Air-Fryer Anxiety Keeps Me from Using Mine

I'm afraid of my air fryer. Is it rational? Absolutely not. Does that matter? Nope.

an illustration of an air fryer
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I consider myself a fairly confident and, dare I say, occasionally competent person in the kitchen. The history of cooking in my family is one of tragedy, disaster and pork chops that looked (and tasted) like hockey pucks. My family's motto was "If it isn't under-seasoned and slammed into the oven for an hour at 400 degrees, it's just not dinner." I came by what little cooking skill I have honestly, through hard work and trial and error.

It's taken me years, but I now have a spice cabinet that I mostly know what to do with. I know the difference between flambé and sauté. Still, I like to keep things fairly simple when I cook—recipes that cook in a single pot or pan, on the stove or in the oven, with the occasional Crock-Pot recipe mixed in for good measure.

I did once own an Instant Pot, but it went to a better home after sitting neglected in the cupboard for a year. The Instant Pot was replaced in a Prime-Day-inspired bout of optimism by a Ninja 4-quart air fryer, with digital thermostat, timer and four settings. And when I say replaced, I mean that quite literally as it took the same place in that same cupboard. And there it sat for the better part of six months while I gathered up the courage to use it.

It's daunting to have something that sits on your countertop blasting 400-degree heat. The risk to fingertips is real. I need a heavy glass door to protect me from my own clumsiness. One wrong step and I'm dumping scalding cheese all over myself and my dog, and while we're both fans of cheese, we rather prefer it the non-boiling way.

Plus, the digital display of my air fryer is daunting. I feel more comfortable with knobs that say things like "On" and "Off." I really didn't know why I wouldn't just use my oven. So I turned to that font of knowledge that is known as Facebook. I asked for tips, tricks, recipes and reasons why I really needed this counter-hogging behemoth that endangered my digits.

"It's so easy," they said. "No one could possibly mess up this dish," they said. While so many of them talked of "life-changing" chicken nuggets, I decided to go for something I thought I couldn't mess up: chicken wings. I adore a good wingding, but the deep-fried method is not exactly heart-healthy.

Challenge accepted. My first mistake was that I bought chicken legs rather than the reasonably sized wings. The legs looked so meaty at the grocery store, and they were on sale, so I made an impulse purchase and bit off more than I could chew — er, fry. My second mistake was forgetting that I own a meat thermometer. I followed the instructions in my Ninja air fryer manual and cooked them for the recommended amount of time. For regular wings, not legs. While the skin was nice and crispy, I sunk my teeth into raw, red poultry.

Undaunted by my failure, I tried an appealing recipe for Parmesan zucchini slices. Nope. I don't know if it was because I kept pulling the basket out to check on them, or if I didn't give them long enough, but they got hot but never crispy.

And then I tried potatoes, and I. Was. Hooked. Enraptured. I could post an epic list of the ways in which I love potatoes and the ways to prepare them. But now—NOW!—I can truly say I have tasted some of the best roasted potatoes I've ever eaten, and now I don't want to cook them any other way. Yukon Golds, diced into small chunks and tossed with a simple coating of olive oil, salt and pepper. They were flawlessly crunchy on the outside and soft and tender on the inside. They were even better the next day.

Since then, emboldened by my success with The Best Potatoes Ever, I've tried my hand at a few other foods. Baby carrots were caramelized to perfection, silky and tender. Roasted curried chickpeas came out satisfyingly crunchy, Dumplings and chicken nuggets were so perfectly browned, they looked like they came out of the frying pan. From my admittedly brief experience, smaller pieces are easier to deal with and the best results come from food that's good when crispy on the outside and mushy in the middle. Hence the potato perfection.

I have a long way to go still, having not yet summoned the courage for the Roast, Reheat or Dehydrate settings. But I have so far managed to not burn myself or burn the house down, and I almost feel like I'm getting the hang of it. Maybe I'll try pork chops next. It'd be nice to have them done in less than an hour.

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