How to Air Fry Without an Air Fryer

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You probably have friends who constantly praise the virtues of their latest countertop favorite: an air fryer. These appliances are designed to achieve the crispiness of fried food without the messy and fattening vat of oil. However, they have their drawbacks. Mainly, they take up a lot of room on your counter yet have a limited cooking capacity, and, in many cases, they're a one-trick pony: air frying is their only function.

But you don't need an air fryer to get the crisp french fries or chicken wings of your dreams. After all, an air fryer is simply a tiny oven with a fan that circulates hot air and dries the surface of the food. If you have a convection oven or a toaster oven with a convection oven setting, you can use it to make any air fryer recipe — even the New York Times' Wirecutter column agrees that the best air fryer is actually a toaster oven!

Gourmet potato wedges served with black sea salt & aioli in a white bowl, shot directly above
Naomi Rahim / Getty Images

Lately, toaster oven manufacturers have been adding air fryer settings to their newest models. Heating elements at the top and bottom and more powerful fans help air fryer toaster ovens multitask so you can streamline the number of appliances you own. But honestly, if your toaster oven or regular oven has a convection setting, you can probably achieve similar results.

If you want air-fried goodness in a regular or convection oven, use these tips for preparing air fryer recipes, and you'll be enjoying healthier "fried" food in no time.

Use the Right Cookware

A perforated pan (sometimes called a perforated crisper tray) allows air to circulate under and around your food for even crisping. If you don't have one, you can use an oven-safe cooling rack. Line the bottom of your oven with aluminum foil or put a baking sheet under the rack below to catch any drips or crumbs.

Spread Out the Food

If you overload your pan to the point where food is piled up or touching, the exteriors won't brown, and it will steam instead of baking or air-frying. So instead, spread it in an even layer with plenty of room between each piece for air to circulate.

Cut Your Food Wisely

There's a reason why french fries are in long sticks — it's because this shape maximizes their surface, providing plenty of exterior for browning. Cut foods into long sticks or small, bite-sized pieces. For example, if you are cooking something like tofu, try tearing it into pieces instead of slicing. The craggy shape will encourage the jagged edges to get crisp and brown.

Prepare Food Properly

The drier your food is before it goes into the oven, the better. Spraying it lightly with cooking spray or tossing it with a neutral oil (like vegetable or grapeseed oil) will help encourage browning and crisping, giving a hint of that deep-fried taste we love.

Be Sure to Flip

Air fryer recipes usually recommend flipping the food halfway through cooking. This helps it cook and brown evenly, so don't omit this step in the instructions if you're using a convection or regular oven. After you flip, spritzing the other side with more cooking spray will also ensure both sides are equally crisp.

Know How to Adjust a Recipe

Air fryers cook hotter and faster than a conventional oven, so be aware that your recipe might take a few minutes longer. Start checking it for doneness at the time indicated in the recipe, and if it doesn't look browned enough, check every three minutes until it's golden brown and delicious.

In terms of temperature, air fryer recipes usually recommend a temperature of 20 to 25 degrees lower than what you would use if cooking with a conventional oven. The same holds true for convection ovens, so you can likely use the same temperature setting designated in an air fryer recipe.

Are you cooking in a regular oven or toaster oven without a convection fan? Crank up the temperature by 25 degrees and make sure the oven is fully preheated before putting the food inside.


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