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Do Air Fryers Use Oil? When to Use It, How Much and Which Oil is Best for Air Frying

To oil or not to oil foods when cooking in an air fryer? Read on to discover the do’s and don’ts of cooking in your new kitchen gadget

If you’re looking to buy an air fryer or already have the latest must-have gadgets in your kitchen, it may be that you’ve been seduced by the promise of cooking with less fat. These claims of a vastly reduced need for oil and the resulting health benefits have become a top selling point for air fryers, but despite all the buzz, the question of whether or not oil is actually required for air fryer cooking remains somewhat unanswered.

Well, in short, you don’t need to use oil to cook in your air fryer if you’d rather not. However, be aware that the results may differ, with some foods cooking well without any oil at all, while others may turn out better with a little added. Note, too, that if you’re adding oil, then which oil and how to apply it may also be a consideration.

So to discover the answers to all the above, read on.

Do I need to use oil in my air fryer?

Let’s start with the basics: you don’t need to use oil in your air fryer. Unlike deep fat fryers, where food is submerged in hot oil to cook it, air fryers use rapidly circulating hot air to cook your food instead. In essence, an air fryer is basically a more compact yet powerful version of a regular convection oven.

However, in an air fryer, this high-temperature cooking results in the Maillard reaction, where the interaction between the amino acids and sugars in the food result in that distinct aroma, flavor and color of deep-fried foods.

It’s possible to easily make impeccable mushrooms, burgers or baked potatoes in an air fryer without adding oil. Additionally, ready-made frozen foods such as chicken wings, French fries and onion rings already contain all the oil needed to cook the foods to perfection in your air fryer without needing any extra.

Which foods do require oil when air frying?

So, as established, while there aren’t any foods that need oil for air fryer cooking per se, there are some foods with which the results will be more satisfying with the addition of a bit of oil.

Fatty foods such as bacon and sausages will cook beautifully without any extra fat. When I air-fried slices of halloumi for 8 minutes at 392°F in my Ninja Foodi DualZone air fryer, the cheese in the drawer that I’d tossed a tablespoon of canola oil in was only slightly more browned and crispy than the halloumi without oil. Do air fryers need oil halloumi test

However, leaner meats, tofu, and most fresh vegetables will usually benefit from a light drizzle of oil, as evidenced by my experiment with air frying zucchini. After nine minutes at 390°F, the oil-coated veg was crispy and deliciously caramelized. The discs that hadn’t been oiled in the second drawer (left) remained a little tender and pale.

Do air fryers need oil zucchini test

After adding a little more time, the oil-free zucchini slices became crispier, but more dehydrated. In fact, rather than caramelizing, they burned.

The conclusion? If you’re not trying to cut out oil from your diet entirely, then a little spritz or a brush of oil on food will improve the results of your air fryer cooking. A light slick of oil will speed up the cooking process, prevent any drying out and will promote the Maillard reaction, so food will emerge from the air fryer nicely bronzed, crispy and deliciously caramelized.

How to get the best results without oil

If you’re opting for oil-free air frying, then there are some steps you can take to ensure the tastiest results:

  • For even cooking – Don’t overfill the basket
  • To prevent burning – Shake the food more frequently than oiled foods
  • To stop sticking – Consider lining the basket with air frying parchment paper
  • For better browning – Season your food well or, even better, marinade it
  • For extra crunch – Try adding a coating such as breadcrumbs, desiccated coconut or crushed cornflakes

How much oil should I use in an air fryer?

Thankfully, even if you do choose to use oil for air fryer cooking, you won’t need much of it. Typically, a tablespoon should be sufficient for solid portions – 2lbs of fresh chicken wings or 1.5lbs of chopped sweet potatoes, for example.

Most air fryers come with recipe booklets with temperature and oil recommendations for cooking different foods. Stray away from these suggestions and there may be more guesswork involved; but in general, you want light, even coverage.

What oil should I use for air frying?

You can use any oven-friendly oil or fat in your air fryer; however, if you’re cooking at high temperatures then it’s worth considering oil smoke points.

As the name suggests, a smoke point is the temperature at which a particular oil will begin to burn and therefore smoke. According to the North America Olive Oil Association, “oil can vary ±70°F in smoke point temperature depending on the age of the oil, field conditions, season, varietal, the level of refinement/filtration” and more. Failing to consider the temperature at which your chosen oil will begin to break down could land you in a smokey situation.

Most of the time, you’ll be air frying foods at 375-400°F. At this temperature, there are plenty of oils that are suitable, for example, avocado oil – with a smoke point of 480-520°F – will be a safer bet than virgin coconut oil, which can start smoking at just 350°F.

If your fat of choice is olive oil, opt for extra-light variants and choose clarified instead of regular butter, since these options cope better with high heat.

Smoke points of cooking oils and fats

Avocado oil (refined)480-520°F
Safflower oil (refined)450-510°F
Sunflower oil (refined)440-450°F
Peanut oil (refined)420-450°F
Canola oil (refined)400-445°F
Olive oil (extra light)390-468°F
Butter (clarified or ghee)375-482°F
Olive oil (extra-virgin)325-410°F
Coconut oil (virgin)350-380°F
Butter300-350°F

How to add oil to an air fryer?

For the best oil coverage remember:

  • Some foods – smaller wedges of veg or potatoes, for example – will be easier to coat by tossing in a bowl with the oil.
  • Using a silicone brush can be handy for applying oils to larger foods, such as a whole chicken.
  • You can also spritz food with oil using a shop-bought spray or your own refillable spray bottle.
  • When using a coating, either spritzing the coated food or adding a little oil into the bowl of crumbs before breading should do the trick.

Most manufacturers advise against applying oil directly to air fryer baskets and pans, including using aerosol non-stick sprays such as PAM, to keep the non-stick coating of the accessories in good condition. If you’re worried about food sticking to the surfaces, use a silicone tray or line the basket with some parchment paper.

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