7 Air Fryer Mistakes You Might Be Making (& How to Fix Them)

updated Sep 16, 2022
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Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani

Did you get a new air fryer for the holidays? I added one to my kitchen recently and it’s changed the way I prepare

weeknight meals

So from one air fryer aficionado to another, here are seven common air fryer mistakes that can happen to the best of us — plus how to easily fix them.

Mistake #1: Not preheating your air fryer.

A good-quality air fryer heats so quickly that you might not think you have to preheat it. But occasionally I’ll come across an air fryer recipe that makes no mention of preheating and I’m always disappointed with the results.

Try this instead: Preheat your air fryer for 10 minutes before cooking in it. Refer to your air fryer’s manual for specifics, but most models suggest 10 to 15 minutes of preheating — plenty of time for prepping your ingredients. This will ensure that the food crisps rather than steams.

Mistake #2: Not giving the air fryer enough space.

Small kitchens and small appliances run into this problem frequently: You’ve got your air fryer pushed deep into a counter under a cabinet. But that’s a problem because air fryers rely on convection to get food crisp — and convection requires proper space and air flow.

Try this instead: Set up the air fryer so it has at least five inches of space on all sides. For storage, go ahead and tuck the air fryer into a back counter or cabinet corner, but when in use — to get the most out of your machine — give the air fryer five inches of space on all sides. Be sure your air fryer is on a stable heat-proof surface while in use, too!

Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Mistake #3: Overcrowding the air fryer basket.

The basket on most air fryers is small. There’s enough room to comfortably cook two servings of meat or fish, or four servings of a vegetable side — but that’s it. It can be tempting to stack or squish food closer together to get as much food cooked at once as possible, but results will likely be disappointing.

Try this instead: Cook in batches for faster, better air fryer fare. Air fryer cooking is generally faster than roasting or frying. So don’t stress about cooking everything at once! Instead, get better and faster cooking — again, thanks to convection — by cooking smaller batches back-to-back. That’ll allow for better air flow in each batch.

Mistake #4: Using too little (or too much!) oil.

The air fryer gives the satisfaction of deep-fried food without all the oil of deep frying, but it can be hard to gage just how much oil basic foods need — especially frozen foods prepared to mimic fried food on their own.

Try this: Use just 1/2 teaspoon of oil for most recipes. When cooking frozen items — like french fries or chicken nuggets — use a small amount of oil (or even a spritz of nonstick spray) to get the food crisp without it becoming soggy. For fresh vegetables or large proteins like chicken or steak, coat the food with at least 1/2 teaspoon of oil per batch to ensure that the food gets crisp and golden while air frying.

Mistake #5: Cutting vegetables too small.

Air fryers are equipped with a basket that allows airflow around the food, but the basket’s holes are wide, meaning that small pieces will fall through the basket and can burn quickly.

Try this instead: Keep vegetables 1/4-inch wide to prevent them from falling through. The width of a thick-cut french fry is a just-about-perfect width for food that doesn’t fall through the basket cracks and still cooks quickly. Keep sweet potatoes, vegetables, and the like at least 1/4-inch wide so they stay in the basket.

Mistake #6: Using wet batters.

Some of our favorite deep-fried foods have moist batters that don’t work in the air fryer, because they don’t get the instant set that comes from a vat of hot oil. Wet battered foods (think: corn dogs or tempura) have to be adapted to the air fryer with thicker coatings.

Try this instead: Use recipes that make a thick coating, not a loose batter. Using air fryer-specific recipes will help when you crave foods that typically have wet batters but need a coating instead to work in the air fryer. When in doubt, use a classic three-step breading procedure (flour, egg dip, crisp coating) for the air fryer.

Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Mistake #7: Not washing the air fryer often enough.

When you’re just throwing frozen tater tots into the air fryer, you might not notice that the fry basket is collecting debris and oil every time you use it.

Try this instead: For quick cooks, let the air fryer cool and then wipe clean after each use. And fully wash the basket with hot soapy water after longer air frying sessions. Yes, it’s an extra step, but it’ll ensure a better-quality end product.