The Single Worst Thing You Can Do to Your Air Fryer

published May 2, 2022
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tater tots in base of air fryer
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

Raise your hand if you have an air fryer. (I’m guessing your hand is up because you clicked on this story.) Now, keep it up if you’d like to preserve that smooth, nonstick finish that’s inside the machine. This finish is essential because it helps crisp up your food and allows things to release cleanly for flipping and serving. (A chicken nugget is no fun if half of the breading stays stuck to the pan!) So I’m hoping you kept your hand up!

You can put your hand down now, though, because reading with a hand in the air is not the most comfortable experience. The single worst thing you can do to your air fryer (aside from, say, submerging it in water)? Spraying the basket or racks with cooking spray. I’ll repeat it again: You should never spray your air fryer basket or racks with cooking spray. In fact, you should never spray any nonstick cookware with cooking spray. Here’s why.

Cooking spray is oil, yes. It also contains lecithin (an emulsifier), dimethyl silicone (an anti-foaming agent), and a propellant. The droplets have a low smoke point and, over time, the lecithin will start to build up onto your basket or rack, resulting in a sticky spot. (It will actually feel sticky to the touch; as if you had a sticker there and it left goo behind when you pulled it off.) This sticky spot is hard to remove and can degrade the coating so that the nonstick surface no longer does its job.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

If you’re following a recipe that does call for spraying the racks or basket — like this one for air fryer donuts — I suggest going the DIY approach with an oil that has a high smoke point. (If you’re not familiar, the smoke point is the temperature at which oil starts to, well, smoke.) Refined avocado oil, for example, would be a good choice. Use it sparingly. And whenever possible, oil your food instead of the basket.

Also, use silicone-tipped tools and a soft sponge so that you don’t scratch the coating. And obviously, don’t submerge your machine in water.

What’s your favorite thing to make in the air fryer? Tell us in the comments below.