Wondering how to use your new air fryer? In this beginner’s guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to get started using this versatile kitchen appliance. How to use an air fryer, what you can cook in an air fryer, safety precautions, how to preheat an air fryer, reheating food in the air fryer, how to clean your air fryer, and the best air fryer recipes for beginners.

air fryer image with text overlay "how to use an air fryer"

I held off on getting an air fryer for quite a while. Honestly, I wasn’t sure that I needed another kitchen appliance, given how much I love and use my Instant Pot and slow cooker. But then I finally made the leap into air fryer cooking, and I’m so glad I did!

An air fryer can help you to get quick, healthy, delicious meals on your table. It has the amazing power to make foods extra crispy while using very little oil. Proteins cook up especially tender and juicy. And when it’s hot outside, using an air fryer instead of your oven allows you to cook without heating up your kitchen.

What Can You Cook in an Air Fryer

You can cook just about anything in an air fryer! Proteins like chicken, fish or pork, healthy vegetable side dishes, appetizers such as zucchini fries or chicken wings, and even desserts and baked goods. For some cooking inspiration, see my collection of my best air fryer recipes.

The air fryer is especially suited for cooking foods that you want extra crispy or crunchy, such as French fries, fried chicken and baked potatoes with crispy skins. It’s also one of my favorite ways to cook meats such as steak or chicken, since they always turn out juicy and flavorful.

Jump to my Favorite Air Fryer Recipes

What is an Air Fryer

An air fryer is a versatile kitchen appliance that can air fry, roast, bake, broil, crisp, dehydrate and reheat foods. It’s easy to use, and once you get the hang of it you’ll be hooked on air frying!

There are two main types of air fryers: basket air fryers and air fryer ovens. Basket air fryers have a removable basket in which you put food. Air fryer ovens look similar to a toaster oven and have racks inside on which you put food. Air fryer ovens have more cooking functions and more room for food inside, but they also take up more space in your kitchen. Both types of air fryers work in a similar way.

pulling out air fryer basket with broccoli in it

How Does an Air Fryer Work

An air fryer has a heating element that radiates heat and a fan that circulates hot air around the food in the air fryer basket. The hot air circulation allows you to use significantly less oil than you might in the oven, while still getting the crispy foods that you crave. I also find that food browns nicely, giving you delicious flavor, especially on the caramelized edges.

Air Fryer Safety

It is important to read and follow all of the safety precautions that are included in your air fryer’s manual. Here are a few tips for how to safely use your air fryer:

  • An air fryer is designed for air frying, not traditional oil frying, and you should never fill the basket with oil.
  • Always cook in a well-ventilated area. Leave plenty of space around the air fryer for the exhaust to ventilate. Do not put it close to a wall. 
  • With some foods, such as bacon, you have to be aware of the smoke point of the fat that you are cooking. It’s best to cook bacon at a temperature lower than the smoke point of bacon grease, to prevent the bacon from smoking or burning. I cook Air Fryer Bacon at 350° F.
  • Be aware of the smoke point of the cooking oils that you use. It may be best to avoid using oils with low smoke points, or to use a lower cooking temperature. You do not want oils to smoke, burn or splatter on the heating element.
  • Protect your hands and countertops from the hot air fryer basket after use. I usually set the hot basket on a silicone trivet or pot holder/hot pad when I take it out of the air fryer.
  • Unplug the air fryer when it is not in use. 
  • Never set your air fryer on the stove.

cooked crispy chicken thighs in air fryer basket

Best Air Fryer

There are so many air fryers on the market, it can be hard to know which air fryer is best for you. Popular air fryers include:

  • Ninja Air Fryer
  • Power XL Air Fryer
  • Ninja Foodie Air Fryer
  • Instant Pot Air Fryer
  • Cosori Air Fryer
  • Cuisinart Air Fryer
  • Gourmia Air Fryer
  • Nuwave Air Fryer
  • Emeril Lagasse Air Fryer
  • Walmart Air Fryer

four salmon fillets in air fryer basket

How to Use an Air Fryer

  • Don’t overcrowd the basket. To get foods crispy and promote even cooking, food should always be in a single layer in the air fryer basket, not stacked or layered. You can cook in batches as needed.
  • It’s ok to pull the basket out to check on the progress of your food during the cooking cycle. 
  • Choose the right temperature. A general rule of thumb when determining the temperature to set your air fryer is to lower the temperature by 25 degrees from the temperature that you would use if cooking in an oven. Your air fryer manual likely includes recommended temperatures for different foods, or follow recipes from trusted sources. Below I’ve linked to many of my favorite tried-and-true tested air fryer recipes.
  • Shake or flip part way through to cook evenly. When cooking food in small pieces, such as Brussels sprouts or French fries, give the basket a good shake about half way through the cook time to promote even cooking and browning. When cooking meat such as pork chops or chicken, flip the pieces over about half way through.
  • Dry foods well to get them crispy. Moisture is the enemy of crispiness. Before adding oil, seasonings or placing food in the air fryer basket, pat food dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels.
  • Air frying presets. Most air fryers have a number of preset programs with cook times and temperatures for common foods. I usually use the manual air fry function, rather than the presets, so that I can set the cook time and temperature myself.

How to Preheat Air Fryer

Do you have to preheat your air fryer before cooking? It depends. Most air fryer instruction manuals state to preheat the air fryer before placing food inside it. Preheating can help food to cook properly, similar to how you preheat an oven before placing food inside. If you don’t preheat the air fryer, it may take a few minutes longer to cook and/or food may not brown as well.

With that being said, sometimes I don’t preheat my air fryer. When cooking foods that brown quickly on the edges but take longer to become tender in the center, such as broccoli or Brussels sprouts, I start cooking in a cold air fryer to keep them from burning on the edges before the centers cook through.

brussels sprouts in air fryer basket

How to Reheat in an Air Fryer

Using your air fryer is a great way to reheat foods and crisp them back up. It usually takes only a few minutes to reheat foods in an air fryer. A guideline when reheating is to use a temperature that is about 30 degrees lower than the temperature at which you would air fry to cook the food.

crispy french fries in air fryer

  • To reheat pizza in an air fryer, air fry at 320° F for 3-5 minutes, or until heated through. Be sure to place the pizza in a single layer in the air fryer, so that the slices are not overlapping. Thicker crust will take longer to heat through than thin crust pizza.
  • To reheat fries in an air fryer, air fry at 350° F for 3-5 minutes, or until hot and crispy. Shake the basket after 2 minutes of air frying time. For the crispiest fries, it is best to air fry only a single layer of fries at a time.

air fryer inner and outer basket

How to Clean Your Air Fryer

Most air fryers have a nonstick coating that helps to make clean up easy.

  • How to clean the air fryer basket. Most basket-style air fryers have an inner and outer basket that can be taken apart for washing. You can wash the basket in warm, soapy water. Be sure to use a non-abrasive cloth or sponge so as not to damage the nonstick coating.
  • You can check your instruction manual to see if the baskets for your model of air fryer are dishwasher safe. However, I recommend hand washing because the parts should wash up easily and it may make them last longer.
  • For the easiest clean up, rinse the basket right after cooking.
  • The removable parts of an oven-style air fryer can be cleaned in a similar way, with warm soapy water or in the dishwasher.
  • If the surface of the air fryer base unit gets dirty, wipe it clean with a soft, damp cloth.
  • Can you put foil in an air fryer to make clean up easier? Yes, you can put aluminum foil or parchment paper in the air fryer. You can buy sheets of perforated parchment paper designed for air fryer use. The holes allow air to flow through when cooking. Never run your air fryer with parchment paper or foil in it without food on top of the paper/foil, or the paper may lift up and touch the heating element.

fried chicken legs and thighs in air fryer basket

Air Fryer Recipes for Beginners

Now it’s time to get cooking! To get you started, here are some of my family’s favorite air fryer recipes. Click through the links below for recipes for how to cook chicken, bacon, salmon, pork and more in your air fryer.

If you have questions about how to use an air fryer that were not answered in this air fryer beginner’s guide, leave them in the comments below.

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