I hate following the crowd. Being told that I need to listen to a particular band or watch a certain TV show (I refused to watch Breaking Bad) grinds my gears. So when new-fangled ‘air fryers’ took the world by storm, I sat with a confused look on my face asking, “What is air frying?”
After finally relenting and buying my own air fryer (I always eventually relent, Breaking Bad was awesome), I realized that air fryers are as excellent as the adventures of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.
If you're still hesitant about joining the air fryer revolution, this article will go some way to teaching you what air frying is, how it differs from conventional cooking methods, the pros and cons of air frying, a few cooking tips, and more.
Let's get cooking!
How is Air Frying Different From Traditional Cooking Methods?
The clever boffins at Philips Electronics were looking for a quick and efficient way to cook their favorite comfort foods, but without using trouser-expanding fats and oils.
After three years of tinkering, a chap named Fred van der Weij unveiled the first-ever air fryer to the world. Good old Fred was able to develop an appliance that could mimic a convection oven but on a smaller scale, decreasing the time it takes to heat up and, ultimately, cook foods.
While conventional cookers and ranges are perfectly serviceable, air fryers can take your culinary skills up a level under the right circumstances.
Traditional ovens and stoves can be frustrating to use as they generally heat from fixed elements at the top, bottom (or both). They can take an ice age to pre-heat and often cook food unevenly. It can be hard to get the perfect crispiness too.
But air fryers changed the game.
These appliances use convection cooking to blast hot air around your food from every direction at once, cooking it evenly on all sides. The crispy results bring you delicious food that's also healthier than deep-fried food.
Air fryers use very little oil so that you can enjoy all your favorite fried foods without guilt. You can make everything from french fries to chicken wings to pizza in an air fryer. And because air fryers cook food quickly, you can have a delicious meal on the table in no time.
Generally, the top or lid of an air fryer (depending on the type) contains a heating element with a high-powered fan sitting behind it. While inside, the air fryer's drawer has an elevated basket with hundreds of perforations to assist with airflow.
When you fire up your mini convection oven, the electric heating element gets incredibly hot, and the fan sitting behind the element rotates like a jet engine to constantly bombard your food with super hot air.
There's no denying that there are similarities between air fryers and convection ovens. However, the technology inside a Ninja, Cosori, or Instant Vortex will get the job done twice as fast as any true convection oven.
Does an Air Fryer Actually Fry?
The more quickly you remove the moisture from food, the crispier it becomes. And because air fryers are one of the most efficient cookers on the planet (second only to impingement cookers that can cook in minutes), the result made it appear as though the food had been fried.
Everyone knows that the more unhealthy a food is, the tastier it is. So the sneaky marketing folks behind the first appliance of this type named it the "air fryer" to appeal to our love of fried foods.
In actuality, no frying takes place inside an air fryer, and it only uses a minuscule amount of oil.
So not only is it faster to air fry food, it's healthier too.
What's Hot and What's Not: Pros & Cons
If anyone tells you that air fryers are perfect, they're probably a salesperson for Ninja or Cosori. While I can usually be found on the highest rooftop shouting to anyone who'll listen about how they should probably buy an air fryer, they still have their limitations.
Here's my list of top pros and cons you should consider when choosing your next cooking appliance.
- Super-Fast Cooking
- Healthier Than Deep Fried Foods
- Uses Less Cooking Oil
- Safer Than Deep Frying Foods
- Can Cook Frozen Foods
- Less Mess & Easy To Clean
- Limited Cooking Space
- Too Easy To Over-Fill
- Not Ideal For Big Families
- It takes Up Valuable Counter Space
What Types of Air Fryers are Available?
There is an overwhelming selection of air fryers and air fryer-type devices on the market that will blow your mind if you think too hard about it. But if you compartmentalize the information, it'll make it a little easier.
There are three main types for you to consider.
Standard Air Fryer
A standard air fryer looks like a pod (or a humongous coffee machine) and generally has a drawer at the front with a basket and a control panel at the top. An appliance such as this is perfect for cooking individual meal components (burgers, breaded chicken breasts, broccoli, etc.) or full meals for a single person.
You'll find that general standard air fryers are the most affordable appliances of the bunch, making them an excellent choice for student accommodation, complimenting your other cooking appliances, or for sticking in your cupboard and breaking out for wings and fries during the Superbowl.
Air Fryer Toaster Oven
If you're after something a little more substantial than an air fryer, but still want to maximize the space in your kitchen (and save a few bucks in the process), a toaster oven could be your perfect kitchen companion.
A well-designed air fryer toaster oven configuration will paradoxically be compact yet offer tons of cooking space. Toaster ovens look more like your grandma's range, but they'll sit on your countertop and probably need a permanent home.
Unlike a standard air fryer, you can utilize one or more wire racks to cook multiple foods at once over a larger surface. If you're like me and find pizza to be the food of the gods, air fryer toaster ovens are the ultimate air fryer that can give you perfect pizza (sometimes two at once) in double-quick time.
You'll find features like toast, roast, bake, air fry, broil, and reheat on most devices like this. However, toaster ovens (like multi-cooker) are way more expensive than stand air fryers.
Air Fryer Multi-Cooker
If you've read any of my other articles on 'Also The Crumbs Please', you'll know that my weapon of choice is the Ninja Foodi 11-in-1 Air Fryer Multi-Cooker. And that's because this air fryer is one of the most versatile pieces of kit I've ever used.
Not only does this air fryer deliver air-fried food so quickly, I sometimes have to check that it's properly cooked, but it has so many non-air fryer functions that it's fired almost every other cooking appliance in my kitchen from their culinary jobs.
It'll pressure cook, steam air fry (which still doesn't make sense to me; how does steam make crispy food? It's witchcraft, I tell you), slow cook, and has duel layer cooking. You can cook almost any meal imaginable.
While not all multi-cookers are this good, they will still give you way more functionality than standard air fryers and be able to cook wet dishes, unlike a toaster oven.
Cooking Tips to Unleash Your Air Fryer's Full Potential
I've touched on this already, but it's worth repeating. Air fryers heat up so quickly that pre-heating isn't necessary. If you pre-heat your appliance before putting your food in, you'll find it dry and burnt when finished. Errggh.
Don't Over-Fill The Basket
While it's tempting to cram as much food as possible, an abundance of food will reduce the airflow and increase cooking time. Your food will also be less crispy which kind of defeats the purpose of buying an air fryer, right?
You Can Line The Basket With Parchment Paper or Foil
If you're whipping up some sumptuous sausages or crispy bacon, the bottom of your basket can suffer from burnt-on grease. Whack some foil or parchment in the bottom for an easier clean-up. You will need to make sure you turn your food a few times, though, as the foil or paper will block the airflow slightly.
Don't Forget To Shake Your Stuff
And I don't mean boogying around the kitchen. Even though air fryers have unparalleled airflow, you'll still need to give your basket a shake halfway through, especially if you've packed the drawer. While some premium fryers will provide you with a shake reminder, for the most part, you'll have to remind yourself.
Throw Away Your Recipe Book
Forget everything you ever knew about cooking times. If you rigidly stick to your original recipes, you'll end up with burnt, dry food. Consult the manual that came with your appliance or hit up one of the billions of air fryer forums and blogs that have sprung up as part of the air fryer revolution.
You Can Cook 'Boiled' Eggs in Your Air Fryer
If air fryer brands played fast and loose with the word "fryer", then calling these boiled eggs is beyond the speed of light. However, if you can perfect this recipe, you can batch-cook tons of eggs with relatively little effort.
Air Fryers: Cooking Revalation or a Load of Hot Air?
If you've been paying attention by now, you'll have realized that I'm a bit of an air fryer fanboy (I'm not even sorry for that pun).
Though air frying technology is based on that of the convection oven, there's no other product on the market that can mimic deep frying with absolutely none of the drawbacks. The best air fryers can quickly whip up chicken wings, frozen french fries, or a batch of mozzarella sticks with little-to-no cooking spray or vegetable oil.
If you're not bothered about wasting your time and throwing money down the drain, keep on using your convection oven. If you're not concerned about heart disease or an expanding waistline, then continue deep frying your food.
However, if you're interested in indulging in what I call the kitchen trifecta (cost-effectiveness, time-saving, and healthier options), then I can't recommend joining the air fryer revolution enough.
And if you haven't seen Breaking Bad, you should probably give that a watch too.