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Air Fryers 101: Fried Foods Without All the Grease

There’s a reason air fryers are popular. Learn all about them, along with some tips and tricks for the best results.

An air fryer on a kitchen counter with someone in the background preparing food to cook. Play Video

There are several well known oxymorons, or combinations of words that are incongruous or contradictory. Jumbo shrimp. Virtual reality. Old news. Small crowd. Open secret.

Here’s another one to add to the list – air fryer.

While the name may be at odds with itself, air fryers really are amazing tools. As our nutrition expert Catherine Hill, RDN, LDN, explains in this edition of Homegrown In the Kitchen, air fryers cook by circulating hot air, much like a convection oven.

To “convert” a recipe for an air fryer, decrease the cooking temperature by  25-50°F and cook times by 20-50%.

Air fryers cook evenly and quickly, taking less energy and time than a conventional oven or stovetop. And your favorite fried foods come out crisp, flavorful and healthier than traditional methods.

So if you still haven’t unboxed that air fryer you got for Christmas and are thinking about taking the plunge, or if you’re an air fryer devotee looking for some fresh tips, you’ve come to the right place!

Types of Air Fryers

There are two categories of air fryers: a Basket Air Fryer and a Multi-Function Air Fryer.

  • Basket Air Fryers: these are the most common types of air fryers. They look a little different, with a removable basket in the belly of the appliance, and really serve one purpose: to air fry.
    • Baskets come in various sizes. If you have a family of three or more people, you’ll likely want to go for the bigger air fryers which are 5 quarts or greater.
    • More affordable
  • Multi-Function Air Fryers: these are newer on the market. They typically look like toaster ovens, and air frying is just one of several capabilities.
    •  Can be more expensive 

Air Frying Is a Breeze

Always consult the manual and safety guidelines for your specific air fryer, this is the best place to start when feeling out your air fryer. Regardless of your make and model, Catherine shares some tips and tricks to help you take your air fryer out for a spin!

  • Don’t overcrowd the basket: The ultimate key to air fryer success is not over-crowding the basket. The hot air needs to freely circulate to cook the food correctly, thus over-stuffing the basket will cause items to steam rather than air fry.
    • Cook in batches if needed.
  • Preheating: Just like an oven, one key to great cooking in an air fryer is preheating. You wouldn’t put an item into a cold oven and then turn it on – same goes for an air fryer.
    • To preheat: set air fryer to the desired temperature for 3-5 minutes. That’s it!
  • Reheating: Have you ever reheated something in the microwave and it just doesn’t taste the same? Once you start using an air fryer to reheat, you may never go back.
    • For reheating items: start by preheating the air fryer to a low temperature, usually 325 or less, since we are just reheating and not cooking from scratch.
  • Air fryer cookware: Just about any oven-safe dish is also air fryer safe (assuming it fits). This comes in handy when reheating foods or when you want to make less of a mess.
    • Items such as Pyrex dishes, aluminum foil or small ceramic dishes could all work. Be sure to grab some oven mitts or tongs to get the dish out, as they will be hot.
  • Freezer foods: You can go straight from the freezer into the air fryer with most foods. Again, read the oven directions, slightly lower the temperature and cook time, and keep an eye on your items.
    • One of the best freezer foods in an air fryer is frozen broccoli! 
  • Write it down: Each air fryer can cook food at slightly different temperatures and times. Start by using the suggested temperatures and times based on your model manual, but play around with it.
    • Keep a notecard and pen by your air fryer. Once you determine the exact cooking temperature and time for a food, write it down.

Air Fryer Recipes

Ready to jump on the air fryer bandwagon? Try some of our air fryer recipes below, including a couple from Extension’s Lenoir County Center, to get you started. Discover more recipes and information about air frying.


Homemade Chicken Nuggets In the Air Fryer

Yield: 1 servings


  • 1 pound or 2 large skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into even 1-inch bite-sized pieces
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • ⅓ cup breadcrumbs (whole wheat preferred) 
  • ⅓ cup panko
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt 
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning


  1. Cut chicken breasts into 1-inch, bite-sized pieces. Set into a mixing bowl and top with 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Toss to coat and set aside. 
  2. In another mixing bowl, place breadcrumbs, panko, salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning. Stir to combine. 
  3. With tongs or a small fork, place a few pieces of chicken at a time into the breadcrumb mixture. Toss around until each piece is well coated. Place onto a sheet pan to rest. 
  4. Preheat the air fryer to 380°F for 3-5 minutes. 
  5. Once the air fryer is preheated, place chicken nuggets into the basket about ½ inch apart. Do not overcrowd the basket. You will likely cook in 3-4 batches depending on how many chicken nuggets you make. 
  6. Cook for 5 minutes and then flip chicken nuggets. 
  7. Cook for another 5 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165°F. 
  8. Remove from air fryer and serve.


Parmesan Air Fried Shrimp

Yield: 4 servings Time: 10 min


  • 1 pound medium fresh shrimp, cleaned, tails optional
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese


  1. In a large bowl, add shrimp and coat in olive oil and lemon juice, season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder (you may use real minced garlic here).
  2. For best flavor, cover the bowl and refrigerate for 1-3 hours.
  3. Toss parmesan cheese into bowl with the shrimp, this will create a breading.
  4. Add shrimp to fryer basket and set air fryer to 350 for 10 minutes. Shrimp is done when they are opaque, white, and pink. Serve immediately.


Air Fryer Ranch and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers (Keto Friendly)

Yield: 3 servings Time: 10-12 min


  • 6 fresh jalapeños
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • ¼ cup finely shredded cheese of your choice
  • ¼ teaspoon dry ranch mix
  • 6-12 slices bacon
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Non-stick cooking spray


  1. Cut the jalapeños in half and scrape out the seeds and white ribs.
  2. In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and ranch seasoning (you may use whatever seasoning you like).
  3. Fill the jalapeños halves with the cream cheese mix.
  4. Cut bacon slices in half and wrap each half around the stuffed jalapeno.
  5. Sprinkle fresh ground pepper over the top to taste.
  6. Lay the stuffed jalapeños in one layer in air fryer basket. Air fry at 380°F for 10-12 minutes, or until the bacon is crispy and the peppers are tender.
  7. Serve warm. You may use prepared ranch dressing for dipping.