10 important things I wish I knew about air fryers before I bought one

As much as I love air fryers, there are a few things I wish I had known before making a purchase

A back air fryer turned on to 180 degrees in a kitchen
(Image credit: Alamy)

I love my air fryer and it is easily one of the most convenient additions to my kitchen. However, there are a lot of things I wish I had known before I bought it. While I don't know whether this would have influenced my decision to dive into the air fryer way of life, I don't know, but it could affect yours. 

When using the best air fryers for the first time, I found that it can take some trial and error to find how the machine will work best for me. I certainly made mistakes learning how to use an air fryer and spent almost too long working out precisely what to cook in an air fryer for the best results, so I feel like I now know all about the pros and cons of these 'miracle' machines.

So, here are the 10 things I wish I had known before I bought my air fryer, both the good and the bad.

A back air fryer turned on to 180 degrees in a kitchen

(Image credit: Alamy)

1. I still needed to use oil

Now, the manuals all say that you only need a little bit of oil (if any!) when cooking in your air fryer and this is certainly advice that I followed for quite some time however this is one of the most common air fryer mistakes. It is impossible to deny that any cooked food just tastes better with a little bit of oil or fat.

Now, that doesn't sound very 'air fryer health kick' of me I know, but I find that eating nicer food with a small spray of oil is much better for me personally than food that is more on the bland side – even if it is more 'guilt-free'. 

I found that using a spray oil is better in an air fryer than pouring in oil as I would a baking tray or pan, but it is important to avoid spray oils with lecithin. This strange chemical, although food safe, interacts horrendously with heated metal - whether it be an air fryer or a hot pan, and destroys the non-stick surface over time making it impossible to cook or clean (believe me, I learned this the hard way).  

2. They do not necessarily 'fry', despite the name

When air fryers first came out I was particularly excited about the concept of no longer having to battle with searingly hot oil whenever I wanted fried food at home. Despite this, however, air fryers do not technically 'fry' anything. Instead, they make things crispy like a fan oven does – just better. 

Now, this does, of course, make an air fryer much healthier than a deep fryer although the same feeling isn't quite there. My food is certainly crispy with a satisfying crunch (and basically no grease) but if you want truly indulgent deep-fried chicken, for example, a deep fryer may still be needed on the side. 

3. They can sometimes be tricky to clean

Knowing how to clean an air fryer properly is important for several reasons, and my favorite hack of using vinegar to shift baked-on grease on my air fryer has certainly saved me time and money in the past. 

Learning how to clean the machine was difficult at first, however, because of the numerous components you cannot get wet. While the removable parts are simple to scrub, the interior components such as the heating element and fan are, alas, almost impossible to clean thoroughly. The small size of the cavity makes it hard to get my hand in there and wipe with a pettily dry cloth. 

It does make me wonder just how long my machine might last. 

4. There are so many types that it is important to research before buying

Air fryers all look the same to me and, if I am honest, most brands do all look exactly alike. If there is a design that works stick with it, I suppose. 

While Homes & Gardens has reviewed its fair share of air fryers, from the Ninja Max XL Air Fryer to the Phillips Essential Air Fryer XL, there is a bit of a war in the air frying community about which one is best. 

I admit that I was a little naive when I purchased my air fryer when they were first becoming the trendiest kitchen gadget. I had no idea there were so many types with so many functions, such as the Instant Vortex Plus 6-in-1 Air Fryer that H&G reviewed not so long ago. 

Because of this, it is important that you thoroughly research the different types of fryers and what they can offer you and your household. Don't just jump into the deep end as I did. 

5. They take up a lot of counter space – but might not make enough servings in one go

If you live with small kitchen ideas as I do, then adding an air fryer to your space is something you will need to plan for. I was lucky enough to find space in my kitchen cabinet for the device when I was not using it, but the machine's sheer size means it is not an easy appliance to hide away. 

Ironically, despite taking up most of my kitchen counter space, the draw itself does not offer that much cooking space, meaning that if I am cooking for more than me and my partner I need to use the machine a few times in a row. With how quick air fryers are (we will get onto that in a moment) this often isn't too big of a deal, but I can see how it may become irritating or inefficient for others. 

6. I could get creative with my cooking – although using an air fryer cookbook is a lifesaver

Once I had established that you can cook a lot more than just traditionally deep-fried foods (I did just use it for fries for a while I admit) the possibilities seem endless. 

I purchased an accompanying air fryer cookbook that allowed me to expand my air fryer cooking and make the machine worth its price. I even found that I could reheat my leftovers easily and without that weird cold bit in the middle that a microwave sometimes forgets. 

7. Everything cooks very quickly 

When I am hungry I am guilty of becoming a little grumpy. The air fryer, however, often cuts my cooking time in half so I am not as grumpy for as long. 

Unfortunately, this led to many cooking mistakes at first. Food cooked so much quicker in an air fryer than in the oven that I tended to leave things in for a little too long and burn them. I have had to alter my cooking routine completely using an air fryer. 

The benefit of everything cooking so quickly, however, means that the costs of running an air fryer are often much lower than using a traditional oven. 

8. I now need to flip my food 

When a recipe told me to flip something in the oven halfway through in the past, I was someone who tended to ignore it. It was just easier and the metal tray heated up evenly anyway – so what was the point? 

In an air fryer, however, slipping your food is a must if you want an even finish. An air fryer can be a little more temperamental when it comes to achieving an even crispy exterior with the top becoming crispy and the bottom going soggy. Turning your food mid-way through solves this issue easily enough, even if it is an added step. 

9. I cannot see if or when my food is ready

I blame my initial burnt meals and uneven cooking on the fact that I could not see the food as it was 'frying' (anything to avoid blaming the chef, right?). Seriously though, being able to see my food cooking in an oven meant I was more easily able to change the cooking time or temperature as and when needed.

Given that everything is cooked inside the drawer with an air fryer this is not possible unless you are constantly opening up the machine which could spoil the cooking process. I had to rely completely on the timer until I built up my experience using my specific machine. 

10. They really do help make healthier meals

If you are anything like me, you are probably looking at an air fryer and wondering 'are air fryers healthy?' like, are they actually better for you overall, or is it just a marketing trick?

Amazingly, I have found that air fryers really are healthier and they 'feel' healthier too. When I am eating air-fried foods I feel better in myself than regularly eating greasy, traditionally fried foods (although I still enjoy these meals as a treat).

Studies (opens in new tab) have shown that air-fried foods cut calories by 70-80% as a result of using less fat and oil. What's more, the air frying process has been shown to reduce exposure to carcinogens that result from deep frying in oil. 

What are the pros and cons of an air fryer?

As with any appliance, there are pros and cons to an air fryer. The pros are that air fryers are versatile, easy-to-use, and very quick allowing you to make healthier food efficiently in your own kitchen. Despite this, these rather large devices quickly take up space on your kitchen counter or in your cupboards and can be tricky to clean. What's more, they have a much smaller cooking capacity than a regular oven meaning that they may not be an efficient cooking method for larger households. 

Does air fryer taste like deep fryer?

Despite the name, an air fryer does not actually 'fry' your food in the same way a deep fryer does, meaning that there is not a deep fryer taste or texture. The air fryer instead gives food the taste and texture of extra-crispy oven-baked food that is often much healthier than deep-fried food, albeit a little different.