We asked one of our recipe testers to give an air fryer a twirl for the first time ever. Here’s what happened in her kitchen and how it’s changed her approach to cooking.
Cookbooks. Websites. Social media feeds. Recipe contests. Magazines staring at me in the checkout line. All dedicated to recipes for air frying. Honestly? I thought air frying was just going to be another trend, like those plastic banana holders. But my friends are still swapping recipes and tips. My Mom wants an air fryer for her birthday. And me? Well, until recently, I couldn’t even tell you what an air fryer was or how one worked. I was stuck in the land of “Do they fry or do they cook with air?”
Clueless but curious, I jumped when presented with an opportunity to try an air fryer. No more “being behind the times” for me. It was time to figure this conundrum out. Knowing nothing about air fryers or the art of air frying, I educated myself online while I waited for my NuWave Brio 14Qt Digital Air Fryer with Probe to arrive.
What exactly is an air fryer?
Don’t laugh. Some of us still didn’t know or understand the basic mechanics of air frying.
Air fryers are essentially mini ovens. Mini convection-like ovens, to be more exact. They’re not deep fryers. Confession: Before I started doing my research, whenever I heard “air fryer,” I somehow translated that into “deep fryer” in my mind. And I didn’t know what the air had to do with anything, but it did, and well…I wasn’t really into deep-frying, so I had passed on it. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
While air fryers are not true convection ovens, they operate basically the same way. An electric coil heats up inside the air fryer while a fan blows the hot air around. This allows for even heat distribution throughout the unit. At the same time, the oil on the food gets converted into a mist, coats the food, and mimics deep frying. Steam from the food’s moisture helps finish the cooking process. This method of cooking uses less oil than deep frying and makes for easier cleanup.
What are the two basic types of air fryers?
I noticed when looking around that there are essentially two types of air fryers available. The basket-type is most common. These air fryers have a removable basket in the lower half. Food gets placed in and cooked in the basket. This type of air fryer sort of resembles a deep fryer and works best for air frying only.
If you’re looking for more functionality, look into a “multi-function” air fryer that resembles a toaster oven and brings more options to the party. That includes rotisserie cooking, grilling, and dehydrating. They hold more food than the basket air fryers, often have preset functions or programming capability, and offer accessories galore.
The unit I tried, the NuWave Brio 14Qt Digital Air Fryer with Probe, is a multi-function air fryer and comes with 100 Presets. So, for example, if I want to make onion rings from frozen, I can. Preset #78 allows me to do that. All I have to do is place the frozen onion rings in the machine, turn it on, push the PRESET button, hold the UP ARROW until it reads 78, and then push the START/PAUSE button. The machine does the rest. It knows (or is programmed) to air fry the onion rings for 8 minutes at 400°F. The Preset Guide recommends how much to cook at one time, 12 ounces in this case, and notes that minor adjustments may be necessary to achieve your desired results.
While multi-function air fryers are usually larger than basket-type models, the most notable difference is that they don’t have just a single basket. They replace the basket with stainless steel racks, trays, a drip plate, and accessories. The NuWave Brio 14Qt Digital Air Fryer with Probe came with a reversible Grill/Griddle plate, a stainless steel Rotisserie Skewer, a stainless steel Rotisserie Basket (perfect for veggies and fish), and a stainless steel Roasting Drum (think roasted nuts and popcorn). Additional accessories, like baking pans and silicone cups, can also be purchased and used in the air fryer. Seriously multi-functional!
I haven’t tried the basket-type of fryer, but I have to admit, I became so spellbound with the NuWave air fryer I tried that I named her Olivia. It’s true. We’re on a first-name basis. That’s how much I treasure her.
What can I cook with an air fryer?
Having cleaned “Olivia” and read the manual, it was time to start cooking. Armed with no air frying skills, I started slow and chose recipes from the cookbook that came with the air fryer. First was Air-Fried Tortilla Chips, then Citrus Green Beans. The recipes had minimal ingredients and simple instructions—perfect for a beginner. For the tortilla chips, the recipe directed me to preheat the machine, set the temperature to 390°F (200°C), and cook for 4 minutes. So, I prepped the food and pressed these buttons:
LIGHT (‘cause I wanted to see inside!)
UP ARROW until the temperature showed 390F
DOWN ARROW until the time was 4 minutes (it defaults to 15 minutes)
Olivia started preheating and helpfully beeped when she reached 390°F (200°C). I opened the door, placed the lightly oiled tortillas in the unit, and closed the door. The air fryer started back up automatically and the timer started counting down from 4 minutes. After 4 minutes, the unit turned off automatically. I pulled out the (now) tortilla chips and seasoned them. Easy! And crunchy, fresh tortilla chips, seasoned however I wanted! I was pretty surprised and pleased to find the controls for the NuWave Brio 14Qt Digital Air Fryer with Probe so user-friendly.
I moved on. I warmed up frozen prepared food (including pizza puffs and egg rolls) and made a couple of simple from-scratch recipes (like crisped chickpeas). These went well, were easy, and improved our snacking game.
Next came chicken wings and garlic bread from scratch. These were both a hit. The chicken wings were delish. I did have to adjust the cooking time but it wasn’t a problem as I had simply wanted crispier skin than the recipe produced so I kept adding 1 minute to the cooking time until they were our-type-of-perfect. The garlic bread was an impromptu improvision one night. I was making dinner and decided I wanted garlic bread. I grabbed two hoagie rolls from the fridge, cut them in half, “toasted” them in Olivia for 2 minutes at 350°F, pulled them out, rubbed some garlic on them, slathered them with butter, then threw them back into the air fryer. I watched thru the window until the tops were golden and bubbly.
I did completely ruin two pieces of salmon. Pause of shame. It’s true. I should be clear, I didn’t just ruin them. I demolished them. They were dry. Dry as in a few more minutes in the air fryer and they would have been dust sort of way. I’m beyond embarrassed to admit that but it’s part of my learning curve. I completely forgot to adjust down the time and temperature from the conventional oven recipe as the instruction manual had cautioned. I was so bummed. It was my first big fail with Olivia. But my husband was great. He just laughed and asked, “What are we getting on our pizza?”
I have referred back to the manual and Quickstart Guide a few times (just to be sure as I’m still working on my air fryer confidence!) and found both to be useful and full of good information. (I really like the Quickstart Guide. It breaks processes down into simple steps and includes a Cooking Guide.) This is a new way of cooking for me.
I find myself (when I remember) cooking at a lower temperature and checking on the food often. I’m afraid to overcook items so I just go slow and easy. Remember the salmon? My confidence is improving and air frying is something I think I will get the hang of. One thing’s for sure, I’m really enjoying it.
So which air fryer is right for me?
Here are a few things to consider when selecting an air fryer:
How do you plan to use your air fryer? What foods do you want to prepare in it?
How many people will you be cooking for? Can you cook multiple foods at once? How much space do you have for an air fryer?
Most air fryers require between 800 and 2100 watts of power. Make sure your kitchen outlets will support the unit you wish to purchase.
Do the controls make sense? Do they allow flexibility?
Does the air fryer have dishwasher-safe parts?
We know you want air fryer recipes. First and foremost, though, you need to learn your machine.
Read the instruction manual
I know, I know. Who wants to take time and read the manual? But air fryers cook using very high temperatures. Remember, they’re mini convection-like ovens. You need to make sure you understand how to use your unit and how to use it safely or you’ll end up tossing your food in the trash. (Need I remind you of the salmon incineration?)
Next, take out all of the removable parts and give them a good wash.
When choosing a location in your kitchen for your air fryer, refer to your manual. This is important. You’ll want to place your air fryer on a heat-resistant surface and far enough away from walls that heat and vented steam can escape safely. Recommendations I’ve seen range from three to eight inches away from walls. I place Olivia in the center of my kitchen island when in use. This placement works well in my kitchen as it allows enough room around the unit for air movement and I feel safe.
I also recommend doublechecking the placement of your unit when it’s in use. Don’t go only by what you’ve read. Given that you will most likely put food in the air fryer and walk away for a few minutes, you’ll want to make sure your air fryer is placed in a safe spot. The NuWave Brio 14Qt Digital Air Fryer with Probe gets warm on the top and sides. It also vents from the back—which isn’t a bad thing (especially when it’s blowing out banana bread air!) but you do need to be aware of how far out the heat and vented steam will travel and whether this will actually pose an unsafe situation in your kitchen.
Finally, noise. You will hear fan noise when the unit is running. Different air fryers will have different noise levels. The unit I tried has what I would consider “acceptable noise.” This may or may not influence where you place your air fryer.
Tips for using a multi-function air fryer
To preheat or not to preheat?
Follow your recipe. Preheating may or may not be necessary. If you do need to preheat your air fryer, it will go much quicker than your “big oven.” Olivia preheats to 350°F in less than four minutes!
Use oil but not too much
Air fryers use dry heat so adding a bit of oil to your food will keep it from drying out and help it crisp. You will need less than you think. (I’m still figuring this out—too much oil and things come out soggy, too little oil and they dry out.)
Use oil with a HIGH smoke point.
This is important! Vegetable oil, canola oil, and peanut oil are good choices. I prefer avocado oil—it’s expensive but we’re only using a little at a time. This is NOT the place for olive oil.
Choose your baking dish wisely
Any ovenproof dish or pan can be used in an air fryer (metal, glass, ceramic, or silicone). Choose a dish or pan that allows ample room for air circulation around all sides of the pan.
Don’t block the fan
Allow space between your food and the fan. Place foods that can “fly away” (such as pepperoni slices, small cuts of tortillas, etc.) lower in the air fryer to avoid making contact with the fan.
Aluminum foil and parchment paper
Both can be used in an air fryer. Secure pieces to a pan, or under food, so that they do not come loose and risk getting into the fan. Size pieces so that they allow ample room for air circulation around all sides. Place breaded items on aluminum foil or parchment paper to prevent breading from getting stuck in mesh trays.
This goes for both horizontally and vertically. Allow a bit of space between pieces of food when placed on the trays. This will allow for better air circulation and even cooking. If using more than one tray, place food so that air can circulate between the trays. If you have a lot of food, consider cooking it in a few batches.
Stack your meals
Place meat on a tray above your vegetables and let the basting begin.
Reduce the temperature
As a general rule of thumb when making a standard recipe in a convection oven, you’ll want to lower the oven temperature by approximately 20 to 25°F (11 to 14°C) and plan to check your food for doneness earlier than called for in the original recipe.
Yes, you can open the door
It’s okay to open the air fryer to check on your food—the unit will automatically “pause” both the timer and the cooking process when you open the door. You don’t need to turn the unit off. After you’re done checking the food, close the unit and cooking will recommence.
Rotate your trays
When air frying more than one tray at a time, consider rotating your trays. The tray closest to the heating element will cook and brown faster than the tray farthest from it.
Don’t overfill pans when baking
Normal baking pans will do but don’t overfill them. The goal is to prevent the top of baked goods from “cresting” the pan and being blown around by the circulating air, resulting in lopsided cakes and loaves (and a mess).
Love your leftovers
You can, and should, reheat leftovers in your air fryer. Pizza, fried chicken, anything crispy reheats wonderfully in the air fryer. No more soggy bottom. (Sorry, microwave.)
Cleaning an air fryer
Clean the inside of your air fryer and removable parts after each use. I know that sounds like a lot but it’s not, trust me. And it’s worth it. Frequent cleaning will make for easier clean-up and it will prevent oil build-up which can cause the unit to smoke.
You will also need to clean the heating element occasionally. Your manual should have tips for cleaning and tell you which parts are dishwasher safe. The unit I tested cleans up easily. The inside of the unit can be wiped down using soap and water and the trays and drip pan can (fortunately) go in the dishwasher. I especially like that the door on the NuWave Brio 14Qt Digital Air Fryer with Probe comes off for cleaning.
One recommendation specific to the stainless steel trays—be gentle when washing by hand to remove stuck-on food. The trays are fairly sturdy but seem like they could bend or warp if too much pressure is applied to a certain area when scrubbing. I’ve found that a quick soak followed by a gentle scrub removes stuck-on food. I then pop the trays into the dishwasher and let it do the rest.
What I love about my air fryer
I’m hooked on air frying. I love the convenience and I love, love, love that the NuWave Brio 14Qt Digital Air Fryer with Probe turns off when the timer reaches zero, unlike a conventional oven. It doesn’t matter if I’m toasting nuts, making chicken wings or reheating pizza, when the timer stops the unit stops producing heat. It’s like having a mini-insurance policy that buys you a few extra minutes. (And trust me, I’ve needed it a few times.)
That may sound basic, but for someone like me, that means I can finally toast nuts and not worry about burning them. I just set the temperature to 300°F and adjust the timer to 3 minutes. I can watch diligently through the window while the magic happens, checking the color and smelling for just the right amount of toastiness, or I can walk away.
One thing I didn’t anticipate was how much I would appreciate the extra oven space—and its size. Having this has already come in handy when I needed to bake multiple items at different temperatures. And this will be a true luxury come holiday season.
I also intend to use the air fryer when it gets warm outside. Given its small size and that it’s quick to preheat, I’ll be able to cook without heating up the entire kitchen.
I’m still working on converting recipes from conventional to convection and figuring out how much oil to use. That, for me, is not intuitive, but each day I’m getting better. I keep notes on what works and what doesn’t and learn as I go.
If I had one wish, it would be that there were more recipes available for air fryers with trays. Most recipes are written for air fryers with baskets. That said, I’m not discouraged. I can think of so many more things to try—crisp hot dogs, rotisserie chicken, grilled meats, dehydrated fruit, air fried popcorn. The NuWave Brio 14Qt Digital Air Fryer with Probe has endless options. And I intend to try them all!
NuWave provided Leite’s Culinaria with the air fryer (heretofore known as Olivia) for us to try in a home kitchen. All opinions expressed in the article are based solely on our writer’s experience with the machine.