How to Use an Air Fryer: The Perfect Guide For First Timers

I did eventually jump on the air fryer bandwagon…

Well, it was more of a reluctant stumble, if I’m honest.

You know how it is—a shiny new gadget that promises to make life easier, yet you hesitate because, let’s face it, your cabinets are already a graveyard of forgotten kitchen appliances.

And when I first pulled that new air fryer out of the box, I thought it looked like something ET left behind at his last visit.

Seriously, if it started phoning home, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

And y’all, I did NOT read the instructions, and OH how I wish I had because I absolutely did not know how to use an air fryer.

My initial foray into the world of air frying was a cross between a comedy of errors and a culinary horror show. I mean, who knew you couldn’t just jam-pack the basket with fries and hope for the best?

But here’s the good news—after days of burnt sweet potato fries and chicken wings that would make a rubber tire seem tender, I finally swallowed my pride and read the air fryer’s manual.

The heavens opened up, angels sang—okay, not really, but I did learn a thing or two.

So, no need for you to stumble through the dark like I did. This article is your flashlight, your guidebook, your oracle.

We’re going to demystify this magical machine together, and by the end, you’ll be air frying like a Michelin-starred chef—or at least, you won’t be setting off the smoke alarm every 10 minutes.

Stick with me, and you’ll be on the fast track to happy air frying. (Tip: It wouldn’t hurt to skim through that air fryer’s manual too!)

Step-by-Step How To Use An Air Fryer:

How to use an Air Fryer

What Can You Expect the First Time?

  • Expect a learning curve for this kitchen appliance. Your inaugural fry session probably won’t yield perfectly golden fried foods. But don’t fret; even culinary pros had to start somewhere.

  • Noise alert! Your air fryer is no library whisperer. Think of it more like a pocket-sized jet engine. It’s all part of the air-frying charm.

  • Speed is another thing. You’ll find that food cooks in only a few minutes, a stark contrast to deep frying’s slow dance. This swiftness is a double-edged sword—convenient but potentially disastrous if you zone out.

1. Before First Use

You’ve just unboxed your new air fryer, and it’s gleaming like a new toy. Before you plug it in, make sure to wash all the removable parts (usually the air fryer basket and any trays) with warm soapy water. Check to make sure there is no packaging left behind anywhere in the air fryer unit.

Dry everything thoroughly before reassembling.

2. Preheat Your Air Fryer

Now, think of this step as the warm-up before the big game. Turn your air fryer on for about 3-5 minutes at the cooking temperature you’ll be using.

3. Arrange Food in Air Fryer Basket

spaced out chicken bites in air fryer

Get your ingredients cozied up in the air fryer basket, but not too cozy. They need room to breathe to cook evenly.

4. Set Time and Temperature

Consult your recipe’s guidance or channel your inner psychic. Kidding! You can check out the general times and temps section below for a starting point.

5. Start Air Frying

Press start and let the air fryer cooking magic happen. This is where you can do a little happy dance but keep it brief; we’ve got more steps.

6. Check and Shake

checking and shaking fries in air fryer

About halfway through, pause the air fryer to shake or stir your food. This ensures that everyone in the air fryer basket gets their moment in the hot air spotlight.

7. Taste-Test

Close to the end of the timer? Sneak a quick taste test. This is your chance to add more seasoning or extend the cooking time.

8. Final Landing

Ding! Ding! The timer goes off! Carefully remove the air fryer basket, and let your culinary creation sit for a minute or two.

9. Cool Down

Turn off and unplug your air fryer. Because safety never takes a day off, my friends.

Safety First: Prevention & Preparedness

air fryer safety

Alright, listen up! You may be thrilled about your new air fryer, but let’s not turn that joy into a Three Stooges episode.

A kitchen mishap is a surefire way to become a viral video—and not in the good way.

Safety first, crispy deliciousness second.

So here’s the deal on how to use an air fryer safely:

  • Location, location, location. Make sure to leave at least 6 inches of space between the air fryer’s exhaust vent and any wall. You don’t want your air fryer basket’s hot exhalations torching your wallpaper or melting the blender. That’s why it’s essential to place your appliance on a heat-resistant surface.

  • Unplug that bad boy when it’s not in use. Some kitchen appliances, including air fryers with soft-touch buttons, have been known to spontaneously power on. We want fries, not fires. And speaking of fries, if you’re cooking greasy foods like those, always be extra vigilant about safety.

  • Supervised cooking is the name of the game. Always, and I mean always, keep an eye on your air fryer while it’s doing its air fryer cooking magic. No wandering off to watch Netflix or take a power nap.

  • A fire extinguisher in your kitchen is a general safety tip that goes beyond how to air fry. Trust me, when things reach their smoke point, you’ll thank your lucky stars (and me) for having it.

  • Maintenance is a must. Keeping your air fryer clean will prevent excess oil and grease buildup, a major fire risk. If you’ve been frying bacon and accumulating bacon grease, make sure you clean it off, especially from the heating element. Old food pieces that turn into flying debris inside the fryer can also spark a fire.

  • Don’t use abrasive cleaners or scrubbers if your air fryer has glass doors, as these can lead to micro-abrasions. Over time, these tiny scratches can turn into cracks, making it possible for the glass to shatter. Let’s avoid the explosion, shall we?

By following these safety steps, your air fryer basket will serve up nothing but delicious, guilt-free foods, with no side of drama.

How Does an Air Fryer Work? (This is important!)

hot air circulating in air fryer

Alright, folks, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. You’re all cozied up with your latest kitchen gadget, and you might be wondering: what’s the big secret? What makes an air fryer tick?

Or, you know, fry?

The answer, my friends, is all in the hot air. And understanding this is crucial for how to use an air fryer effectively.

Hot air isn’t just for politicians anymore; it’s the lifeblood of your air fryer, too.

Here’s the deal: most air fryers operate with a heating element at the top. You set your time and temp, and this heating element warms up faster than a cat finding a sunny spot on the carpet.

Once it’s hot, a fan kicks in to circulate the air around your food in the air fryer drawer or air fryer basket. Think of it like a merry-go-round for your soon-to-be delicious snacks.

Why is this cooking process a game-changer? Because you’re using significantly less oil. Yup, you get to have your crispy fries and eat them too, without having the guilt loom over you like a rain cloud.

Now, why is understanding the hot air part so important?

Because whatever you put into that air fryer needs to be something that won’t get swept away like a leaf in a windstorm.

Leafy greens?

Forget it; they’ll be clinging to the sides or worse, create a mini tornado in your air fryer.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If it’s something that would blow away in a gentle breeze, it’s not going in the fryer. Stick to solids that can stand up to the circulating air and you’ll be golden.

Different Types of Air Fryers – First Off, Identify Your Machine!

Different types of air fryers

Alright, folks, before you dive into your air-frying adventure, let’s sort out what kind of kitchen appliance you’re dealing with. Because spoiler alert: not all air fryers are the same! Knowing how to use an air fryer and what model you have can save you from some air frying disasters.

There are 3 main styles of air fryer models:

  • Basket-Style Air Fryers: This is your ‘set it and forget it’ model—well, almost. These are usually more straightforward to use. Just pop your food into the removable basket, slide it in, select your settings, and you’re off to the races. Since the basket is typically dishwasher safe, cleanup is a breeze. But remember, don’t overcrowd the basket; that’s the express train to Soggyville.

  • Toaster/Convection Oven with Air Fryer Setting: With this style, you’re basically getting a multi-purpose oven that can air fry among other things. These often have racks, so remember that you might experience uneven cooking if you don’t flip or shake your food. Also, be prepared to potentially dial down the temperature or cook time since these models can run hot and fast compared to standard air fryers.

  • Multi-Function Air Fryer: This is the Swiss Army knife of air fryers. Whether you’re rotisserie-ing a chicken or dehydrating fruit, each function might have its own set of quirks and cooking times. You’ll likely need to consult the manual more frequently until you get the hang of all the different features.

Size Matters: A smaller air fryer that is perfect for one or two, vs a large air fryer that is fit for a feast? Size affects the time it takes to cook your food. Smaller air fryers can fit less food and will likely require less time to cook.

Remember, different fryers may have different air fryer settings, so again, a glance at that manual doesn’t hurt.

If you haven’t yet taken the plunge and bought your own air fryer, check out my top picks for Non Toxic Air Fryers and Stainless Steel Air Fryers.

What Can’t You Cook in an Air Fryer?

Okay, we’ve talked about the magic this nifty countertop appliance can perform, but let’s pump the brakes for a sec. When it comes to how to use an air fryer, it might seem like they can do it all, but there are some things even they can’t tackle.

Let’s dive into the list of “Just Don’ts,” shall we?

  • Wet Batter Foods: The bad news first. Love deep-fried Oreos from the fair? You can forget about recreating them in an air fryer. Wet batter won’t set in an air fryer like it does with deep frying. Instead, you’ll get a soggy mess clinging to your air fryer basket.

  • Leafy Greens: Remember when we said light things get tossed around like a beach ball at a Nickelback concert? That’s especially true for leafy greens. Unless you want a culinary remake of “The Wizard of Oz,” keep the lettuce, kale, and spinach out.

  • Super Cheesy Items: Melting cheese is glorious—unless it’s melting all over your air fryer’s insides, creating a nightmare to clean up. So, if you’re dreaming of molten lava cheese sticks, maybe stick to the oven.

  • Large Cuts of Meat: While air fryers are superstars at making chicken wings or small pieces of fish crispy, most struggle with large cuts of meat. It won’t cook food evenly, leaving you with an exterior that’s as dry as last year’s fruitcake and an interior that’s, well, mooing.

  • Anything with Loose Toppings: Got breadcrumbs or small toppings? They’ll get blown away faster than your chances of winning the lottery. Anything that’s not firmly adhered to your food is likely to fly around and make a mess.

What Can You Cook in an Air Fryer?

Alright, now that we’ve got the “nos” out of the way, let’s focus on the “heck, yeses!” And this is just a list of a FEW of the common foods you can air fry!

  • Traditionally Fried Foods: Most traditionally fried foods translate beautifully to the air fryer world. Think french fries, onion rings, chicken tenders, and jalapeño poppers. Sayonara, deep fryer!

  • Cook Chicken: From chicken wings to chicken breast, and yes, even fried chicken, your air fryer’s got you covered. Bonus: No need to fire up your big oven!

  • Cook Bacon: I know, right? Cook bacon in the air fryer and you’ll get perfectly crispy strips without turning your stovetop into a greasy mess. Your smoke alarm will thank you.

  • Baked Potatoes: You’re not hallucinating. You can indeed make baked potatoes in an air fryer. Faster than an oven and just as delicious—if not more so!

  • Brussels Sprouts: Last but not least, let’s talk veggies. Brussels sprouts cooked in an air fryer become crispy little flavor bombs that even veggie-haters might reconsider.

  • Reheating Food: Got leftovers? Your air fryer can revive yesterday’s salmon or chicken wings to almost their original glory. The first time you reheat leftovers in your air fryer will go down in the family history books, I swear.

So, next time someone questions your love affair with your air fryer, just whip out this list and ask them, “What CAN’T this wonder-machine do?” (Actually, don’t, we just talked about that in the last section, remember?)

General Times & Temps

times and temps table
times and temps table continued

Bonus Tips & Tricks from a Chef

Alright, gather ’round, my air-frying aficionados! Chef Lauren has got some hot takes to share.

With a decade and a half in the biz and my very own sustainable, farm-to-table takeout spot, I’ve learned a thing or three that can step up your air fryer game.

Buckle up, buttercups!

1. Aerosol Sprays: The Nonstick Nightmare

Yup, it’s true. Aerosol sprays are like kryptonite to your air fryer’s nonstick coating. In my restaurant, we say “no” to aerosol and “yes” to reusable pump spray bottles filled with avocado or grapeseed oil. It’s like giving your air fryer a hug—environmentally friendly and easy on the wallet.

2. Silicone Mats: The Upgrade from Parchment Paper

silicone vs parchment

Ah, you thought parchment paper was cool? Well, let me introduce you to its stylish cousin, the silicone mat. Not only is it reusable (your wallet and Mother Earth thank you), but it also provides an even cooking surface, which means no more half-crispy, half-soggy fries. In my restaurant, we love silicone mats because they’re easy to clean and they last forever. If you haven’t tried one yet, you’re missing out. Trust me, once you go silicone, you never go back!

3. The Almighty Cooking Thermometer

Don’t kid yourself; the built-in timer on your air fryer isn’t foolproof. Grab a cooking thermometer to make sure you’re nailing those perfect internal temps. Nothing says “pro” like a steak cooked to your exact liking.

4. Season Like You Mean It

Pre-packaged seasoning? In this house? Never! Trust me, a little mix of fresh herbs and spices can transform any dish. One of my faves? It’s good on EV-ER-Y-THING.

2 parts ground coriander

1 part smoked paprika

1 part garlic powder

1/2 part ground cumin

1/2 part ground cinnamon

A pinch of cayenne for some heat (adjust to your taste).

No extra additives, no problem!

5. Zero-Waste Goodness

Yeah, you know I’m all about that zero-waste lifestyle. Leftover Brussels sprouts? Throw them back in the air fryer with some eggs for a zero-waste, crunchy breakfast scramble. Your air fryer isn’t just a cool gadget; it’s your zero-waste kitchen hero!

6. Sweet Treats in the Air Fryer? Oh Yeah!

air fryer donut holes

Whoever said air fryers are just for fries and chicken wings hasn’t lived! I once tossed some leftover dough with cinnamon and sugar and made impromptu donuts. The air fryer does dessert, and it does it well, my friends.

7. Preheating Isn’t Optional

Take it from someone who learned the hard way: always preheat your air fryer. It might seem like an unnecessary step, but it’s the secret to that crispy, golden finish we all crave.

So there you go, air fryer disciples! Implement these pro-tips, and I guarantee your culinary game will level up. And remember, if you’re too lazy to cook, you can always swing by my place for some farm-to-table goodness. Happy air frying!

Chef Lauren’s All-Time Favorite Air Fryer Recipe:

I’ve got just the thing for you to try!

Indian cuisine holds a special place in my culinary heart, and this recipe comes straight out of the kitchen of my farm-to-table restaurant! Tried and true, just for you.

So, let me introduce you to Air Fryer Chicken Tikka Bites!

These morsels are bursting with flavor and are as simple to make as ordering take-out. Plus, they’re the perfect intro dish for anyone new to the air fryer world.

Air Fryer Chicken Tikka Bites

Chicken Tikka Bites Air Fried


2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 lemon, juiced

1/4 C sunflower oil

1.5 T himilayan sea salt

3 cloves garlic, minced

1-inch fresh ginger, grated

1 T Kashmiri chili powder for color (or paprika)

2 t turmeric

2 t garam masala

1 t ground cumin

Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish


Preparation Is Key: Start by marinating the chicken. In a mixing bowl, combine the Greek yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, and all the spices except for the Kashmiri chili powder. Mix it well.

In order to achieve that beautiful deep red color without icky food coloring (often used at restaurants), here’s a trick: Bring the oil to it’s smoking point and then remove from heat. Once it’s cooled down, add the Kashmiri chili powder. This will keep the color vibrant. Add this kashmiri oil to your yogurt marinade.

Chicken Diving Time: Add the chicken pieces to the marinade. Make sure each piece is well coated. Cover and let it marinate for at least 30 minutes, though overnight is even better for absorbing those rich, exotic flavors.

Prep the Air Fryer: Preheat your air fryer to 375°F. While it’s heating up, lightly coat the air fryer basket with some oil. Here’s where that pro tip comes in: avoid using aerosol sprays on the non-stick surface if your air fryer has one! Instead, opt for an oil mister or a pastry brush. The silicone mat is a great help here.

Let’s Fry: Place the chicken pieces in a single layer in the air fryer basket. Depending on the size of your air fryer, you might need to do this in batches. If you have a kebab accessory for your air fryer, use that!

Cook Time: Cook for 10-12 minutes, flipping the chicken bites halfway through to ensure they’re cooked evenly.

Finishing Touch: Once done, remove the chicken bites and let them rest for a couple of minutes. Garnish with some freshly chopped cilantro.

Serve and Impress: Serve these succulent bites with a side of mint chutney or some raita. Your guests will be singing your praises, trust me!


Do I need to use oil when using an air fryer?

oil sprayer for air fryer

Alright, let’s get this straight: using oil in an air fryer is like wearing a statement necklace—It’s not crucial, but it adds a nice touch.

Believe me, I tried making “oil-free” fries once, and let’s just say, they tasted like crunchy cardboard. Lesson learned.

You don’t need oil, but a dash can elevate your meal from “good” to “who needs a restaurant?” Just a misting of oil can make your goodies crispier and help seasonings stick.

But beware! Don’t use aerosol sprays; they can ruin your air fryer’s non-stick coating. A simple pump spray bottle of your favorite oil will do the trick.

Similar Posts