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How to use an air fryer: the ultimate guide to get tasty meals every time

Are you ready to take your family meals to the next level with the latest kitchen gadget? From perfectly crispy chips and potatoes to tasty chicken for Sunday lunch, here's how to get the most out of your air fryer...

By Natasha Gregson | Last updated Jun 13, 2023

The best air fryer models are increasingly becoming a go to in UK households. With energy bills soaring and an air fryer’s operating costs relatively low, they have become a great alternative to the oven or deep frying. Air fryers can also be healthier than other options and are famous for their ability to replicate deep fried foods with far less oil, using air as the vehicle for heat.

Busy parents are often keen for ways to shave precious time off their daily routines, whether that's using a slow cooker for efficient, effortless food prep, or using a gadget like an air fryer to actually reduce the overall cooking time needed for meals. We're certainly all on board with anything that makes family life easier, and Mumsnet users rave about the time and money-saving qualities of an air fryer.

Using your air fryer can extend to cooking a wide range of dishes from pizza and chips for dinner, to fried eggs and bacon for breakfast. Whether you're a total beginner or have been using an air fryer for some time, our guide has loads of tips, tricks and dinner inspiration to get your mouth watering...

How air fryers work

Air fryers work by circulating hot air around food. Inside, the air fryer will have a heating element which warms up the air, passing it over and around the food in the cooking chamber.  This is what creates the trademark crispy effect people love so much about air-fried food. And you don’t have to add much oil too.

Reducing the amount of oil you use in your cooking is one of the key benefits of using air fryers: they allow for healthier cooking. Air fryers require little oil in comparison to other cooking methods, lowering the amount of unhealthy fat in your food. This small change can improve your heart health and lower your cholesterol. Additionally, not submerging your foods in oil (like you would when using a deep fat fryer) preserves their nutritional value better.

Another benefit of using an air fryer is that they reduce cooking time. They preheat quickly, and cook food evenly and rapidly, reducing cooking time by up to 30% compared to oven baking. This makes home cooking much easier; you can get delicious food on the table rapidly, and focus on the important stuff like quality family time.

If you’re totally new to air frying, it might be worth investing in one of the best cookbooks specifically for this method of cooking while you get to grips with it - Amazon, Waterstones, and The Works are great places to get started.

The size of air fryers in relation to conventional ovens makes one of their advantages their convenience too, although bear in mind that you will need to make space on your countertop. They are usually easy to clean, with most containing dishwasher-safe parts. All in all, they are an appliance ideal for people with busy lives, including parents and those struggling to find time in the kitchen after a long day at work.

What Mumsnet users say

“I’m seriously thinking about ways to cut down expenditure. So far [I am] using the air fryer more as it's much more energy efficient than a gas oven.” Appalonia

“So easy to clean. I love mine and I really thought people were getting way overexcited about them.” Shannith

Read next: The best bread maker for creating fresh, homemade bakes

Different types of air fryers

Woman chopping onions

 There are two types of air fryer available on the market:

  • Conventional basket air fryers: Small and compact appliances that work by circulating hot air, cooking the food in a basket. Ideal for small households.

  • Multi-functional air fryer ovens: More advanced than conventional air fryers, they offer a wider range of cooking options. Multi-functional air fryers are larger, and have additional features such as baking, grilling and roasting. These are better suited for more spacious kitchens.

Plus, if versatility is at the top of your priorities, some multi-cookers have a built-in air fryer, along with other functions like a pressure cooker, rice cooker, steamer, amongst others to free up even more space in your kitchen.

Do you put oil in an air fryer?

Don’t let the name deceive you, you still do need to use oil in your air fryer as it plays an important role in the cooking process. Air fryers typically require around a teaspoon or two per dish. It’s still much less than what you’d use for oven cooking or in a deep fat fryer.

Just make sure you put the oil directly onto the food, and give it a good shake regularly for an even satisfying crisp.

Air fryer tips for beginners: what to know before your first use

Never air-fried before? Here are some insider tips to get you started with a basket-style air fryer:

  1. Preheat: Remember to preheat your air fryer before putting the food in. It should heat up much faster than a standard oven.

  2. Add a slice of bread: A well-placed slice of bread in the bottom of your air fryer can be helpful for collecting any excess grease, making the post-meal clean up easier.

  3. Spray with oil during the cooking process: This helps to ensure a nice even crisp. However, you don’t need to do this for greasy meats like bacon or sausages.

  4. Move food around: Shaking the basket a little during the cooking process helps to ensure everything is cooked evenly.

  5. Use in a well ventilated space: Leave plenty of space around the air fryer for ventilation. Do not use right next to a wall.

 What Mumsnet users say

“When air frying smaller items, like chicken wings and chips, you should shake the basket every few minutes to ensure even cooking.” Fivemoreminutes1

Read next: The best George Foreman grill for healthy family meals

How to use your air fryer

Bowl of fries

Here's a handy step-by-step guide to cooking food with a basket air fryer. How to use it will differ from meal to meal and between models (it will be slightly different for air fryer ovens too), so you should always consult the instructions before starting, but these are generally the steps involved in air frying.

  1. Prepare your ingredients: Cut the food items down to uniform size so they cook evenly.

  2. Preheat the air fryer and select the program you want to use: It’s important to let your air fryer reach its designated temperature and let it preheat for about five minutes before you put the food in.

  3. Add the food: Add the food in an even layer in the fry basket, leaving some space to allow hot air to circulate.

  4. Cook: Place the fry basket in the air fryer and set the cooking time. Cooking times vary depending on the type of food so you should always check this, but a general rule of thumb is to cook for 10 to 15 minutes, shaking the tray and flipping the food halfway through.

  5. Check: Open the air fryer and check the food. If it's not done to your liking, continue cooking in five-minute increments until it is cooked.

  6. Serve: Use oven mitts to remove the fry basket from the air fryer and serve.

Read next: The best sandwich toaster to upgrade work from lunches

Mistakes to avoid

  • Not preheating: Like with any cooking appliance, heating your air fryer before you add food means it will cook as soon as it's put inside. If you put your food inside as the fryer is heating up, it will get soggy.

  • Overfilling the basket: Because air fryers use hot air to cook, you need to leave space between the items to allow air flow and encourage even cooking.

  • Using foods that don’t weigh enough: It may sound silly, but when using circulating air to cook food, you need to ensure what’s inside weighs enough that the fan won’t blow it around. Things like kale and bread might be too light to cook in your air fryer.

  • Go easy on the oil: Too much oil can result in overly greasy food and may cause the air fryer to get too smoke, so go easy on the oil, particularly if the food you're cooking is already quite fatty.

  • Not cleaning properly after use: Cleaning your air fryer thoroughly will help you preserve its life. If you don’t clean it, food can build up in the basket and become difficult to remove.

What Mumsnet users say 

"Buy air fryer liners, they are about £5 for 100 from Amazon. Saves lots of cleaning."  Username6194

How to clean your air fryer

Knowing how to use an air fryer also involves knowing how to take care of it. To keep it functioning well you should regularly clean it.

First, unplug it and allow it to cool down. Then empty out any remaining food and crumbs from the fry basket and wipe it down with a damp cloth. For stuck-on food or grease, fill the basket with warm soapy water and let it soak for 10-15 minutes before scrubbing it with a sponge or brush. If there are any stubborn spots, try using a mixture of baking soda and water to scrub away.

Next, clean the interior. Use a damp cloth to wipe down the interior and remove any grease or food particles. For more thorough cleaning, you can remove the tray and wash it in the dishwasher (if it is dishwasher safe) or by hand. If there are any hard-to-reach areas, use a cotton swab or toothbrush to clean them.

Finally, be sure to regularly clean the outside. Use a damp cloth to wipe down the outside and remove any smudges. Regular cleaning will keep your air fryer in good working condition and prevent any build-up of grease or grime that could negatively affect the taste of your food.

Read next: Planning on cooking up a storm and saving your leftovers? The best lunch box, Tupperware and bento box will help with storage

The best foods to cook in an air fryer

Woman preparing salmon

Here are just some of the delicious treats Mumsnet users recommend air frying:

  • Chips: If any food is synonymous with air frying, it's crispy chips. We did oven chips in it last night and they were lovely so we will definitely do other freezer things.” Cuwins

  • All potato-based products (apart from mash): Your air fryer will easily outperform your oven on crispiness and cooking speed.

  • Chicken wings: Crispy skin and much healthier than deep frying… what’s not to like?

  • Vegetables: From carrots to brussell sprouts, vegetables cook quickly and evenly in an air fryer. The high heat caramelises the natural sugars in the vegetables, creating a delicious flavour. “Roasted vegetables are great, as are tandoori chicken wings.” Aethelthryth

  •  Fish: The even heat of the air fryer creates the perfect flaky texture for your fish fillets.

  • Bacon: Crispy bacon is an air fryer speciality. Learn how to use your air fryer to get the crispiest bacon and don’t look back... “[Air fryer] crispy bacon is fabulous.” Aethelthryth

  • Sweet treats: Air fryers are great for more than just savoury food. Try cakes and muffins for delicious results.

  •  Reheated food: Air fryers are fantastic for reheating food. They won’t make once-crispy things mushy like a microwave will. Use them to revive leftovers or last night’s takeaway!

Read next: The best food processor for efficient food prep