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11 Mistakes Everyone Makes with Their Air Fryer

They promise low-fat cooking with extra-crispy results, but if you don't use your air fryer properly, your dish may be less than dazzling.

Air fryer machine with chicken and french friedVenus Angel/Shutterstock

Your air fryer is not getting any air

It might be small—and mighty—but air fryers need their space. That’s because these mini convection ovens rely on a constant flow of air to move the high-temp heat around the food for all-over crispness. Make sure your air fryer has at least five inches of space on all sides, The Kitchn says. And keep it on a stable surface, too, so the vibration won’t send it tumbling onto the floor. Learning how an air fryer cooks your food will help you understand how to cook with it safely.

Glass bowl with olive oil on dark backgroundAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

You use too much oil

Most air fryers call for only a teaspoon or two of oil. If you dump in too much, you’ll get regrettable results. “An air fryer is not a deep fryer,” says Jim Mumford, recipe writer and blogger at Jimcooksfoodgood.com. “I’ve seen people dump two quarts of oil into an air fryer and wonder why their food didn’t work. An air fryer moves very hot air around your food as it bakes, aka a mini convection oven.” It’s not just fries—the foods you can make in an air fryer may surprise you.

Closeup of fresh organic spinach leavesRawpixel.com/Shutterstock

The foods are too light

An air fryer’s moving air means light foods could float. “A common mistake I see, that I have done myself, is forgetting that things fly around in the air fryer,” says Anand Bhatt, author of Rock Star Recipes. “So something lightweight like spinach, as it starts to fry, ends up getting up in the heating coil—and then it burns, setting off the smoke alarm.” Make sure you’re using the best air fryers on the market. 

Studio shot of digital air fryer isolated on white backgroundTrong Nguyen/Shutterstock

You don’t preheat the air fryer

An air fryer is like an oven: It needs to be hot so it can properly cook whatever you put in it from the moment the door shuts. If it’s too cold, the final food may suffer. Check your recipe’s suggested temperature when you begin pulling out ingredients for cooking. Go ahead and turn the air fryer on so it can be plenty hot when you’re ready to use it. It won’t take long—that small space can reach the right temperature in under five minutes, which makes it great for weeknight cooking. And then check out the simple trick air fryer pros know to get perfectly golden food every time.

Roasted shrimps with garlic and herbs. Seafood, shelfish. Shrimps Prawns grilled with spices and garlic on black stone background, copy space. Shrimps prawns on cast iron pan.Farizun Amrod Saad/Shutterstock

You cook in the air fryer without cleaning

A dirty air fryer can be dangerous for your stomach and your nose. “You put yourself at a much higher risk of food contamination if you do not clean your air fryer between uses,” says Candess Zona-Mendola, editor of a food safety blog and a paralegal for a food safety law firm. “Aim to clean your air fryer after every meal that’s cooked in it.” It might seem like a big mess, but it’s quite easy, Zona-Mendola adds. “Just use hot water with a bit of dishwashing liquid. Let the basket soak as long as it needs so you don’t have to scrub off baked-on food. Three minutes of your time will keep your air fryer fresh [and] your tummy safe, and your kitchen won’t stink.”

Fresh organic carrots on black background.marylooo/Shutterstock

The foods are too wet

Deep fryers can expel moisture from foods like batters, but an air fryer isn’t capable of that, Mumford says. “Don’t put in limp, wet veggies and expect a miracle. Instead, an air fryer should be used to quickly crisp up already breaded or crunchy foods,” he says. “Think breaded chicken tenders or Brussels sprouts.”

Chicken Grill made from air flyer.Ezzolo/Shutterstock

You don’t check the food’s temperature

Don’t neglect your food safety know-how when you turn on an air fryer. The rules of cooking meat thoroughly apply here just as they would on a grill, oven, or stove surface. “Those who think that there is no need to check the internal temperatures when food is air-fried are serving up a recipe for disaster,” Zona-Mendola says. “You want to make sure that you are practicing the same sanitary precautions, as well as cooking temp precautions, as you would with any other method of cooking.” Here are 11 more mistakes that can make food toxic.

sweet potatoes baked with an air fryerWhiteFox52/Shutterstock

You put too much food in the basket

The machine needs air around it, and the food does, too. If you overcrowd the basket in your air fryer, your food won’t have a lot of exposed surface area. Where the hot air meets the surface of the food and any oil is where the cooking (and flavor) happens. Because air fryers cook quickly, you can cook in small batches—and that will ensure each piece has the best flavor and texture possible, Cooking Light says. If you loathe the multi-batch approach, look for a larger air fryer. Cooking for a crowd may still require some batch cooking, but for a family of four, it’ll be plenty of space for a weeknight round of crisp cauliflower or broccoli. And while you’re shopping, here’s a guide to the best air fryer on the market.

Three pieces of raw salmon in the air fryer at the center with a grey background. Air frying fish. Air frying salmon for a healthy salmon meal. Uncooked salmon in a pan shot in the center.GreedyGourmet/Shutterstock

You don’t use any oil

You can have too much oil—and you can have too little, too, says Mumford. Most recipes will recommend the amount that’s right for that dish, but when in doubt, give everything a quick spritz with oil. “Oil is a great medium to transfer heat,” he says. “Using a little on your food, via non-stick spray, will make your food infinitely more crisp and browned.”

potato chips, French fries, being prepared in an oil-free fryer, Fryer without oillidiasilva/Shutterstock

The food is too small

Food that is too small in an air fryer basket could slip right through the slots and fall onto a heating element. The pieces will burn quickly, which could fill your food—and your kitchen—with fumes and smoke. The Kitchn recommends keeping everything larger than one quarter inch, or about the size of a regular French fry. When in doubt, drop the food in the basket and give it a shake over a sink or garbage can. If anything slips out, don’t put it in your air fryer.

crispy organic heritage smoked bacon from a local organic farmfarbled/Shutterstock

You let fatty foods drip

You might have purchased an air fryer to complement a lower-fat eating plan, but you can also use the quick-cooking appliance to fry up favorite high-fat options like burgers, sausages, and even bacon. Before you hit the start button, make sure you put water in the bottom of the cavity under the frying basket. This way, when the fat drips onto the hot surface, it will hit water—not hot metal, where it will burn, smoke, and smell. If you appreciate the time your air fryer saves, you’ll love these 25 brilliant kitchen shortcuts.

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Kimberly Holland
Kimberly Holland is a lifestyle writer and editor based in Birmingham, Alabama. When not organizing her books by color, Holland enjoys toying with new kitchen gadgets and feeding her friends all her cooking experiments.