happen, cook your food in batches or invest in a bigger air fryer.
6. Cook in a single layer.
Don't stack food in an air fryer. Things like steaks, pork chops, fish fillets, and burgers need to be cooked in a single layer in the air fryer. If you try to stack them, the sides that are touching will end up colorless and soggy. If you can only fit three steaks at a time in the bottom of your air fryer basket and want to cook more, you'll need to cook them in batches.
7. Give your machine room.
Air fryers need some space, about five inches, on all sides to account for proper air flow so don't cook with your air fryer pushed up against a wall. Also make sure your surrounding surfaces are heat proof.
8. Clean your air fryer after every use.
Follow your manufacturer's instructions for cleaning your air fryer, but note that the parts are likely not dishwasher safe.
9. Don't limit yourself to savory.
My air fryer came with a special pan you can use for baking. If yours didn't, you can just use a small oven-safe pan to bake in it. You can bake cakes, brownies and even donuts in an air fryer. Again, think of your air fryer as a convection oven. It has a stronger fan, so keep an eye on your baked goods. If they start to brown too quickly, cover with foil. Hint: you can also bake in your Instant Pot so there's no excuse for never having dessert ready again!
10. Set your expectations.
Don't expect food to come out of your air fryer just like it would a deep fryer. The taste and texture won't be exactly the same, but air fried food will still have a crisp exterior and moist interior without a need for a lot of oil.
Put your newfound air fryer skills to the test with two of my favorite recipes.
Air Fried Jalapeno Poppers
8 large jalapeño peppers
6 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten with 1 Tablespoon water
1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs), very finely crushed
1. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high. Add jalapeños; cook, stirring occasionally for 3 minutes. Transfer jalapeños to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process; let stand for about 30 seconds. This step of blanching reduces the amount of cooking time necessary to make the peppers tender, so the peppers are soft and tender when the stuffing and coating are done. Transfer jalapeños to a plate lined with paper towels. Carefully make a slit vertically along the side of each jalapeño. Remove all seeds and veins (trust me: use gloves for this!). Rinse and dry thoroughly.
2. Stir together cheddar, cream cheese, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in a medium bowl until combined. Fill each pepper with about 2 teaspoons of cheese filling; close slit to seal in cheese.
If you don't do a good job of sealing in the cheese, you'll get blowouts like this:
Not to worry though, that creamy delicious cheese can be wrapped around the outside of the popper and enjoyed just as much as if it were on the inside!
3. Place flour in 1 shallow dish, eggs in a second shallow dish, and panko and remaining 1 teaspoon salt in a third dish. Dip stuffed jalapeños in eggs, allowing excess to drip off. Coat lightly in flour. Return coated jalapeños to egg dish for a second dip, and finally coat in panko.
4. Turn the air-fryer to 375°F, and allow it to preheat 3 to 5 minutes. Coat the basket and breaded jalapeños with cooking spray. Add jalapeños to air-fryer but don't let them touch! Cook until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes, turning half way through and spraying with oil on the other side. Repeat with remaining jalapeños.
Recipe adapted from Myrecipes.com
Air Fried Mushrooms
1 pound crimini mushrooms (white button mushrooms will work too), dirt removed and quartered
1 Tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon creole seasoning (I used Tony Chachere's)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
3/4 Tablespoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon onion powder
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon creole seasoning
1. Combine eggs, water and 1/4 teaspoon creole seasoning and mix in a shallow dish.
2. Combine flour and seasonings and place in another shallow dish.
3. Coat a mushroom in the wet mixture, until well coated. Allow excess to drip off.
4. Move mushroom to dry mixture, coating it well. Place on plate.
5. Repeat last 2 steps, until mushrooms are all coated.
6. Spray mushrooms with oil, generously. Flip mushrooms and repeat.
7. Add prepared mushrooms to basket of air fryer, making sure they aren't touching.
8. Turn the air-fryer to 400°F, and allow it to preheat 3 to 5 minutes. Cook mushrooms in air fryer for 7 minutes (stop, flip them over and spray again half way through cooking).
9. Serve with ranch dressing.
Recipe adapted from Kayla's Food Obsession.
There's really no limit to what you can do with an air fryer. I love fish fillets simply dusted lightly with seasoned cornmeal in the air fryer. Air fried okra and shrimp were pretty close to what you can get in a restaurant when we tested them. Again, don't be stingy with that oil when dealing with breaded foods!
Of course, you can cook more than just breaded items in the air fryer. Bacon takes far less time than it does in a traditional oven. You can even bake biscuits and make over-easy eggs. This entire breakfast was prepared in the air fryer!
If you have kids, cooking together is fun with an air fryer because they love to do the three-step breading process. It's a great way to get the entire family involved in preparing dinner.
We don't carry electrics at The Chopping Block so don't expect an air frying class anytime soon, though that could be fun! We will teach you how to traditionally fry in the new menu of our Spanish Tapas class that features Patatas Bravas (Crispy-Fried Spiced Potatoes) with Aioli.
Prefer to deep fry your sweets? We'll show you how in Donut Boot Camp.
I also recently got a sous vide machine as another gift, so watch out as I test run that one soon!