How Does an Air Fryer Work?
The whole concept of air frying sounds like a miracle. Frying without fat? How is that possible? 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 NOT frying. To really fry 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 or a french fry so delectable. Got it?
Okay, now let's continue.
How an Air Fryer Works
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.
Are All Air Fryers the Same?
No. 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 best ones are the most expensive. (The best one I've ever used is featured above!) However, you can help things along by preheating, and stopping to shake and turn those fries during cooking.
Read Kitchn's Air Fryer Reviews
- I've Tested Nearly Every Air Fryer on the Market. These Are the 4 Best for Most Home Cooks.
- The Best Air Fryer to Buy at Walmart
- People Can Say What They Want — I Love My Air Fryer
Can I Skip the Oil Entirely?
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. If you want to add some butter or olive oil for flavor, I'd recommend adding it after food's cooked to maximize its impact.
Can I Use My Air Fryer for Non-Frying Needs?
You can use your air fryer for roasting and baking — just don't expect to get the same results that you'd get in a conventional oven. If you have no other cooking appliance, yes, go ahead and satisfy your craving for freshly made blueberry muffins, but know that they won't rise as evenly or brown as well as in a full-size or even a countertop oven.
More on Air Fryers
- 7 Air Fryer Mistakes You Might Be Making (& How to Fix Them)
- Why Most Experts Hate Air Fryers — But Real Cooks Love Them
- Love Your Air Fryer? Here Are 5 Inexpensive Accessories You Definitely Need Next.
- 12 Air Fryer Recipes You Definitely Need to Try