Air fryers were the hot gift yet again this holiday season. I know this because I’m a member of several foodie groups, and every other post seems to be from a new air fryer owner looking for advice. Well, I currently have four air fryers and have tested several more. And, I’m here to tell you that if you’ve ever used an oven, you are already halfway to knowing how to use an air fryer like a pro. Below are some of my top air fryer tips for beginners.
What an Air Fryer does
First, the basics. Like your average convection oven, an air fryer blows hot air over your food to cook it. This produces a Maillard reaction, which is a chemical reaction between reducing sugars and amino acids. This makes browned foods taste so good. A deep fryer achieves a similar reaction with hot oil. Air fryers are considered healthier than deep fryers because you only need a little oil to achieve the same browned goodness of the Maillard reaction.
There are usually two adjustable controls on an air fryer: a temperature control and a timer. There may also be preprogrammed settings, but they are only marginally useful.
How to Get Started
Most air fryers come with everything you need to get started. Well, you’ll need to supply your own food and an electrical source. I’ve found the grocery store and wall outlets work well for these needs. You might also find it worthwhile to buy spray oil or a mister that can handle oil, such as the Chefvantage Premium Olive Oil Mister. I generally just use LouAna Coconut Oil Non-Stick Cooking Spray.
A useful tool for cooking meat in an air fryer is a wireless meat thermometer. The best way to tell if meat is cooked enough is to take the internal temperature. With a wireless unit, you can keep the probe in the meat while it’s cooking and know immediately when it’s up to temp. This method will yield the juiciest, most delicious meats. I use the ThermoPro TP20 Wireless Remote Digital Cooking Food Meat Thermometer and absolutely love it.
Also, some manufacturers recommend that you put something underneath your appliance in order to protect your countertop. Wood cutting boards work well for this, or you might consider purchasing the Super Kitchen Extra Large Multipurpose Silicone Nonstick Baking Mat.
Before you use your air fryer, make sure you remove all of the packaging. Also, check inside the basket because there may be accessories – like a toaster rack or skewers – inside. Most air fryers have a basket and a pan, though some just have a pan. You will want to clean these by hand before using your air fryer.
The Toast Test
If you are incredibly nervous about using your air fryer, I recommend starting with something easy: toast. Simply put a slice or two of bread into the basket, set the temperature to about 400, and set the timer for about 10 minutes. You can preheat the appliance, but there’s really no need to do so. It gets up to temp pretty quickly. After about 3 minutes, check on the bread. Does it look like toast yet? If not, keep it going. If it looks done, flip it and see how the other side looks. The other side will likely need a minute or two of toasting before it’s ready.
Toast is an excellent first food to start with because it gets you comfortable with your machine quickly. And, it can show you how evenly and fast the air fryer cooks. Most units will give you evenly toasted bread in about three or four minutes. Less efficient models will take up to ten minutes.
Don’t Trust Recommended Cooking Times
There are countless cooking guidelines for air fryers out there, and they almost always underestimate how long it will actually take to cook the food. To make matters worse, air fryers vary wildly in their cooking speeds. One unit may make fries from scratch in 30 minutes. Another might take an hour.
You can get a good idea of how efficient your unit is by doing the toast test above. If it toasts bread in three minutes, it will likely also cook other foods quickly. A machine that toasts in 10 minutes will take longer to make your meals.
Don’t Set It and Forget It
After you’ve made certain items a few times, you will know how long they take to make. However, the first couple of times you make a new dish, you should check on it periodically. I usually look at my food every five to ten minutes. I’ll also shake the basket to make sure the goods are cooked evenly. As it gets close to being done, check more often to avoid burning your meal.
The bottom line is that it will take a little trial and error to get used to your air fryer. Don’t expect recipes to be accurate. A good rule of thumb is if your food doesn’t look done, it probably isn’t. It’s okay to put it back in for a little longer.
Some of My Favorite Easy Recipes
One of my family’s favorite and healthiest meals is also one of the easiest. You just need boneless, skinless chicken breasts (“BS boobs” for short) and Cajun seasoning. I rub a tablespoon of the seasoning on two pounds of chicken breasts and set the breasts in the basket. Every 10 minutes or so, I flip the birds. It usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes at 370 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure the chicken reaches an internal temp of 165.
My favorite thing to bring to parties is bacon-wrapped tater tots. Cut thin-sliced bacon in half and wrap one half around each tater tot. Put them on end in the basket. And, check on them after about 15 minutes and every 5 minutes after that until the bacon looks crispy. You can then top the tots with shredded cheese, green onions, or a dollop of sour cream.
Lastly, French fries are another go-to favorite. Cut one to two pounds of potatoes – I use yellow but most other people use Russet – into half-inch sticks. Toss the potatoes with a tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of salt, and a quarter teaspoon of paprika. Cook them in the air fryer at about 400. Shake the basket every 10 minutes or so until the fries look golden brown on the outside.
Have Fun Experimenting
The air fryer is designed to make your life easier. Have fun experimenting. Basically, anything you might make in a convection oven can be made in an air fryer. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me below in the comments or search any of the dozens of Facebook groups devoted to air fryers.
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