What the Heck Is an Air Fryer, and Do I Need One?

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: The Kitchn)

With its promise to deliver the crispy goodness of fried food, using at most a couple of tablespoons of oil, the air fryer sounds like a french fry–lover’s dream. What exactly is an air fryer, though? Basically, it’s an odd-shaped countertop convection oven that circulates air around food. It takes up a lot of countertop space and doesn’t come cheap, with models ranging from $70 to $300.

Oh, how we wish we could tell you it’s worth giving up some of the precious real estate in your kitchen and making a small investment to be able to indulge your cravings for fries, chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks, and more without feeling guilty. Unfortunately, the air fryer doesn’t deliver consistent results. They vary from model to model — and from food to food — and rarely give you the evenly browned, crunchy exterior combined with a tender interior that makes fried foods so delectable.

The best results are to be had with frozen ready-made breaded appetizers; the worst results come from making fries made from scratch. Adding insult to injury? The fact that from-scratch breaded chicken tenders, zucchini fries, or onion rings can easily be made in an appliance you already own: the oven or even the toaster oven. (If your oven has a convection setting, be sure to use it when you’re cooking foods that you want to be crispy.)

But, you ask, is the air fryer a time-saver? Well, it’s a lot speedier than deep-frying if you factor in the time it takes to heat up a large amount of oil to 350°F. And the air fryer barely needs any time to preheat, so it’s faster than your oven. However, actual cooking time differences aren’t big enough for us to recommend an air fryer as a way to get dinner on the table faster.

(Image credit: Amazon)

The Final Word on Air Fryers

You don’t need one. Our advice: When you have a real craving for fries, indulge yourself at your favorite hamburger joint. If you just have to have an air fryer — maybe because you serve a lot of frozen fries, nuggets, and the like — consider the mid-priced Black+Decker Purifry Air Fryer, which is one of the best ones I’ve tested, holds about eight cups, and is super easy to use.

Do you have an air fryer? Are you disappointed with it or do you love it? Tell us in the comments!