Air fryer recipes are sweeping the nation, but what is an air fryer? How does it work? And most importantly, do you need one? Here’s the lowdown.
What is an air fryer?
Several years ago, a well-hyped, “miraculous” kitchen appliance appeared on the scene—the air fryer (or is it airfryer)? Either way, the message in a nutshell—enjoy deep-fried foods without all the negative stuff like calories. Fry with air, they said. A new treat for your health—up to 90% less fat! One manufacturer promised “Healthy food for diet eating!” Imagine that—delicious, healthy, fried food without the calories. Well, not exactly.
One reviewer, whose opinion caught my eye, writes that an air fryer is a high-output Easy-Bake Oven for adults. Hmm …
How does it work?
An air fryer is a small countertop convection oven designed to simulate deep frying without submerging the food in oil. A fan circulates hot air at high speed, producing a crisp layer via browning reactions such as the Maillard reaction.
This rapid circulation makes the food crisp—similar to deep-frying, but without the oil. Some product reviewers claim that regular convection ovens or convection toaster ovens produce better results or that air frying is essentially convection baking under a trendy new name.
OK, I’ll be brave enough to say what most of us think: What is convection, why is that a setting on my oven, and when will I find time to figure out how to use it? Even microwave ovens now come with options for non-microwave cooking including settings for bake, broil, and yes, convection.
Surprise! If you have a convection oven, you already have an air fryer. They are basically the same thing with a convection oven being better for doing everything that an air fryer promises. A convection oven and an air fryer both offer high temperature plus wind!
The fan helps to circulate and create even heat. And the higher the temperature, the better the crispy, beautifully browned result.
Airfryer vs. convection
Air fryers are pod-shaped, small-ish, meant to sit on the countertop. An air fryer consists of a door on the front that when opened reveals a basket and a tray. The food to be air-fried gets placed in the basket. The tray catches residue, drips, crumbs, etc. The open-weave-like basket allows hot air to circulate more efficiently around the food items, which should be spaced out.
An air fryer handles food for 2 to 4 servings, generally. That probably means air frying in batches if you cook for a family. While French fries, chicken nuggets, wings, and other frozen pre-cooked battered fare are most popular in air fryers, most of these appliances come with instructions for how to air-fry “baked” potatoes, air-fry vegetables, and just about anything you can prepare in an oven, even cake.
An air fryer has a single fan, positioned at the top of the appliance. The temperature control on a basic air fryer typically goes to 400F.
Air fryers can be unreasonably noisy, and a bear to clean, depending on the brand. And it’s not a small appliance as countertop appliances go. Expect a good one to have a footprint of about 15-inch square.
A convection oven has multiple fans—top and sides, which makes for much more even cooking. It’s large enough to handle 2 servings up to 10 or 12 or more. Using a basket-like “pan” in the convection oven gives all of the benefits of an air fryer and more. A convection oven is easy to clean, especially if it is part of your regular self-cleaning oven. And takes up no room at all if it is part of what you own already.
Hate to Break it to Ya
Neither an air fryer nor convection oven is a deep-fryer. If you expect yummy, decadent deep-fried results from either of these appliances, prepare to be disappointed. But if you are not into deep-frying, and anxious to eat more healthfully, and are not even hoping for deep-fried results, you will love the heat+fan results of air frying.
You can get amazing results either way by adding a small amount of oil—spraying it on or tossing those veggies, meat pieces, etc., in oil. And you really can 80% less oil than deep-frying to create amazing results!
Don’t be fooled by “fat removal technology.” That just means fat and oil can drip out onto the drip tray. Nothing magic there.
A Case for the Air Fryer
If 1)you do not have a convection oven already, 2) you typically cook for 2 to 4 persons, and 3) you have ample counter space, an air fryer could be an ideal addition to your kitchen. I predict you will be thrilled with this new addition to your cooking space. And chances are great that you will quickly recoup the cost by cooking at home rather than eating out, picking up, or answering the doorbell.
A Case for the Convection Oven
If you have this option in your kitchen already, that pretty much speaks for itself! Why would you need an air fryer? A convection oven is going to give better and more consistent results because it is a full-on appliance, not a chubby countertop appliance designed to sit out next to the toaster.
A convection oven has greater fan-power, and that’s the key to this kind of high temperature, powerful air circulation kind of cooking.
A convection oven rarely is a single-use appliance. Convection is a feature and part of a regular kitchen oven or microwave. And it frees up space on your countertop.
A Case for a Third Option
This is the best option I can offer if you do not have a good convection oven and desperately want to take up air frying. For about the same amount of money, you can buy a countertop toaster oven that has all the bells and whistles including an air fry option. Now you have a toaster, broiler, regular oven, convection oven, and to keep up with the industry, separate “air fry” option that comes with pre-settings.
This means you have an additional oven for when you are entertaining or on special holidays. You have an excellent toaster that can handle as many pieces of toast as desired. And you have an air fryer that can easily handle servings up to 8.
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