Here’s What An Air Fryer Really Does to Your Food

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Air fryer recipes are sweeping the nation, but what is an air fryer and how does it work? Here's the lowdown.

There’s no question that air fryers are hugely popular. But if you’ve ever wondered, “What is an air fryer?” or “How does an air fryer work?” then read on.

What Is an Air Fryer?

The air fryer is essentially an amped-up countertop convection oven. Patented by Philips Electronics Company, the small appliance claims to mimic the results of deep-frying with nothing more than hot air and little or no oil.

This gadget has surged in popularity over the last few years; nearly 40 percent of U.S. homes had one as of July 2020, according to the market research firm NPD Group. There are all kinds of things you can air-fry, from frozen chicken wings and homemade french fries to roasted vegetables and fresh-baked cookies.

How Do Air Fryers Work?

The top section of an air fryer holds a heating mechanism and fan. You place the food in a fryer-style basket, and when you turn it on, hot air rushes down and around the food. This rapid circulation makes the food crisp — much like deep-frying, but without the oil.

Here’s how to use an air fryer:

1. Place Your Food in the Basket

Depending on the size of your air fryer, the basket may hold from two to ten quarts. In most cases, you’ll want to add one or two teaspoons of oil to help the food get nice and crispy.

2. Set the Time and Temperature

Air fryer cooking times and temperatures typically range from five to 25 minutes at 350 to 400 degrees F, depending on the food you’re cooking.

3. Let the Food Cook

In some cases, you may need to flip or turn the food halfway through the cooking cycle to help it crisp up evenly. Once you’re done cooking, it’s important to clean your air fryer.

What Are the Best Air Fryers?

Our Test Kitchen put several models to the test to find the best air fryer, and three brands rose to the top. We’ve been fans of the Philips Avance Turbo-Star Air Fryer for years, and our experts also liked the Black + Decker Purify Air Fryer and the PowerXL Vortex Air Fryer.

These gadgets range in price depending on their size and features. Besides the appliance itself, you may want to pick up some air fryer accessories.

What Can You Cook in an Air Fryer?

While many of the best air-fryer recipes feature foods that are typically deep-fried, you can also roast vegetables, cook meat and bake cookies.

Frozen Finger Foods

The air fryer really shines at preparing frozen foods meant to taste deep-fried. French fries, mozzarella sticks and chicken nuggets are some of the many frozen air-fried foods you can make.

Homemade Finger Foods

If you prefer to make your finger foods from scratch, the air fryer is a great option for crispy homemade snacks and sides. However, while air-fried frozen mozzarella sticks are delicious, fresh cheese melts into a gooey mess. So homemade cheese curds are out.

Chicken, Fish and Meat

Air fryers aren’t just for greasy carbs — you can also make dishes that are packed with protein.

Roasted Vegetables

Since air fryers are essentially small convection ovens, they’re great for roasting vegetables, especially if you’re only cooking for one or two people. However, skip the leafy greens.

Some Baked Goods

Air fryers can be great for single-serving desserts, including small baked goods like cookies and apple fritters. However, you can’t make anything that uses a liquid batter unless you freeze it first.

Air Fryer Tips

Is Air-Fried Food Healthy?

You could argue that air-fried food is healthier than deep-fried because it uses less oil. Frozen french fries prepared in the air fryer contain between four and six grams of fat versus their deep-fried counterparts, which have a whopping 17 grams per serving.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Air Fryers?

Pros: Air fryers make it easy to whip up frozen foods in a way that is slightly healthier than deep-frying. The results are much better than oven-frying, and your kitchen stays cool.

Cons: Even the largest air fryers have a limited capacity, so you’ll likely have to cook in batches, especially if you’re preparing food for a crowd. Bigger than a toaster, air fryers also take up valuable counter space. Finally, they can be pricey, depending on the model you get.

Is It Worth Getting an Air Fryer?

With numerous models on the market, this popular appliance has come down in price in the last few years. Many models cost less than $200, and some less than $100. Still, springing for an air fryer is likely only worth it if you regularly whip up fried foods, frozen or homemade.

Taste of Home
Originally Published on Taste of Home

Sue Stetzel
Sue has been part of the Taste of Home family for over 16 years. Her collection of magazines dates back to the premier issue in 1993. When she isn’t writing, she’s answer your burning cooking questions and working with our team of Volunteer Field Editors.
Teddy Nykiel
Teddy is an associate digital editor at Taste of Home specializing in SEO strategy. As a home cook herself, she loves finding inspiration at the farmer's market. She also enjoys doing any sport that involves water and taking long walks with her black lab mix, Berkeley.