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Do I Need to Flip My Food When Air-Frying?

Air fryers are convection ovens, so they circulate hot air around your food. Do you really need to move food around while it’s cooking?
By Published Mar. 23, 2022

Dear Gear Heads,

I've read that I need to flip my food when I'm air-frying. That seems counterintuitive. Doesn't the hot air already circulate around the food?

Kevin

Air fryers are convenient, efficient, easy to clean, and even fun to use (if you buy the right model). I’ve spent months testing them, during which I went from an air-fryer skeptic to a frequent user. I love our recipes specifically designed for air fryers, including chicken Parmesan, homemade french fries, and smoky and sweet pork tenderloin.

One question I’ve often heard: Why is it necessary to flip or agitate food when air frying? It may sound like a silly question, but it’s a legitimate one. Air fryers are essentially small convection ovens; this means that they include fans that circulate hot air around the food, hopefully cooking it evenly. If this circulation is working the way it’s supposed to, should you be able to set your air fryer and forget about it until your food is cooked?

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Well, no. I took my own air-fryer knowledge and combined it with some expertise from our senior science research editor, and here are the facts. An air fryer’s fans do circulate hot air around the food, but air-fryer baskets are pretty confined spaces—there’s not a ton of real estate for air to move that freely.

And the heating elements—which are usually positioned above the fry basket—are quite powerful. This means that even though hot air is circulating and cooking the food on every side, there’s also direct heat radiating from a central location above the food. That heat is more powerful, and it’s cooking the top of the food faster. Furthermore, the tray or fry basket that the food is sitting on also blocks some of the hot air from cooking the undersides.

This all may sound self-explanatory, but it’s an important fact to remember: Even if your air fryer has top-notch air circulation from its fan, you need to give most larger pieces of food (such as pork chops, burgers, and chicken cutlets) a turn about halfway through cooking. It’s also best to give most smaller foods (such as cauliflower florets, french fries, or chicken nuggets) a good shake or toss in the middle of the cooking cycle to expose new parts of the food to the heating element. Even with this necessary turning or shaking, we’ve still found air fryers to be faster than ovens for cooking most foods, among several other advantages. 

Some final notes:

  • If you’ve yet to jump on the air-fryer trend but are thinking about buying one, be sure to read our air-fryer review.
  • If you’ve just gotten your air fryer and are wondering what to do with it, learn more here.
  • For dozens of delicious air-fryer recipes, check out our acclaimed cookbook, Air Fryer Perfection.
  • Don’t forget cleanup! Here are a few things to remember when cleaning your air fryer.

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