Air-Fryer Chicken Wings Are the Best Chicken Wings

Extra-crispy and without a lick of oil.

January 13, 2020
Photo by James Ransom

Hi, I’m Emma, and I’m an air fryer skeptic.

This 21st-century appliance has been making waves (big ones! watch out!) for nearly a decade. In 2010, Phillips debuted its first model, boasting that "air is the new oil." At the end of 2017, Pinterest put the air fryer at the top of its 2018 food trends.

Here we are, a decade later, still air-frying.

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My brother bought one years ago and has been raaaaaaving about it ever since. He uses it for anything and everything: potatoes, corn on the cob, sausages, chicken wings. (He reminds me of F52 contributor, Ben Mims, who also delights in putting anything and everything edible in his air-fryer: okra, shishitos, pork ribs, even brownie batter.)

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Top Comment:
“Cleaning air fryer is super easy! Take basket and holder out, add very hot water with a squirt of Dawn. Swish this around and let sit for hour swish again and rinse. Super easy!! 👍”
— Sue

But mostly, my brother talks about his chicken wings. These, he swears, are the best, best, best. And all because of the air fryer. Or so he says. Let's put his method to the test. But first, some FAQs.

FAQAAFs (Frequently Asked Questions About Air Fryers)

What the heck is an air fryer?

Basically, it’s a mini, countertop convection oven. If you aren’t sure what a convection oven is, join the club. They aren’t common in the United States, so many people are unacquainted with how they work. They are, essentially, little fans blowing hot air in a sealed box. Seriously. That’s it. The fan blows around all the hot air, shooing away steam and fostering faster, more even cooking. In other words: better coloring, crispier crusts than you would get with a regular oven.

So, um, how is that “frying”?

Ding ding! It isn’t. Hence my skepticism. By definition, frying means cooking in hot fat. But the lure of the air fryer is the exact opposite: cooking in little to no fat. You pull out the drawer, usually with a grate-like tray inside, prep with nonstick cooking spray (if you want), add food, and done. Air roaster would, technically, be more accurate, but air fryer sounds so much better, right? Have your French roasts fries and eat them, too!

Why chicken wings?

This goes back to the "Is this really frying?" question. The big difference between real frying and fake air-frying is the lack of fat. Frozen, ready-to-bake French fries do well in the air fryer—because they’re already fried and bring the oil with them—but freshly cut potato wedges, with their lack of fat, do not. Wings, with their high skin-to-meat ratio, are brazenly fatty. So, yes, we are air-frying with no extra fat, but we're only able to do so because there’s already enough schmaltz to go around. It’s the same reason buttery pastries, from pie crusts to croissants, bake up so beautifully in a convection oven.

Okay, okay, tell us already! How were they?

If you’re a younger sibling, you know how much it pains me to say this, but: My brother was right. I was wrong. These chicken wings were the best: colorful and crispy outside, juicy and tender inside, and all without a lick of additional oil. What’s more, the simplest preparation (really, just salt and pepper!) turned out to be my favorite.

how to cook chicken wings in the air fryer

1) Turn the air fryer to its highest temperature (with the KRUPS model we used, this was 392°F, or 200°C).

Photo by James Ransom

2) Pat the chicken wings dry with a paper towel. Water (and hence, steam) is the enemy of crispiness. Make it rain—scratch that, make it pour—salt and pepper. Add the seasoned wings to the air fryer.

Photo by James Ransom

3) Cook for about 25 minutes until golden-brown and shatteringly crispy. Because they’re naturally fatty, I didn’t even need to grease the fryer tray. And well, that's the entire recipe.

I tried flipping halfway to promote even cooking, but found that opening the door was more damaging than it was worth, and the circulating air has the even-factor covered anyway. I also tried dredging the wings in cornstarch, a go-to frying technique, but this works better when extra oil is involved, and a pseudo-battered crust can form. In the air fryer, the cornstarch simply turned pasty.

But what about the sauce?

For some people, a wing is not a wing without sauce. There are a couple ways to go about saucing your air-fried wings:

Mid-fry. When the wings are just about done, remove them from the air fryer, dunk them in warm to hot sauce (temperature-wise), and return to the air fryer. You don’t want them to bake with the sauce too long, lest it burn. This method yields a sealed, shellac-like crust. It also makes a huge mess in your air fryer, which is why I prefer…

Post-fry. When the wings are done, remove from the air fryer, and dunk in warm to hot sauce. (If your sauce is cold, you’ll immediately lower the temperature of the wings, which isn’t what we’re going for.) Serve immediately before things get too soggy.

Here are a couple of favorites:

And try subbing air-fried wings into these recipes:

Any downsides?

These were the best chicken wings I’ve ever made—and effortlessly at that!—but there are a couple caveats. It goes without saying, an air fryer (even a larger model) is significantly smaller than your oven. I could only fit nine in a single layer, which is crucial to that crispiest-ever crust. (You know how recipes always say to not crowd the pan? Same idea.) Which means, if you’re serving a crowd, you’ll have to do batches. Like, a lot of batches. At the same time, it’s still a large appliance! In fact, it’s bigger than any appliance I own. If you live in a small kitchen, with limited storage space, this could be problematic. And finally, cleaning this thing is not fun. Almost less fun than cleaning a big pot of oil. How ironic is that?

another crowd-pleaser

Have you ever air-fried before? What did you make? Tell us about it in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Lori
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  • Sue
  • Tim
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    Hana Asbrink
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Lori December 1, 2021
One of the benefits I find about my air fryer is that I no longer bother heating up my entire oven for just the two of us.
moynul15dec September 25, 2021
Thanks for share best info. Today people also face different air fryer-related problems. Air fryer rusting problem one of them. Follow the steps to solve or avoid air fryer rusting problem: https://www.yourkitchenist.com/air-fryer-rusting/
Sue July 31, 2021
I have a very easy way to clean my air fryer. After you cook run hot water in it up little past basket then spray Dawn all around.Go eat ,come back and scrub with sponge with scrubber side.Super easy!
Tim January 26, 2020
I've been saying this for awhile, they are sort of truly fried, because of the fat in the skin!

Also, skeptical of the need for any paper towel patting. How long do you reckon it takes to dry the skin when they are being fanned at 400 degrees?
Hana A. June 4, 2018
YASSS! Loved these wings so much, so glad you took the AF out for a spin!
Eric K. June 2, 2018
So crispy, so good.
Sue June 1, 2018
Cleaning air fryer is super easy! Take basket and holder out, add very hot water with a squirt of Dawn. Swish this around and let sit for hour swish again and rinse. Super easy!! 👍
Jackie C. July 31, 2021
Yes, the “parts” are easy to clean —- what about the inside???? VERY hard to clean!!!!
Shelly S. May 31, 2018
I have made pizzas, chocolate cake,ribs, potato wedges and fried chicken...it all turned out great!
Sam1148 May 31, 2018
99 percent of modern ovens have a 'convection' setting.
Just get a sheet pan and good wire rack. And it's the same thing. No need for a 'air fryer'. If you want something more compact and power efficient, Just look for table top 'convection ovens' like the https://www.ebay.com/itm/Airlux-CO-100-Convection-Oven-w-Pyrex-Convection-Bowl-/322065418395

Which has a solid glass 'bowl' for the cooking vessel.
Unlike the nuwave and others...to clean it just fill it with water and a bit of dish soap and turn it on 'clean'.
Lori December 1, 2021
Actually, it’s not the same thing. I have a convection oven and I cannot get the same crispness as in my air fryer. I would assume it is because the smaller the oven, the more intense the heat and air movement.
Zozo May 31, 2018
This is an awesome article thank you! Have been wondering what the big deal is! And thanks for going the extra mile to answer the inevitable "but..." questions too!

I'd be curious to know if a large batch in a standard convection oven was just as good too. I find my convection setting still doesn't cook evenly.
Lori December 1, 2021
I’ve tried and I get nothing near the crispness as my air fryer. In order to get sufficient crispness it needs to cook longer which means the wings are dried out.
David J. May 31, 2018
Can you cook frozen wings this way? Also how long did it take to cook them?
Edward W. June 1, 2018
i have cooked frozen wings for 20 min at 400. really crispy on outsude and tender inside
Carissa N. May 31, 2018
I'm embarrassed to say that I got crazy and bought an air fryer and literally used it once. I need to dust it back off and give these a try! Thanks for the inspiration!
Bryan P. May 31, 2018
I thought air fryers used a bit of oil. Maybe that was the original ones. If it's just a convection oven, I'll use.... my convection oven!
Lori December 1, 2021
Try that with wings and let us know how it turned out. They did not come out anywhere near as crispy without being dried out like shoe leather in my Thermidorian convection oven. I think the AF’s size makes for more intense heat and air circulation.
Lori December 1, 2021
Aah—d**n auto correct. Supposed to have said Thermador.
Chris May 31, 2018
What United States are you living in where convection ovens are rarely seen?? Any decent oven has a convection setting.
Valerio F. May 31, 2018
Woah cool, i've always been curious. Honestly after tasting those wings maybe I'd buy one... or convince someone else to buy one then make wings!
FrugalCat May 31, 2018
Is this from an infomercial?
Chad B. May 31, 2018
This makes no sense, it's just way too small. I'm not cooking 9 at a time. I can fit 36 on a medium baking sheet. If you used two large baking sheets, you could cook closer to 100 at once.
Mark M. July 5, 2019
I use my Breville convection oven with the air fryer basket. If you like them super crispy, place them in a resealable bag, add your spices and a little baking powder (not soda!), just enough to give the wings a very light coating. Perfect crispness!