Mistakes Everyone Makes Cooking Fried Chicken In The Air Fryer

Air fryers have become popular kitchen appliances over the last few years, promising quick cooking times and healthier foods. Although it's more like an oven than a deep fryer, this handy gadget can crisp up foods almost as if they were deep-fried — but without all the extra oil and fat, of course. Editor for America's Test Kitchen, Lisa McManus tells NBC News that an air fryer "is basically a little hot air chamber convection oven. It cooks a little faster, distributes heat more evenly, and suspends food in a perforated basket. It can really speed things up — sometimes you need some good food fast."

The appliance has taken over in lieu of healthier dinner options because you don't need to cook food in an air fryer with as much oil as you would for traditional frying. Its popularity has sparked numerous air-fryer-specific recipes, especially for fried chicken, a comfort food we know and love that isn't usually a healthy option. However, the right air frying technique can turn this classic dish into a better-for-you food and one that's just as tasty as the original.

You're not preheating the air fryer

If you own one of these appliances, there's no doubt you've heard about the ongoing debate on whether preheating an air fryer is necessary before cooking with it. Some owners say that skipping preheating is okay, while others insist that preheating is a must. The best thing to do is to go by your owner's manual for your particular brand and model, as it will explain how and when to preheat.

However, if you're cooking fried chicken in your air fryer, you might want to assume that preheating is best. SharkNinja's senior vice president of product development, Purvin Shah, tells Insider that giving your air fryer some time to preheat can ensure that you have a crispy meal that's also evenly cooked throughout. With chicken, that's an absolute must. Writer Brigitt Earley also swears by preheating her air fryer for anything from crispy veggies to chicken. In an article for Reviewed, she writes that she almost tossed aside hers as useless until she realized how much of a difference preheating made for crispiness.

You didn't pat the chicken dry

What happens when you try to brown up moist raw chicken? You'll probably end up with soggy skin rather than the crispy golden crust you were looking for. Before putting chicken into the air fryer — or even seasoning your chicken — you should pat it completely dry with clean paper towels.

Principal chef at HelloFresh, Claudia Sidoti tells Insider that patting raw chicken dry before cooking even goes one step further to "reduce the chicken's overall moisture content," preventing it from releasing moisture during the cooking process. If you're having trouble getting your seasoning to stick to dry chicken, Pantry & Larder suggests coating the chicken lightly with olive oil before rubbing the herbs and spices onto the chicken.

Don't worry about washing your chicken before patting it dry, either. According to Sidoti, "Washing raw chicken before cooking can increase your risk of food poisoning from bacteria. Washing raw chicken can also spread bacteria to hands, countertops, and cooking utensils." Instead, count on the cooking process to eliminate any harmful bacteria.

You're skimping on seasoning

Yes, chicken is perfectly edible without seasoning. However, the right seasoning can really boost its flavor, especially with fried chicken. Fried chicken needs a little extra flavor, or you're bound to get mouthfuls of bland-tasting breading, which isn't very appetizing.

So, don't skimp on seasoning. Ideally, you'll want to season the chicken before you bread it and season the breading. According to Bon Appetit, your chicken needs some salt, at the very least. Adding salt generously to raw chicken creates a brine, bringing moisture from the chicken to its surface and soaking it up. This allows the skin to crisp in the air fryer.

Then, season the breading. Ideal herbs and spices for fried chicken include garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika (via Martha Stewart), but feel free to experiment with your favorite flavors, including spicy additions like cayenne pepper and crushed red pepper. You can also use premade spice blends like poultry seasoning or Cajun seasoning to kick things up a notch.

You're not breading it correctly

Breading is the star of the show with air-fried chicken. When you make fried chicken in an air fryer, it's crucial to get your breading procedure right. If not, you could end up with breading that doesn't stick, falling right off the juicy chicken leg you were about to bite into.

Blue Jean Chef recommends using a traditional dredge method to coat each piece of chicken and keep the breading intact. First, dip the chicken in flour, then into whipped eggs, and finally the breadcrumb mixture. After dipping chicken into the breadcrumbs, use your fingers to press the mixture into the chicken firmly.

Southern Living also suggests not adding too much breading to your chicken, especially when it comes to the flour part. If you do, you could end up with soggy chicken. To make sure you get even amounts of everything, consider putting the flour and breadcrumbs into separate bags and using them to coat the chicken pieces evenly by shaking the bags.

You're not using the right amount or kind of oil

Air fryers are not the same as deep fryers, as they use hot, forced air to cook food rather than hot oil. Still, you might want to use a little bit of oil when you're cooking fried chicken in your air fryer. Don't worry about adding oil to the air fryer basket. Instead, add a little oil to the chicken pieces before putting them in the air fryer. However, Simply Recipes warns not to use too much oil on your chicken. Doing so could make it drip down to the bottom of the basket, creating a lot of smoke when the oil and food drippings build up.

Chris Riley, founder of The Daring Kitchen, tells Insider that spraying oil onto the chicken before adding it to the basket helps you add just the right amount. Then, about halfway through the cooking process, turn each chicken piece and spritz a little more oil on the top to help both sides crisp. Spice Lab chef Fiona Kennedy also tells Insider that you should always remove the basket from the air fryer before spraying the chicken with oil to avoid unsafe and grimey buildup inside the appliance.

What oil is best? One with a high smoke point that can withstand high temperatures, like avocado oil and coconut oil (per Air Frying Foodie).

You're not cooking in batches

Overcrowding the air fryer basket can be tempting when you're in a time crunch and have hungry mouths to feed. You might get away with doing it with some foods, like vegetables, but fried chicken isn't as forgiving.

The New York Times suggests buying a large-capacity air fryer if you plan to cook large amounts of food to avoid cooking in several batches. However, if you want to make do with what you have, you may need to cook just a few pieces of chicken at a time. According to The Krazy Koupon Lady, overcrowding the basket yields unevenly cooked foods because it compromises airflow.

Not only can unevenly or undercooked cooked fried chicken result in unappetizing, soggy pieces of breading, it can also be harmful to your health. Food poisoning is highly likely with undercooked chicken, with as much as 66% of tested chicken containing salmonella or campylobacter bacteria (per Healthfully).

You're not flipping the chicken

Even with maximum airflow getting to each piece of chicken in the basket, you might need to help out the air fryer a little bit to ensure that each piece gets a complete cook on all sides. To do this, America's Test Kitchen says to use a pair of kitchen tongs to flip the chicken pieces halfway through the cooking process. So, if you're cooking chicken for 30 minutes, set a timer for 15 minutes to remind you to flip them over to the other side.

Air fryer users on Reddit's r/airfryer subreddit also say that flipping foods that you want to have a crispy exterior allows them to crisp evenly on all sides. One Redditor says, "An air fryer only has one heating element on top. A convection oven, which is also an air fryer of sorts, has one on top and one on the bottom. I do find that flipping can make the underside more well done, or crispy." While some air fryers have crisping shelves that let air circulate underneath the food, most air stays on top, crisping up the upper portion of food more.

Your chicken pieces are different sizes

It's entirely possible to use legs, thighs, breasts, and wings for your fried chicken pieces. However, cooking the different pieces at one time could yield undesirable results in terms of doneness. Each piece of chicken cooks for different lengths of time because they each contain a different amount of meat. Also, bone-in pieces typically take more time to cook than boneless pieces, regardless of the cooking method (via MyRecipes). Cooking similarly sized pieces together in one batch can help you achieve even cooking results.

If you're cooking boneless thighs or breasts that vary significantly in size, consider pounding them out to make them more even before adding them to the air fryer. Kitchn suggests placing a piece of chicken inside a durable food storage bag and using a meat mallet to pound out the chicken to an even thickness. Bonus: The thinner the piece, the quicker it will be ready to enjoy.

You didn't line the basket

Do you find that you have an overwhelming mess to clean up after cooking fried chicken in an air fryer? Oil drippings and breading leftovers can certainly create disorder in your air fryer basket. In some cases, you might even end up with chicken that sticks to the bottom of the basket, pulling off all that crispy skin you wanted to eat.

Even if your air fryer includes a basket insert that keeps your food from touching the bottom surface of the basket, you might want to line the basket before putting the chicken inside. Parchment sheets made for air fryers are perfect for this, according to Air Fryer World. They're generally safe to use at temperatures up to 450 degrees and they prevent food from sticking and from you having to scrub away at the basket.

Just be sure to use these liners correctly. Blue Jean Chef author Meredith Laurence tells Insider that the food you place on top of parchment paper in the air fryer should always weigh it down to keep the liner from blowing unsafely into the heating element. Laurence also suggests using parchment paper with holes to keep grease from making your breading soggy.

You're setting the temperature too high

An air fryer perk is that it can cook many foods faster than an oven without sacrificing food quality and juiciness. Make a few chicken meals in the air fryer, and you'll probably find it difficult to go back to the longer cooking process and sometimes drier results of oven-cooked chicken. However, the intense cooking process of the air fryer can quickly turn chicken dry if you're not careful.

For best results with fried chicken in an air fryer, kick down the temperature further than you would for other methods, like deep frying or breaded baked chicken. According to Well Plated, an ideal temperature for air fried chicken is 375 degrees, while oven chicken recipes usually call for 425 degrees. The Cookful recommends cooking most pieces of chicken at 400 degrees in the air fryer after preheating it for a few minutes at the same temperature.

Each air fryer model is a bit different, so it may take a few experiments to find the best time and temperature combination for your specific model.

You're not using the right settings

Air fryer models vary significantly from one another, with some having just a few buttons to get things cooking. Others have several functions, including roasting, dehydrating, and warming buttons. Get familiar with everything your air fryer offers by flipping through its manual and checking out its controls before cooking your fried chicken (via Taste of Home).

If your air fryer is one that does have several controls on its front screen, you might be doing yourself a disservice by ignoring them. Many air fryers with preset functions have one specifically for chicken, giving you the ideal temperature and time to get a thorough cook that keeps chicken moist while crisping its "fried" breading. For instance, many GoWISE USA air fryers include presets for commonly cooked items, like steak, pork, and fries. A chicken preset always appears on these models (via GoWISE USA).

Taste of Home reminds us that presets aren't foolproof, though. Make sure you know how much food your owner's manual suggests cooking with the chicken preset to ensure that you're not overcrowding the basket.

You're breading it frozen

It's possible to cook already breaded chicken in an air fryer from a frozen state if you forget to thaw it the night before. But doing the same with unbreaded chicken that you want to bread could prove challenging because a flour mixture won't stick well to the chicken as it begins to thaw. Still, you can do it with an extra step or two. Instead of breading the chicken straight from the freezer, eHow suggests rinsing each piece of chicken with cold water and setting it on a plate for a few minutes to allow the ice to melt away. Then, pat the chicken dry and move on to the regular breading process.

Using the frozen-to-cooking method is okay when you're in a pinch, but it's still best to thaw chicken whenever possible to avoid getting unsafe, uneven cooks. BBC Good Food suggests putting your chicken in a sealed food storage bag and submerging the bag in a bowl of cold water to thaw the chicken rapidly. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold. Alternatively, defrosting the chicken using your microwave's defrost function can be a safe way to get your fried chicken on the dinner table faster.

You're not letting it rest

Eating your freshly cooked fried chicken straight from the air fryer is oh-so-tempting, but holding off just a few minutes can result in an even yummier meal. Resting is something that steak enthusiasts often describe as a must for cooked steak, but chicken can benefit from it, too, per Kitchn. Once your air fryer has finished cooking each chicken piece, the chicken isn't necessarily done cooking. Each piece holds in heat for a few more minutes, allowing it to finish the cooking process and absorb some moisture that it lost.

Boneyard Bistro chef Aaron Robins explains how to do it: "Once you have hit 165 degrees, stop the heat and let it rest for a few minutes before cutting, so the juices redistribute themselves back through the meat" (via Food and Wine). Kitchn also suggests tenting meat in foil during the resting process to hold that heat in and keep the chicken warm while you wait. In turn, you'll get a thoroughly cooked piece of chicken that's tender and juicy.

You're not checking its temperature

Not checking to make sure that each piece of chicken is cooked all the way before removing it from the air fryer could result in yummy-looking chicken that's not so good for your health. Chicken can be sneaky, looking fully cooked on the outside but still pink and underdone on the inside. Food poisoning is a risk with chicken if you don't handle it properly in the kitchen or use a designated food thermometer to check its internal temperature (per CDC).

According to the USDA, the safe cooking temperature of chicken is 165 degrees Fahrenheit. That means that you should not pull any piece of chicken from the air fryer until it's reached that temperature. Remember that it will continue to cook a little more when resting, but it still needs to reach that safe zone before you move it to its resting area. Always check that the thickest part of the chicken reaches this temperature.

You have a few options when it comes to checking the temperature of your cooked chicken. Instant-read thermometers are among the most popular, giving quick readings in digital or analog styles. Or, try thermometer-fork combinations, which have at least two prongs, making them helpful for checking the thick parts of chicken (via Better Homes and Gardens).