How Does an Air Fryer Work?

updated Jan 13, 2021
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The whole concept of air frying sounds like a miracle. Frying without fat? How is that possible? How does an air fryer work?! Like many things that sound mysterious, it actually has a very reasonable explanation. But before I reveal it, let me make it clear that air frying is technically NOT frying. To really fry something, you need to submerge food in oil. No way around it. But what an air fryer can do is give you that crispy, crunch that makes Southern fried chicken and french fries so delectable. Got it?

Okay, now let’s continue.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

How Does an Air Fryer Work?

An air fryer is actually a lot like a countertop convection oven. It’s a small electric appliance with a heating element and a fan that blows air around in a cooking chamber. However, in an air fryer, the air is swirled very quickly in a circular fashion — so it does a better job of reaching all of the surfaces of the food and creating a crisp crust. Plus, the food itself sits in a perforated basket which increases its contact with the hot moving air. Another thing that makes a big difference? The fact that there’s not much space between the walls of the chamber, and the basket intensifies the heat.

What’s The Best Air Fryer?

Not all air fryers are created equal. And that’s what reviews are for! From my experience testing lots and lots of brands, I can report that some machines do a better job of cooking evenly. Almost all will brown and crisp food on top and bottom, although some will do it more evenly throughout. In the best machines, the food in the center of the basket will come out “fried” as well. The difference is in the design of the oven and, as you would expect, the a lot of the best ones are the most expensive. (My top pick is the one above!) However, you can help things along by preheating your air fryer, and stopping to shake and turn those fries during cooking.

Read Kitchn’s Air Fryer Reviews

Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Can I Skip the Oil When I Use My Air Fryer?

Most air fryer manufacturers and recipes recommend that you either toss or spray foods with at least a little oil. However, I’ve found it’s not necessary. Food comes out just as crispy without a thin coating of oil. Of course, a little bit of oil helps with the crisping.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Can I Use My Air Fryer for Non-Frying Needs?

You can use your air fryer for roasting and baking. Try it! It’s fun! Just know that, say, blueberry muffins won’t rise as evenly or brown as well as in a full-size or even a countertop oven.

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