How To Use An Air Fryer | Beginner’s Guide

Thinking about buying an air fryer or gifting one over the holidays? This helpful guide shares how to use an air fryer. Along with tips on cooking, cleaning, and maintenance. Let’s unlock your air-frying prowess!

Oh yeah, I was skeptical at first. 

“Probably one of those overrated kitchen appliances that start overflowing garage sales and thrift stores.”

But after giving the air fryer a chance, I stand happily corrected. And it has become a treasured addition to our kitchen. 

To start, I secretly tested some of my regular recipes – classics like my cauliflower tots and sweet potato fries – and plated it for Dustin and the kids (to see if they could tell.)

And well…they had nothing but positive feedback about the extra crispy effect!

I personally am a fan because it allows me to cook veggies with less oil, faster, and cleaner.

So if you’re finally ready to get that air fryer, I support that, and I’ve got you. Below, I’m breaking down the DOs and DON’Ts, maintenance, cleaning, and cooking tips you should probably know.

I’ll also be sharing the best foods to cook with your new fryer, so read on further!

Healthy July 4th Recipes

How Do You Cook With An Air Fryer? 

Think of air fryers as powerful ovens that use air instead of fat as the conductor for heat. As they are more similar to ovens than deep fryers, don’t expect the food to fry the same as your typical onion rings or fries.

While there will be a slight difference…if you cook ’em right, you’ll enjoy the results.

To cook with an air fryer, you simply…

  1. Place your raw veggies or proteins inside the cook basket
  2. Set the temperature/ timer
  3. Wait!

It’s very low-maintenance cooking (which I love).

Air fryers are versatile! Along with serving as a substitute for frying, they can brown veggies, reheat leftovers, cook wings, and even bake some light cakes and cookies.

TIP: Pat down any meat or veggies with a paper towel before cooking with your air fryer, as you want to avoid excess moisture in the cook basket.

Healthy July 4th Recipes

What Cannot Be Cooked In An Airfryer? 

The air fryer is a magical piece of kitchen equipment that allows you to cook with more efficiency while using less oil. (Yay!) However, it does have its limits, so be aware.

What NOT to cook in an air fryer: 

  • Thin leafy greens 
  • Popcorn
  • Raw rice and other grains 
  • Burgers 
  • Fried foods with wet batter 
  • Whole chickens or big quantities of roasts 
  • Most cheeses
  • Raw veggies
  • Heavily dry-seasoned food 
  • Olive oil if cooking over 375 degrees F

Do You Put Oil In An Air Fryer? 

Now that you know what foods to avoid cooking…let’s talk about oils.

Here Are 3 Ways To Properly Use Oil When Cooking With An Air Fryer:

  1. Use your oil sparingly: Take it easy with the oil, as excess amounts can smoke out and build up under the grate. Many veggies brown up nicely with a light coating of oil. While cooking foods with fat (chicken nuggets, etc.) you can use oil very sparingly – and may not need any at all.
  1. Don’t use oils with a low smoke point: Y’all know how much I LOVE my extra vigin olive oil. I use it to cook for lotsa recipes! It’s not so great for the air fryer though (as it has a low smoke point and could produce an aftertaste). As I mentioned above, it should still be OK if cooking below 375 degrees F.

TIP: Try using avocado oil. It has a higher smoke point and is still very good for you. Check out this post to learn more: What is the Healthiest Oil to Cook With?

  1. Don’t use cooking spray on the drawer: The baskets already have a nonstick coating so your cooking spray might just do damage. If you’re concerned about the food sticking, just lightly coat your food with oil. 
Freshly bakes jicama fries garnished with parsley on a baking sheet.

Can You Put Raw Meat In An Air Fryer?

There’s a general rule that whatever you can bake in the oven, you can usually cook in an air fryer. And this DOES include meat (like steak, lamb chops, and chicken breasts). As long as you don’t use breading or wet batter.

The air fryer can easily cook meats faster than the time it takes in an oven. And the results turn out surprisingly juicy/ tender. Just make sure to not overcrowd your air fryer and give your meat some space!

TIP: Flip proteins in the air fryer half way through to get an even cook.

Can You Put Water In An Air Fryer To Clean? 

Only use water for the removable parts (the basket and drawer usually). You can add these parts to the dishwasher (for those that fit) or wash and soap them well. 

But NEVER – ever – place the whole air fryer in water because it’s an electric appliance and you will ruin it. Just clean the outside parts of the main unit using a damp cloth in warm water with a bit of soap. And remember to dry well before using it. 

You can also wipe the heating element free from food, stains, and grease. Some brands recommend using a soft brush to remove food debris.

Baked Zucchini Fries | A healthy and fun new way to eat your veggies | A Sweet Pea Chef

Can You Put Aluminum Foil In An Air Fryer? 

Some brands don’t recommend using foil so make sure to double-check your manual on this point. 

But for typical models, you can use foil as long as you leave space for some airflow. This is because the air fryer works by pushing hot air around the food (hence the name). You don’t want foil blocking this flow and leaving your food undercooked.

If using foil, also make sure you don’t cover up the holes of the air fryer basket or tray.

Here are some extra tips to make sure you’re using foil the right way:

  1. Make sure to only put foil in the basket where it’s weighed down by food. If used in any other parts such as the bottom of the drawer, it could get blown around, overheat when in contact with the heating element, and even start a fire. 
  1. Never use with acidic ingredients. If you also have to use foil, don’t use it with highly acidic ingredients (some marinades, lemon, vinegar, tomatoes, and peppers). They could react with the foil at hight temperatures and break down the aluminum into your food. Eek! 
  1. Try using parchment paper (instead) as much as possible. Food is less likely to stick to the paper and bonus: it’s better for the environment. Yay! There are stores that sell perforated parchment paper designed for air fryers specifically. 
View from the top of 4 meal prep containers filled with Sheet Pan Sausage and Veggies and quinoa ready to be stored in the fridge.

Do You Have To Clean The Air Fryer After Every Use? 

Yes, yes, and YES. Clean your air fryer after every use because oil can build up (which can make the unit smoke). Apart from the smoke, a buildup of oil can also cause unwanted odor or lend a bad aftertaste to your food.

Simply wipe off the grate and drawer with a paper towel. If it has a lot of gunk, then hand wash the removable parts. Most models have dishwasher-friendly parts but be sure to check your manual. 

Remember to be safe: unplug the unit after using it and make sure to wait a while to clean so it can cool down.

More Helpful Posts

I hope you found some good tips in here! For more kitchen How-Tos, check out these posts:

This post contains affiliate links for products I use regularly and highly recommend.

Lacey Baier

Hey y’all, I’m Lacey Baier and I’m so glad you’re here! I’m a healthy lifestyle influencer and the creator of this clean-eating blog and YouTube channel, A Sweet Pea Chef. My recipes have been published on Food Network, Good Morning America, FoxNews, Tastemade, Fitness Magazine, and much more. I live in Dallas, Texas with my husband and four kiddos. Let’s get started!

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