Cooking Tips

4 Ways to Get Better Browning in Your Air Fryer

Air-fried food that will look as good as it tastes.

Published Feb. 1, 2023.

An air fryer cooks food in a way that’s mind-boggling, even for modern cooking. You can make anything from steak to cheesecake in under an hour. In fact, there are plenty of dishes we think are even better in an air fryer (including french fries!).

Cooking in an air fryer isn’t the same as cooking in an oven—we love the hands-off ease, but in our testing we found that getting the best results involved slightly more than simply turning it on and walking away (such as using the “lincoln log” technique: trust us).

Without a few tricks, the results can be a little less visually appealing than their broiled or roasted counterparts. 

There are solutions to getting that browned, golden exterior on meats, vegetables, and even baked goods that will not only improve the flavor, but turn any dish you serve from your air fryer into a showstopper.

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Solution #1: Pat Food Dry

A dry surface browns more quickly than a wet one. Moisture on the surface will steam, leaving a soft and sometimes gummy exterior, so we patted meats and some vegetables with paper towels before cooking.

Our Air-Fryer Brown Sugar–Balsamic-Glazed Bone-In Chicken Breast wouldn’t look as good without it.

Solution #2: Add a Little Fat

I know what you’re probably thinking. “The whole point of an air fryer is to use less fat!” But consider this: Fat promotes browning and can help food to crisp up.

In many recipes, including our Air-Fryer Whole Roast Chicken with Lemon, Dill, and Garlic, adding just a tablespoon of oil gave the spices something to hold onto and improved the flavor.

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Solution #3: Add a Little Sweetness

Good news! You can boost browning with more than just fat. The intense heat of the air fryer caramelizes sugar, honey, and even molasses, flavoring the food as it cooks. In a pinch, use fruit preserves too.

In our Air-Fryer Swordfish Skewers with Tomato-Scallion Caponata, honey doubles as a marinade and a dressing. Molasses bolstered with spices coats Air-Fryer Sweet and Smoky Pork Tenderloin with Butternut Squash for a beautifully-browned exterior with a hit of smoky complexity. And in our Air-Fryer Teriyaki Chicken with Snow Peas, we dissolve sugar into the marinade to ensure the chicken is crispy and flavorful.

Solution #4: Use an Egg Wash 

When cooking pastry dough in the air fryer, the final baked goods can come out the same color as they went in. We found that brushing the tops with egg wash, as in our Air-Fryer Southwestern Beef Hand Pies, gave us even, glossy browning.

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