As someone who lives in a small apartment with limited counter space and has a professed dislike for so-called kitchen “unitaskers,” I’m weirdly curious about the air fryer, wondering every so often: “Would my life be better if I had one?” I contemplated this question most critically after tasting Makinze’s air fryer pork chops. A cut that’s notorious for being easily overcooked and tough came out surprisingly tender, juicy, and perfect. Turns out, I’m not the only one who’s curious: Air fryers have exploded in popularity, surpassing even Instant Pot and pressure cooker search interest in the past year, according to Google Trends.
But before we all run out and buy one, let’s make sure we know *exactly* what we’re signing up for. Read on for our guide to what you need to know about air frying and how to make the most out of this popular appliance.
First things first: What is an air fryer?
An air fryer is essentially a small countertop convection oven that circulates very hot air at a super high-powered speed. It’s almost like cooking your food with several industrial-strength hair dryers pointed right at it. Traditional frying submerges your food fully in fat; air frying submerges your food in…air. A tornado of very hot air. There is no oil required when it comes to using air fryers. As best said by Claire Lower, things that are air-fried are “not really fried, but more turbo-roasted.”
The most efficient and effective air fryer model has a pull-out basket for your food and detachable bottom to catch any drips (like the Philips Air Fryer), but multicookers, such as the Ninja Foodi, can also air fry.
6 Things to Know About Air Frying
1. You can get deep-fried results without deep frying.
If you’ve ever craved crunchy-coated fried fish tacos for dinner, only to get discouraged by the—how many?!—glugs of oil called for (not to mention how laborious the whole process seems), air fryer to the rescue. You don’t have to use much (or any) cooking oil for deep-fried results, so the results are lower in fat, and, yes, still crispy.
You also skip having to babysit frying oil with a candy thermometer, nervously adjusting the heat on your stovetop to keep the oil at a constant temperature. Depending on your air fryer model, you may have a manual dial or a digital adjustment for setting your frying temperature (usually from 170° to 400°), but this is a set-it-and-forget-it type of situation: Pick your temperature and the machine handles the rest.
2. But don’t expect perfect fried results from everything.
Air frying is not ideal for foods traditionally fried in a wet batter like corn dogs or onion rings. The drippy coating will sink through the air fryer basket grills and solidify during the cooking process, effectively acting as a glue. (The clean-up in this case gets very ugly.)It’s also not recommended for foods dredged in a dry, floury coating, like Korean fried chicken, which will take an unpleasant, sandy mouthfeel. They’re not off limits to air fry, but the ratio of wet to dry mixtures must be carefully balanced.
3. It crisps up foods better than your home oven does.
The air fryer isn’t only good for dishes you’d typically fry. Most foods baked or roasted in the oven at a consistent temperature (think salmon or Brussels sprouts) work great in the air fryer, which locks in juiciness and delivers delicious texture, as the convection air flow dehydrates the food’s exposed surface area.
Yup, You Can Air Fry That.
4. This is not an appliance for big-batch cooking.
You have to air fry food in a single layer, so the size of your air fryer basket determines how much food you can cook at a time. Piling food on top of each other results in soggy, undercooked pieces and burnt, overcooked edges. (Please note: Yes. You can definitely overcook things in an air fryer.)
5. Air fryers can be a little noisy.
Due to the turbulent nature of all that convection action, things get a bit loud. The particular pitch and volume is dependent on the make and model, but most air fryers sound not unlike a hair dryer blowing away inside a closed shoe box.
6. Clean-up is a breeze.
Forget scrubbing gunk off a large baking sheet or fretting over how to best dispose of a pot of frying oil. Due to their small size and often non-stick surface, air fryers are typically quick to clean.
So, should you get an air fryer?
If you (1) are more often than not cooking for one or two people or (2) live in a space with a small kitchen or no dependable oven, the air fryer is a great cooking gadget that might improve your culinary adventures. And if you’re looking to cook with less or no oil at all, it’s a no-brainer.
Which one should you get?
After all, it may very well change your life.
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