10 things I wish I knew before buying an air fryer

I’ve learned a lot about my air fryer. Frank Olito/ Insider
  • My air fryer changed my cooking for the better, but there are some things I wish I knew before buying it.
  • The air fryer is small, so you can’t cook for many people, and you can’t cook multiple foods at the same time.
  • I find that you will need a cookbook and olive oil to successfully use an air fryer.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Throughout 2020, I heard many friends and people all over social media raving about their air fryers.

When the holidays came around, I decided to finally find out what all the fuss was about. Instantly, I understood why so many people have fallen in love with the kitchen appliance. The air fryer became a game changer in my kitchen, allowing me to cook dinner in minutes and fry chicken, vegetables, and other foods without submerging them in unhealthy oil.

Even though the appliance changed my cooking lifestyle for the better, there were still a few things about the air fryer that surprised me and that I wish I knew before I made the purchase.

There are many different types of air fryers, and the one you choose is important.

My air fryer. Frank Olito/ Insider

There are a ton of air fryers on the market, but they mostly boil down to two models: a convection-oven air fryer and a basket air fryer. The first one resembles a mini toaster or convection oven. On the other hand, the basket air fryer is the more traditional air fryer that uses a drawerlike compartment to cook food.

I was not expecting there to be so many options, so I had to do a lot of research to make sure I was making the right decision. In the end, I decided to buy the Cuisinart convection-oven air fryer for $US100 because it has more capabilities, like broiling, toasting, and roasting.

Air fryers can take up a lot of counter space.

Appliance corner. Frank Olito/ Insider

Though some are small enough to fit in a cabinet, the air fryer I bought could not easily be stored away. Measuring 11.75 inches by 12 inches, my air fryer needed plenty of counter space, to my surprise. When I unboxed the new appliance, I needed to find 2 feet of counter space in my small Brooklyn apartment.

Eventually, I found a spot next to my microwave that has become what I call the appliance corner.

Read more:
7 things you should cook in an air fryer and 7 things you shouldn’t

Everything cooks so fast — sometimes too fast.

My burned meatloaf. Frank Olito/ Insider

When cooking in an air fryer, most foods take less than 15 minutes to fully cook, which is always a surprise for me. Typically, I’m used to waiting 20 or 30 minutes to bake chicken breasts in the oven. While the chicken breasts bake, I typically wash the kitchen and tidy up.

But when I use an air fryer for chicken breasts, it typically takes between 10 and 15 minutes. I’ve tried to clean the dishes and the kitchen in that time frame, but the ding of the fryer always sounds before I’m finished. It means I’ve had to adjust my cooking routine.

Sometimes, things cook so fast that I don’t even realise they’re done. One night, I cooked a meatloaf, and it was finished in under 15 minutes. I was expecting it would take closer to 20, so I left it in there too long. That night, I had burned meatloaf for dinner.

You have to flip most foods halfway through the cooking time for an even cook.

My chicken cooked unevenly. Frank Olito/ Insider

In my air fryer, it’s difficult to get an even cooking texture. Most times, the top of the food becomes crispy and delicious, while the bottom remains soggy. For example, when I made breaded chicken cutlets, one side of them was crunchy, while the other looked mushy.

I learned quite quickly that I had to flip the food halfway through to get the underside crispy as well. It’s not something I was used to doing with a regular oven.

Some air fryers come with a basket and a tray, and it’s confusing when you should use which.

The basket and the tray. Frank Olito/ Insider

My air fryer came with a basket and a tray. Some recipes I’ve used told me to use the tray and others told me to use the basket. When I’m not using a recipe to cook dinner, I often struggle to decide which is best to use – something I never had to struggle with before I had an air fryer. I tend to lean toward the basket when I’m attempting to fry something and the tray when I’m roasting.

Read more:
Chefs share 11 of the best breakfast dishes you can make in an air fryer

Following an air-fryer cookbook — especially in the beginning — is a lifesaver.

Air-fryer cookbook. Frank Olito/ Insider

Since my air fryer looks so much like an oven, I’ve caught myself using it like one. Instead of following a recipe, there have been a few times where I’ve just thrown food in and set the temperature to 375 degrees. In these incidences, the meal never turns out great because it’s not a typical oven. It’s an air fryer that relies on temperature and timing controls that I’m not familiar with just yet.

When I follow an air-fryer-specific recipe that tells me what to put the temperature on and how long to cook it for, the food always turns out much better.

Many air fryers are best for one to two servings and can’t really be used for big dinners.

The cooking space is quite small. Frank Olito/ Insider

Though the air fryer was bigger than I expected, and I struggled to find counter space for it, the space where food is cooked is quite small. I can’t imagine you can cook for a large group of people with this appliance – at least not in the model I own. You’d have to cook in batches.

For instance, some recipes I’ve followed said I should put in only two strips of chicken breasts at a time to ensure even cooking and then do a second batch.

I’d recommend staying away from the air fryer if you’re cooking for more than two people.

Similarly, you can’t cook the meat and the vegetables at the same time.

The air fryer cooking vegetables. Frank Olito/ Insider

I’m used to baking chicken and vegetables on one giant sheet in the oven. That’s not possible in an air fryer because of its size.

One night I was cooking chicken, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, and they all needed to go in the air fryer, according to their recipes. Instead of putting them all on one tray, as I would have with a traditional oven, I had to cook the chicken first, then the vegetables. By the time everything was finished cooking, the meat was cold.

Read more:
I tried 5 popular air-fryer recipes, and there are 3 I’ll totally make again

Olive oil is still necessary when cooking with an air fryer.

You still need olive oil. Frank Olito/ Insider

A common misconception is that air fryers completely eliminate the need for olive oil. The truth is that most recipes I’ve used still want me to drizzle olive oil on my food so that it will crisp up in the air fryer. But it is important to note that I’ve used significantly less olive oil with the air fryer than I would have if I traditionally fried my foods.

When the food is cooking, it’s difficult to check if it’s done.

You have to rely on the timer. Frank Olito/ Insider

Though my air fryer has a window, the space inside is so small that it’s difficult to see if something is cooked or not. With basket air fryers, there is no window, so it’s impossible to see how your food is doing. Instead, you have to rely solely on the timer.

Many times I’ve had to open the door, let out the precious heat, and pull out the tray just to see if something is cooked through.