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It's for more than crispy wings and fries (though it can do that well).

By Aly Walansky
March 24, 2021
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Living in a small apartment often involves choosing appliances that pack in a lot of options and value instead of always trying the latest trendy gadgets. It's a matter of utilizing what is sometimes nonexistent counter space in the most productive matter.

But every so often, trends and space-saving gadgets merge in a perfect combination, and that's what happened when I got my first air fryer.

I am said person — one of many out there, though — who lives in a small studio apartment with a tiny kitchen. However, in my case, I am attempting to do so while writing about food and cooking as my job.

That means I spend a lot of time prepping and cooking — sometimes batches, sometimes small portions — in a kitchen kind of designed for someone who hardly needed to use it at all. It's a kitchen where, if one wants to use their slow cooker, they'd have to put their toaster on the floor because there's no room for both to exist simultaneously. Enter, then, the air fryer.

The reason I fell in love with the air fryer at first glance was its incredible functionality. It can be used to make classic air fryer recipes, like those fries or wings that it is best known for, sure. But as someone who doesn't currently own a microwave or toaster - it's also great for reheating that pizza or last night's dinner leftovers. In fact, it can be used to do essentially anything the oven can do but in a compact, easy to clean, and often faster and simpler way.

In short, I'm hooked. In fact, I'm so hooked that I cook live on my Instagram nearly daily with new discoveries of the endless possibilities of cooking with an air fryer. From lobster tails to stuffed peppers, it's happened.

But now a few years into using the air fryer as my primary kitchen appliance, I've absolutely developed some best practices and tips that can save new air fryer cookers a lot of time. So with the help of some air fryer experts I know and my own experience, here are some ways to get the most out of your own air fryers. It's not just for wings!

Treat It With Kindness

This seems obvious, I know, but just like you wouldn't go and soak your cast iron skillet in a bunch of soapy water, you really need to take good care of the non-stick lining of the air fryer basket if you want it to last and go the distance. That basket can start to rust, break down, or flake off with misuse, and that will lead to the appliance not doing its job as well. In addition, food may start sticking to the basket, and the whole appliance will not perform as well.

"Only use utensils that are safe for nonstick surfaces, such as silicone or silicone-tipped utensils," says Emily Paster, author of Epic Air Fryer Cookbook.   

When cleaning air fryers, try to avoid using items like steel wool, metal scrubbers, or anything at all abrasive. But do clean it between every use — you don't want your dinner tonight to be ruined with the smells of whatever you made last night!

"Think of it like a pan. I just clean mine in the sink with soap and water; some are dishwasher safe though," says Bria Celest, author of the e-book Air Fryer & Me: Easy And Delicious Recipes For Your Air Fryer.

Create an Easy-Clean Liner

Add some parchment paper to the bottom of the basket to make cleanup easier.

"Adding foil and parchment paper is great for easy clean up; both operate great in the air fryer! Especially if you're cooking anything that has a marinade on it," Celest says.

Preheat, Preheat, Preheat!

This isn't always necessary, but it's a great idea when you want a delicious sear, especially if you're cooking a beautiful steak. The trick is to choose your temp (normally 400 degrees F for me when dealing with steaks or roasts), and let it run for 3 minutes before adding your meat.

Invest in a Good Thermometer

If you are making a roast or a chicken and need to check the temperature of the meats for doneness without slicing them open (and losing those incredible juices), you need a meat thermometer. It's also very helpful steaks and burgers when you want to reach a precise degree of doneness for personal preference.

Don't Overcrowd the Basket

Different air fryers have different size capacities, and it's important to know what yours is before you start cooking. (Or if you're in the market to buy, it's important to know what size you need so you don't get something far too small for your family.)

My first air fryer was very small and compact, and it was perfect for a single person just cooking a burger or potato in for themselves. (The Dash Compact Air Fryer is a great starter air fryer for a dorm or a first apartment.) The one I am using right now is the TaoTronics 6-Quart XL Air Fryer, which is large enough to roast a whole chicken.

The point is that no matter how big or small an air fryer is, it's possible to overcrowd the basket when cooking. That means you stuff in as much as you can just because, well, it fits. Overcrowding the basket prevents the food from cooking evenly, and it stops any browning and crisping. Who wants droopy wings?

Give your food space so as much surface area is exposed as possible. That will help you cook the food faster and get better results.

Be Careful With Oil

Do not spritz cooking sprays directly onto the air fryer basket. They can be bad for the nonstick coating of the air fryer basket. Something like an oil mister $9; Amazon.com) can come in handy here, and that option allows you to fill it with your own oils, even fun infused ones. You can use the oil mister on your food after flipping it, too. (But more on that in a minute.)

Hold the Food in Place

If you are making bacon-wrapped scallops, the last thing you want is for that bacon to unwrap from the scallops mid-cook. It's totally fine to add toothpicks to hold your food together and in place. That also helps prevent super light small pieces of food from moving around in the basket.

Flip the Food and Shake the Basket

Returning to the roast chicken, my method of making it is to cook it at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes, flip, and do 30 more minutes on the other side. This helps make sure both sides are evenly cooked with golden, crisp skin. I also flip burgers and steaks, much like I would on a grill.

Shaking a basket — perhaps when dealing with fries, wings, or veggies — or flipping when dealing with a more substantial protein, is important for even cooking. No one wants steaks that are overdone in some places and undercooked in others.

Don't Let Fatty Foods Cause Smoking

Every so often, the air fryer may start to smoke, and it can be unsettling if you don't know what is happening. The reason? You may be cooking something fatty — for example, bacon or a burger  — and that fat can smoke as it's heating up.

A good trick to avoid that smoking is to add a thin layer of water to your air fryer drawer (that's the area beneath the basket). This can prevent it from smoking if you're making any fatty meats.

Don't Be Afraid to Accessorize

One common misconception that people make about air fryers is that they only serve one purpose: to make fried foods, without the oil. Sure, they can do that, but they can do so much more — but sometimes, you need the right tools. (After all, you'd not ask a painter to paint your home without paint and brushes.)

"One of my biggest air fryer tips is to use extra accessories that allow you to make the most out of your air fryer, such as the grill pan to make a perfect steak, my favorite, or a baking pan — you can also make cakes, pizzas, and muffins in your air fryer — or even silicone molds to make the perfect frittata or individual cheesy mac and cheese," says Chef Chris Valdes, a Miami-based Latino celeb chef and a finalist on Food Network Star. "With only a few extra dollars you'll quickly discover that your air fryer is one of the most versatile kitchen appliances on your counter," Chef Valdes says. 

It's OK to Open the Air Fryer

Those of us who have been baking for years know better than to open the oven when there's a cake in there, but it's totally fine to open your air fryer during the cooking process and check on what's inside. This is also a great opportunity to do that basket shaking, flipping, or oil misting I covered above. Once you close the air fryer back up, it will pick up where it left off.

Don't Discard the Juices From the Drawer Too Quickly

Whether roasting a chicken or making a pork tenderloin, the air fryer drawer will catch all the marinades and juices that come out of the food during the cooking process. That is a great foundation for making a gravy or pan sauce.

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