Why Is My Air Fryer Smoking? Troubleshooting How to Easily Fix It

If your air fryer is letting out plumes of smoke every time you try to use it to air fry some chicken breast, you’ve come to the right place. You need answers and you need them fast. Smoke emerging from any kitchen appliance is a bad sign and can be extremely alarming. Left alone or ignored, this can cause a genuine health and safety hazard.

If you’re wondering to yourself, “why is my air fryer smoking?” Troubleshooting how to easily fix this is urgent, as smoke from an air fryer typically means something within the air fryer itself is too hot or actually burning. You may have never noticed a burning smell or smoke before — especially if you’ve cleaned the air fryer thoroughly after each use and used it mainly for reheating food.

That being said, greasier food (especially oily or fatty meat) can cause smoke to happen. If this is your first time noticing smoke from your air fryer, or you’ve begun to notice it as a regular occurrence, there are several steps you can take to stop it. Our useful troubleshooting guide will tell you what to look for, and how to fix it easily.

Why Is My Air Fryer Smoking? Things That Cause an Air Fryer to Smoke

Most commonly, smoke from an air fryer can be attributed to excess grease build-up, oily food, the air fryer being too crowded or too full, or a mechanical problem with the unit. If you experience any sort of smoke, the first step is always to immediately unplug the air fryer so you can properly inspect it, assess, and determine the source of the smoke.

Overcrowded Basket – Too Much Food in the Fryer

A common cause of smoke in air fryer units is overcrowding. This means you are adding way too much to the basket or tray than what the unit can contain, preventing the hot air from circulating through the fryer properly.

As the food won’t cook evenly, the heat won’t be distributed properly. This leaves some pieces to cook at an accelerated rate and get hot much faster than others. What does that lead to? Burning. Burning leads to smoke.

Most recipes you’ll find online for air fryers are not model-specific and only act as guidelines. This means you may have to reduce the amount of food you try to cook in the unit at one time or lower the overall cooking temperature. You can easily let the food cook at a lower temperature for a longer period of time to help prevent any sort of burning or overheating.

The air fryer itself needs to be maintained, cleaned properly, used wisely, and set up in a space in your kitchen with proper ventilation. Air needs to circulate around the vents of the fryer.

Excess Grease, Oil, and Build-Up

Air Fryer Fried Chicken Thighs

Any sort of excess oil or grease build-up is always the most common culprit when it comes to smoky air fryers.

Any sort of food that cooks at a higher temperature, like meats, can circulate and splatter a lot of fatty oil and grease on the heating element. The more ‘untouched’ the build-up of grease on the heating element, the more you’ll notice smoke and fumes.

These kinds of food products include things like: bacon, chicken thighs, sausage, beef tenderloin, and hamburger patties. Essentially any sort of fatty red or white meat. You may find this to a lesser extent with pre-fried foods covered in oil. This can occur from continually reheating fries, onion rings, or any other sort of deep-fried food.

Burning or Burnt Food

If there isn’t a clear indication of grease or excess oil in the unit, the next most likely culprit is burning food particles trapped in the air fryer. Those cooking lots of ‘breaded’ food with the air fryer will find that when this breading becomes loose and breaks off, these pieces can then circulate with the heated airflow through the air fryer.

These little crumbs, be it from fried chicken or a piece of toast, can wind up on the heating element. Trapped. Once these begin to burn given their small size, you’ve got a recipe for a smoke-filled kitchen on your hands. If your food is also physically touching the burner itself, you’ll wind up with the same problem. Cooking with an air fryer is supposed to be a healthier alternative to traditional frying and deep frying.

Sauces and Marinades

Particularly troublesome is any type of sauce, marinade, or dressing. Those that contain a high sugar content will burn especially easily, and any sort of dripping from this sauce within the air fryer can cause these liquids to burn up fast. With any sort of sauce — tomato, BBQ, or otherwise — the best option is to wait until the food is partially cooked (or close to being finished) before adding.

How Can I Fix My Smoking Air Fryer?

  • You need to first, immediately, turn off the air fryer. The best thing to do, regardless of the source of the smoke, is to unplug the appliance so you can further inspect it safely.
  • Ventilate the kitchen area where your air fryer is located. Ensure windows are all opened, turn on the fan or ventilation hood on your stove, and open doors if possible.
  • Check for excess oil, grease, debris, and food particles. Grease inside the unit, on the heating element, or in the bottom of the drawer can cause these issues. Clean out the excess grease, oil or food particles. Make sure you double-check everything from top to bottom now that the unit is turned off. A slice of bread, greasy food, olive oil — any sort of food residue can be problematic for the air fryer basket, hot cooking elements, and the vents. To clean, you can use a soft sponge, a paper towel, or a cloth hand towel.
  • You’ll always want to ensure you are putting food inside the unit correctly. Do not use parchment paper when pre-heating or cooking for extended periods of time. You need to always check that the food is not in contact with the heating element itself. Ensure there is adequate space between the food inside the air fryer so that air can properly circulate.
  • If you notice white smoke or a haze as well, this is a clear indication something is overcooking in there. Always check your temperature and cooking times before starting (and while cooking). Better to use a lower temperature for a longer period, than a higher temperature at an increased risk of burning or damage to the unit. White smoke is commonly seen in overcooked fatty foods — this is not uncommon in air fryer units. A lot of smoke, however, is a bad sign that you need to address.
  • A secret ‘trick’ referenced on many blogs is to place a slice of bread or two underneath the basket to prevent the excess oil and grease from circulating with the air inside the unit. They can act as a sort of ‘sponge’ to soak up any of this buildup.

What’s the Difference Between Steam and Smoke?

Delicious paneer, french fries and vegetble sizzler giving off smoke and steam

It may seem a bit silly, but the difference between steam and smoke is odor related. You generally won’t notice smells from steam emitting as a natural part of the cooking process. This is especially apparent with higher moisture foods like vegetables.

Now, if you notice a burning smell, this is a telltale warning sign that actual smoke is emitting from the air fryer. This can be caused by any number of the things we’ve previously talked about. We’ve touched on ways to reduce this, including normal cleaning of the unit.

How Can I Prevent My Air Fryer from Smoking and Help Keep It Clean?

Ultimately, there are a wide number of things that can cause your air fryer to begin smoking.

Thankfully, ninety-nine percent of the time, these will be food related. In the case where you’ve fully examined your air fryer for any sort of food debris, food particles, grease, or oil and cleaned it fully, but still notice smoke: do not use the unit further, and contact customer support for the product as indicated in the manual.

While exceedingly rare, technical issues or malfunctions can happen (in more poorly made units) and you should never risk your safety. Breaded foods in batter or panko can easily cause issues as we have mentioned. Tricks like spraying a little bit of olive oil or extra virgin olive oil across these foods can help prevent the crumbs from falling loose.

As always, consult the manual that came with the air fryer prior to cleaning. Most are fine to be cleaned with a towel or sponge, and this can help clear out all the debris causing smoke. Soaking the basket after using the unit and ensuring you clean it right away is a good habit to maintain not only for your safety but for the longevity of the air fryer itself!

Smoke from air fryer units is normal and pretty commonplace, so no need to freak out. Just ensure you follow some of the steps above to clean and care for your unit. You’ll be back to cooking in no time.