Most of us who cook at home regularly are looking for tools that make cooking better — whether that means faster, easier, more delicious, or all of the above. So it makes sense that certain cooking appliances claiming to do just that (like electric pressure cookers and air fryers) have skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years.
But to be honest, I didn't really buy into the air fryer hype at first. I understood why people were into them, but for me, air fryers didn't seem to fit into my kitchen routine. I deep fry every once in awhile, but not every day. Why would I invest in a countertop cooker when my oven could do 80 percent of what an air fryer could?
That said, I was definitely still curious. So earlier this year I decided to finally try one out. I've been cooking with it at home for the past two months now — everything from family dinners to quick snacks — and here's what I think about it so far.
What Is An Air Fryer, Anyway?
An air fryer is a countertop kitchen appliance that uses convection to circulate hot air (and, in some cases, oil) around food in order to cook it. Most models come in a two-liter to six-liter capacity and can range anywhere from $70 to $200 depending on the model. I test-drove (or should I say, test-cooked?) a Black and Decker Purify with a two-liter capacity.
Does the Air Fryer Make Food Healthier?
One of the claims about the air fryer is that it can fry things with a fraction of the oil of traditional deep fryers, while still delivering similar taste and texture. For that reason, it's often touted as a "healthier" alternative to deep frying.
But my results were mixed. While I found I could air fry most vegetables (think: potatoes for fries) with less oil than I needed for deep frying, I still needed about the same amount of oil I'd use for oven-roasting in order to really make them taste comparable.
And while it's true that you can air fry some things without any oil at all, the results varied for me here, too. Oil-less air fryer-roasted chicken tasted great. Oil-less french fries? Wouldn't recommend.
In short: If you're buying an air fryer to replace your Fry Daddy, you're likely to use less oil overall, and still end up with results that taste good. If you're buying an air fryer to replace or supplement your oven, you won't see as much of a difference in the amount of oil you use.
What Are the Best Foods to Make in An Air Fryer?
I can officially confirm that an air fryer is great for cooking already-fried-and-frozen foods like chicken nuggets, fries, and tater tots. But to really get a feel for what it can (and can't) do, I consulted a few cookbooks with air fryer-specific recipes — like Air Fry Every Day and Skinnytaste One and Done — for other options beyond the freezer aisle.
Roasted Vegetables (Especially Roasted Garlic)
A friend had told me how lovely little cubes of sweet potato become in the air fryer with just a sprinkle of olive oil — and she was right. My kids also devoured batch after batch of homemade fries (I recommend skin-on Yukon golds for that.) But for me, it was air-fried roasted garlic that really blew my mind. You can — without the fuss of heating up an entire oven — have golden nuggets of roasted garlic perfect for smothering on bread in as little as 15 minutes.
(However, it's also worth noting that the air fryer is limited in its size. You can make fries or sweet potatoes for four pretty easily. But if you're looking to meal prep a whole week of roasted vegetables, you're better off cranking up the oven for the time it will take.)
Want to turn a can of chickpeas into the most delicious happy hour snack? I found that the air fryer does a much better job than the oven does at crisping these legumes. The convection dried each chickpea to crisp perfection.
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At the park this afternoon, I listened to a dad and his tween have an in-depth conversation about her BMI and how she’d really love to turn her “fat” in muscle. This girl was perfectly fit and her own dad indulged the idea that she should work out more and diet! 🤬So when my 6-year old asked if we could make donuts this afternoon, we mixed up a cheater dough and fried them faster than we could ride to our local shops. Are they the healthiest or the prettiest? Nope, but that’s totally not the point, the food or the diet or the exercise is hardly ever the point. Y’all we have to do better, we have to show our kids that they are extraordinary no matter their shape or their BMI or whether they eat their vegetables. The point is listening to them and reminding them regularly that we love them regardless. 🍩
It was Air Fryer Every Day that turned me onto the idea of making doughnuts in the air fryer. The book has a recipe for apple cider doughnut holes that is so good — and for me, it was the single recipe that changed my opinion of the air fryer the most. (These doughnuts were seriously as good as their stovetop-fried counterparts.) I also tried a quick batch using a pre-made crescent roll dough one Saturday afternoon and they were just as delicious as the deep-fried kind, without all the mess.
My smaller air fryer only had the capacity for a small three-pound chicken, but that was more than enough to feed my family. And considering that I didn't have to preheat the oven and the chicken came out basically like the platonic ideal of rotisserie chicken — with crispy skin and tender flesh — I consider whole chickens to be a big win for the air fryer.
Wings, Shishito Peppers, and Other Snacks
Small snacks are one of the places that the air fryer shines. I don't love heating my whole oven to roast a small pound of shishito peppers for snacking — and blistering them in the air fryer gave the same results with less effort. For game night, chicken wings and toasted nuts made using the air fryer were both hits at my house. (With again, bonus points for not having to run the oven all night.)
Brownies and Bagels
The air fryer is just as much a countertop oven as it is a fryer, and I was delighted to bake things like brownies and even a two-ingredient bagel recipe in it. A friend who loves her air fryer even suggests trying personal pizzas and dinner rolls in the air fryer. (Though I haven't, yet!)
So, Do You Need an Air Fryer?
The short answer is no. Given the air fryer's size — it takes up about as much space as a toaster oven, if not more — and its relatively limited capacity, it hard to suggest that every kitchen needs an air fryer. You can do everything an air fryer does with minimal equipment and a regular home range, especially considering the amount of storage space required for even a smaller, still-bulky air fryer.
However, if you're a household with the kitchen space, cooking habits, and disposable income to support it, an air fryer could be incredibly efficient for you. You can cook small batches of everything from roasted vegetables, to chicken, to perfectly reheated frozen foods — all in less time than it would take to heat a full-scale oven. You can also often yield more flavor and texture than a microwave or toaster oven can.
All in all? I was skeptical of the air fryer at first. But now that I have one, I find myself reaching for it regularly — and test-driving has one made me excited to see where we'll go next in the world of cooking tools that make our lives even more delicious.
Do you have an air fryer? What are your favorite things to make in it? Share in the comments below.