Air Fryer Do's and Don'ts

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September 28, 2018
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Oh, the Things You Can "Fry"

By Ben Mims, author of Air Fry Every Day, for Food Network Kitchen

Air fryers are taking the world by storm because their high-heat engines are good for cooking so many kinds of foods — many of which you'd never even consider frying in the first place. Sure you can make fries or coconut shrimp, but you can also use this handy machine to whip up a perfect fish dinner, crisp up grains and even make dessert! But before you jump in head first, start with this essential guide to ensure success.

Ready to get fryin'? We like to use this model in Food Network Kitchen and you'll also see this smaller one in the following photos.

Do use inserts.

You can cook lots of amazing things in your air fryer as-is, but the possibilities quadruple when you use the inserts that go along with it. Just like a grilling kit or extra baking gadgets, air fryer inserts both maximize what you can make and help those things cook better. Worth checking out: the pan inserts for cakes, banana bread and foods with sticky glazes, metal skewers for "spit roasting" chunks of meat kebabs and breakfast sausages, and elevated racks, which allow you to cook a full meal at once (meat on the bottom and veggies on top).

Do bake bread.

When you realize your air fryer is basically a small, high-powered oven, then making bread in it is a no-brainer — think loaves, pizza crust and even cinnamon buns. The super-fast-flowing air that cooks your French fries also gives doughs an extra boost of leavening.

Do roast veggies.

Hands down, the best foods to cook in your air fryer are vegetables. Whether you cut them into cubes (like butternut squash, potatoes, zucchini) or leave them whole (like okra, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms), an air fryer hits vegetables on all sides with high heat during cooking, something a baking sheet impedes in the oven. As veggies' outsides get crunchy and caramelized, their interiors become perfectly tender.

Do use your air fryer instead of the microwave.

Virtually any dish you're about to nuke in the microwave will be better in an air fryer. It can re-crisp, re-melt and revive food without turning it into rubber. Plus, it does it super fast. This goes for everything from leftovers to refrigerated and frozen packaged foods.

For leftovers, place the food in one of the air fryer inserts and set the machine at 350 degrees F for 5 minutes as a starting point. (You'll want to tinker with the temperature and time until you hit the right combination that works for you.) For packaged foods, follow this general rule: Reduce the temperature recommended for an oven by 25 percent and reduce the cooking time by 20 percent, checking for doneness early on.

Do coat food in a little oil before cooking.

While most people like air fryers for their ability to cook up crispy fried foods with no oil, the color and taste of your dinner will be dramatically improved with just a little. Spray breaded foods with a little nonstick cooking spray, lightly brush meats with a little vegetable oil, and toss vegetables with just enough olive oil to make them shiny. The fat in the oil will promote even browning and help seasonings stick to the food.

Don't overcrowd the fryer basket.

Resist the temptation to fill your air fryer's basket to the top with French fries as you would with a deep-fat fryer. With an air fryer, there's no hot oil to get in between the fries, cooking them from every angle. Instead, packing a basket can cause cold spots where the air can't reach. Make sure there's plenty of room around your food and give it a toss halfway through cooking so the heat can cook everything evenly.

You don't want foods to sit too close to the heating coil either, which is generally positioned over the basket — like the broiler element in an oven. Even though the fan in an air fryer circulates heat around the food, the bulk of the heat is still coming from the top. So be mindful about placing foods too close to the coil and be sure to flip or rotate them occasionally to prevent, say, one side of a pork chop or a block of glazed tofu from overbrowning or drying out.

Don't spray nonstick spray directly in the cooking the basket.

The chemicals in many nonstick sprays can reduce the effectiveness of the nonstick coating already on the basket. Instead, spray your food on a rack or plate before you place it in the basket. Or skip the aerosol sprays altogether and make your own. Hand-pump oil sprayers are available at grocery stores and online. Fill one with your favorite oil — like olive or avocado — and you can spray your food right in the basket without worry.

Don't use a wet batter or coating.

Beer batter on fried fish cooks up to a crispy shell when you fry in oil. But in an air fryer there is nothing to set a wet batter — it will just drip off while the food cooks. If you're after crunch, dredge your food in flour, egg and breadcrumbs instead.

Don't cook foods that need to absorb lots of liquid.

Rice, pasta and other grains are sublime when tossed with a little oil and crisped up in the air fryer — but they must be cooked on a stovetop or rice cooker first. Why can't you cook grains in an air fryer pan insert? The heating coil and fan will never get the temperature inside the machine hot enough to boil the water and allow the grains to cook.

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