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7 top tips on making the most of your air-fryer

Have you just bought an air-fryer, but don't know where to start? Or, maybe you've owned one for a while and need some new ideas? We've compiled our best air-fryer tips for beginners to help you make the most of this clever piece of cooking kit. You'll soon have the confidence to try some brilliant new air-fryer recipes, from midweek meals to super snacks.

1. Don't overfill your air-fryer

Firstly, be careful not to overfill your air-fryer basket and make sure the food is spread out, so everything cooks evenly and crisps up nicely. You may be tempted to squeeze a little more in, but resist temptation! Frying food in batches is pretty common with an air-fryer, especially for things like chips and sweet potato fries, but it’s still going to save you time and money in the kitchen.

Tip: Try shaking or flipping food mid-way through cooking, to ensure everything is evenly heated – it’s fine to open the drawer every now and again to do this.

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2. Don't use too much oil

If the food you’re cooking in the air-fryer is already coated, for example, shop-bought chicken nuggets, you shouldn’t need to use any oil, but many recipes will require a little oil to help the food crisp up, such as salt and pepper chicken wings or crispy tofu. Brush, lightly drizzle or use a spray oil, which is particularly useful for dispensing oil lightly and evenly. Be mindful not to use too much oil – it can drip down and create unwanted smoke. When it comes to pastry (and puff pastry for sausage rolls and pastries works particularly well here), there’s no need to use oil at all, just brush with some milk or egg, as you would using a regular oven.

Tip: When cooking foods with a higher fat content, such as burgers and bacon, add a little water to the basket to prevent smoke and burning.

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3. Pre-heat your air-fryer for best results

Is skipping the pre-heating step such a big deal? Some manuals say it’s fine, but generally pre-heating will help you achieve crispier results, as well as more even cooking particularly when re-heating food. Your air-fryer is a bit like a mini convection oven, so the hot air circulating will need to be at the right temperature throughout to start cooking food properly. If you’re wondering how to preheat an air-fryer if there is no preheat setting, simply set it to the right temperature for what you’re cooking or for the recipe you’re following and allow it to heat up for around three minutes.

Tip: Make sure the basket is in the air-fryer when you’re pre-heating, as this needs to be at the right temperature too. Cooking parchment shouldn’t be pre-heated.

4. Know your air-fryer cooking times

Most of us know roughly how long to oven roast a chicken or microwave a sweet potato, but when it comes to air-fryers, it can feel a bit hit and miss. But you just need some basic air-fryer cooking times of your favourite foods and to pick tried-and-tested recipes while you get used to your appliance. Most air-fryer cooking times will be ranges rather than specific times e.g. baked potatoes will cook in 30-35 minutes, depending on the size of the potato, likewise not all bacon or salmon is the same size and thickness. As far as oven to air-fryer conversion times go, there are no hard and fast rules – generally you will be able to reduce the temperature (compared to using a conventional oven) and cut the cooking time by around 25%. On that note, remember to follow the correct air-fryer temperature in a recipe. Don’t be tempted to crank up the setting to the max – air-fryers get really hot and some recipes will require a gentler setting to get the best result, for example if you’re baking muffins.

Tip: Air-fryer exteriors, as well as the baskets and grates, get extremely hot, so handle with care. Protect worktops with a heat-resistant mat underneath your appliance.

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5. Love your air-fryer liners

Air-fryers are brilliant for giving that fab fried finish, thanks to circulating hot air, but some recipes will call for you to line the basket to contain the ingredients and keep your appliance cleaner, for example if you’re cooking sausages or a batter for toad in the hole. Here’s a quick air-fryer cheat sheet on what you can and can’t use:

Can you put foil in an air-fryer?

Yes, you can put tin foil in an air-fryer, just remember to place it in the basket not on the bottom of the appliance itself.

Can you put baking paper in an air-fryer?

Sure – as a general rule, if you use it in a traditional oven, it should be safe to use in your air-fryer.

Can you put metal in an air-fryer?

Go ahead, provided it’s an oven-proof dish or utensil.

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6. Don't expect deep-fried results...

…But you knew that right? Air-fryers use hot air not hot oil, so the taste will not be the same as with deep-fried foods. The good news is an air-fried finish is deliciously different and, as air-fryers use much less oil that deep-fat friers, the recipes are often healthier too. Doughnut lovers will be happy to hear you can indeed cook these fluffy little treats in your air-fryer, they will just have a slightly different taste and texture. Give these Air-fryer sugar 'n' spice doughnuts a go and see what you think.

Tip: When air-frying doughnuts, shake the basket every few minutes to ensure they become crisp and golden.

7. Try, test and have fun!

Finally, while rules are useful, experimenting (always safely) can create lots of interesting ideas and recipes. We think air-frying is a fun way to find new twists on your favourite foods. Pasta doesn’t work well in an air-fryer as it needs boiling water to cook properly, then along came the viral trend for TikTok air-fried pasta chips! Some say don’t air-fry toast, but have you tried our delicious sesame prawn toast or pizza pittas?

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Feel free to share your tips and recipes below, we love to hear from you.

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