Let’s just say you don’t want to start a fire or melt your counters, right?

By Stacey Ballis
Updated March 03, 2020
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An air fryer is a great addition to your kitchen. You can make some of your fried favorites with less oil, and you can add some capabilities like dehydration or even rotisserie-style cooking into your repertoire. But it isn’t an intuitive appliance, and different brands have instruction booklets of varying clarity. Worse, some cautionary language can be a little, well, sparse. Use these top six things you should know to get you safe and excited to begin experimenting with your new air fryer.

1. The instruction booklet is worth reading.

While some air fryer brands fall short on the informative part of their packaging, all will have basic information about where and how to use the appliance, how to clean and maintain, and at least will have clear warnings about not using it in the bathtub.

2. This appliance can’t do everything, but it does some things really well.

Air fryers are really good at some stuff. They do especially well with rotisserie applications, rendering fat out while keeping meats juicy. They are terrific for getting a roasted flavor into things like green beans or asparagus, and I find they work as well for dehydrating as a stand-alone dehydrator. And they are especially great at heating up small fried foods like chicken nuggets and tater tots to crispy deliciousness with less oil. Note that I said less oil, and not no oil. It is easy to surmise from the advertising that you are going to get super awesome fries and fried chicken with no extra oil at all, and this is not really the case. Which leads directly to #3.

3. This is not an oil-free proposition.

Since air fryers cook with superheated convection, a sort of hot air tornado if you will, if you use no oil what you will get is more of a super dried out exoskeleton on your food, and you will immediately notice that hard is not the same as crisp. A little bit of oil will work wonders: you still reap the health benefits of the food not being deep fried. Use an oil spray bottle for a light, even coating of the oil of your choice. Pro tip: Spray ingredients in your air fryer lightly with oil before you start cooking, and again halfway through for maximum crispy. Note: Do NOT use aerosol cans of cooking spray, as the other ingredients can create a strange almost plastic-like coating on the interior and the movable pieces of the air fryer.

4. It’s a sin to overfill your baskets.

Airflow is super important in an air fryer. So, while it is tempting to pack those baskets chock full, because, more fries, show some restraint. You will always get better results with a loose arrangement of items so that the superheated convection can do its job. Overpacked baskets will steam instead of crisp, and more, soggy fries are not a win for you. If you’ve got a lot of mouths to feed, do two batches in a row: Things cook pretty quickly in air fryers.

5. Super lightweight items might break your fryer… or worse.

All that superhot air whirling around can pack a wallop. So while you might think this is a great chance to DIY some tortilla chips or fried wonton strips, exercise caution. If your machine doesn’t have a sealed basket or rotating tub, light items can actually get caught up in the air and sucked into the fan. At best, you’ll break your fan or burn out the motor and have to have it repaired or replaced. At worst, you might start a small fire inside an appliance filled with food that has been lightly oiled (see above) and is therefore not quite as flammable as deep fried food, but still absolutely able to ignite.

6. You can melt down your countertop if you’re not careful.

While air fryers are a countertop appliance, different models put off different levels of heat. Be sure to check the specs on your countertop materials to see how they handle heat and adjust accordingly. I use my air fryer on a rack over a sheet pan to keep air circulating underneath the unit, and to disperse any heat. If your counters are laminates, you could melt the glue, and some other manmade materials can scorch or even crack with the sustained heat.