Everything You Need To Know About Air Fryers – 2021 Ultimate Guide

air fryer unit with some fries and nuggets

Air fryers have been the craze lately, and only seem to continue to climb in popularity. If you’re not familiar with it, you might be wondering if it’s really that useful. But if you have had the opportunity to test or use one, you’d know the hype is real.

Air fryers tick many of the boxes that most home cooks are looking for. Healthier, quicker, easier, more convenient. Isn’t that what makes up the perfect appliance?

If you’ve only been introduced to the world of air fryers and don’t know what they’re all about, we’re here to change that. In this article, we talk about how air fryers work, what they’re good for and not so good for, and how to shop for one.

How Does An Air Fryer Work?

Many people when first learning of air fryers ask this question before anything else. To most, air fryers are treated as a magical black box, where if you put something in, magic happens and out comes delicious food.

Now is a good time to clear up an important misconception. Although they’re known as air fryers, what they are actually doing is far from frying. The inner workings are closer to an oven. Let us explain.

You know how ovens are commonly operated through convection and fan-forced air circulation? Air fryers work in a very similar way, almost like a miniature convection oven if you will. The top of a typical air fryer has heating elements and a fan, which forces the air to circulate around the inside, much like an oven.

However, you might be wondering, if it works like an oven, how is it that it’s able to produce food that is much crispier than ovens? It’s almost as if some deep fry magic is happening here.

The difference is, air fryers produce heat and circulate it much quicker than an oven. Due to its small size, the circulation of heat also takes place more intensely and evenly. This difference makes it a little more similar to how deep frying works. Because of this, food cooked with air fryers turn out crispy.

Advantages of Air Fryers

It’s interesting to know how air fryers work, but more so to learn how they can make your life easier in the kitchen.

For one, it saves a lot of time. Take the same recipe for an oven, and you probably need less than half the time needed in an air fryer. This is because of the intense heat circulation happening in the unit, combined with its compact size which cooks the food more efficiently. Most models also don’t have the need to be preheated – or more strictly, even if does, only requires a few minutes of preheating – saving you even more time.

Not only that, it saves effort as well. Compared to frying something in the pan, or lining and baking something in the oven, air fryer’s operation does not require you to risk getting your countertops messy. This results in a food preparation process that is much more convenient.

It is also generally healthier. This is because while achieving the effect of deep frying, air fryers don’t require nearly as much oil as actual deep frying. Often, the oil needed in an air fryer will not exceed 25% of that in a deep fryer. This means that you’re able to cook with 75% less oil, even no oil at all in some recipes!

What Can Air Fryers Cook?

Air fryers didn’t get so popular without reason. Apart from offering a healthier alternative to deep frying and saving time in the process, they are able to cook a wide range of foods. This makes them one of the most versatile appliances in the kitchen, while taking up relatively little countertop space.

Starting off with something probably everyone knows – it cooks frozen foods extremely well. So much so that some families even buy an air fryer for the sole reason of allowing their children to cook frozen food safely and easily. This includes frozen fries, nuggets, tater tots and the like.

However, you’re able to cook from scratch as well, with really good results. For meat, practically anything can be cooked in an air fryer. Bacon, pork chops, chicken breasts, even steaks. To cook bacon, you don’t even need nearly as much oil as you would usually, and it will still come out juicy and crispy.

Some vegetables are also delicious when cooked in an air fryer. Baked potatoes are really easy to make with air fryers, and could be done in a shorter time due to not needing to preheat as long as an oven does. Brussel sprouts also work really well.

If you’re looking to reheat leftovers, air fryers are also capable of doing this. In fact, they are a healthier alternative to microwave ovens, and a more convenient alternative to full-fledged ovens. To reheat that leftover pizza from last night, simply pop it in the air fryer and it’ll come out crispy.

What Can Air Fryers Not Cook?

With all that praise and the list of amazing things that air fryers are able to do, they’re not for everything. If only that was the case, everyone would have only a single air fryer in the kitchen!

So what should you avoid cooking in the air fryer? Basically, anything that melts, or comes wet (think food with runny batter) is not suitable for air fryers. This includes cheese, as it simply melts all over the inside and makes a mess, or battered food.

block of melting cheese
While melted cheese is delicious, you wouldn’t want this happening in your air fryer.

That being said, there is a secret to cooking battered food in the air fryer. That is, simply freezing them for around 10 minutes or so before cooking. This holds the batter in place, which allows it to crisp nicely in the air fryer, without making a dripping mess.

Back to the topic, air fryers also can’t cook foods that require a lot of liquid. For example, rice. As the name implies, air fryers are more suited to cook dry foods, and are not designed and made to cook with a lot of liquid.

Vegetables and greens are also not the ideal candidate for air fried foods. In general, most vegetables and leafy greens turn soggy when cooked in an air fryer, while harder ones like broccoli dries out and turns flaky. However there are exceptions out there, e.g. Brussel sprouts like we mentioned earlier, and the likes of eggplants or ladies’ fingers cook really well in air fryers.

Air Fryer Buyer’s Guide: What to Look For When Shopping

When it’s time to finally shop around for an air fryer, looking out for the things mentioned below will simplify the decision-making process.

Size

While this depends on the amount of countertop space you have, more importantly, pick one that fits your typical cooking portion.

For one or two servings, a model that is around 3 quart is sufficient. Unless you’re preparing for the occasional guests, having a smaller model that cooks just enough gives the added benefit of saving space as well.

For up to a family of five, you’re better off getting an air fryer that has around 6-qt of capacity. Any more than five servings, we would recommend looking into an air fryer oven hybrid instead. These are shaped more like a countertop oven, and go all the way up to 20-qt for the bigger ones. If not, the biggest standalone air fryers go up to 8- or 9-qt of capacity.

Do note that the typical air fryer is already bigger than a toaster, so you would need to plan out your countertop space to fit the appliance.

Method of loading

Air fryer models on the market are generally divided into two types – those that allow you to fill up food from the top, and those that have a drawer on the front for loading food. Kinda like washing machines.

Ultimately, this comes down to personal preference. But from our experience, front-loading models are much easier to work with.

a front-loading air fryer model
Front-loading models offer more convenience, in our opinion.

Wattage and temperature range

As air fryers very much depend on the amount of power – and consequently, heat – it is able to put out, wattage plays an important role here.

Most quality air fryers come in a minimum of 1500 watts, which forms a good baseline when shopping around.

Hybrid models

Touching on this a little earlier, you’re able to find air frying capabilities in some hybrid models. Usually, manufacturers make models that combine pressure cooking and air frying, or oven functionalities and air frying.

If your mindset is, “I’m going to spend the money anyway, so might as well go all out and spend it on something versatile”, these options might be worth considering for you. Keep in mind though that being full-fledged appliances, these models take up considerably more space. They are also usually more difficult to operate, and require a steeper learning curve, instead of the simple plug-and-use operation that most air fryers offer.

an air fryer oven on a countertop
Air fryer oven hybrid models look more like a countertop oven, and take up more space.

Air Fryer Recipes

If you’re only beginning to step into the world of air fryers and not really sure where to begin using it, here are some ideas to keep you going. We’ve tried most of these and can vouch for them, while some are also new to us but seem interesting so we just had to include them!

Air Fryer Hot Dogs

hot dogs

Nothing like good ol’ hot dogs. With the right condiments (our favorite being the basic ketchup and mustard), hot dogs can make for a very satisfying light meal. Preparing this with an air fryer takes only 10 minutes, so why not?

Air Fryer Crumbed Fish

crumbed fish

Yes, you can even cook fish in an air fryer!

Your favorite crumbed fish, with the same crispiness as if it was deep fried, but without the excessive fat and oil. This dish takes around 20 to 25 minutes to prepare in an air fryer.

Air Fryer Ranch Pork Chops

juicy pork chops

If you’re associating air fryers with dry and boring food, think again. Pork chops made using air fryers are juicy and tender, sometimes even better than oven-cooked ones.

Taking a total of 25 minutes to prepare, pork chops in this context almost seem like fast food.

Air Fryer Sweet Potato Fries

sweet potato fries

One of my favorite items to prepare in an air fryer, this recipe takes only 20 minutes to execute.

What’s great about this is, you’re not only limited to sweet potatoes. This recipe can be easily adapted to be used for regular potato fries, or potato wedges. If you’re looking for specific recipes for those though, we have you covered. Here’s one for fries, and one for potato wedges.

Air Fryer Spiced Chickpeas

chickpeas in a bowl

Cooking in an air fryer is not all about the main dishes. If you’re craving for some healthy snacks, air fryers make equally delicious nibbles as well.

This one is one of them, and is in fact one of my favorites. Although it takes a total of close to an hour to completely run through the recipe (don’t worry, a lot of waiting time), the results are absolutely worth it.

Air Fryer Chicken Taquitos

chicken taquitos on a plate

Usually deep fried, these air-fried alternatives are a healthier option to a typically greasy snack. Taking a total of 35 minutes to cook, it’s not that bad considering the enjoyment and satisfaction from the results.

Pair it with a side of your cream or sauce of choice, perfect!

Wrap Up

There’s a reason why air fryers are becoming more and more popular in the average household. It is able to take over many recipes that, when executed on another medium like deep frying or baking, takes longer time and more effort. This helps home cooks save time and bring convenience, which is ultimately what every cook wants.

Even when capable of handling a wide range of foods, it is not almighty. Some foods to especially avoid are ones that melt (which makes a huge mess inside the air fryer), and foods with wet batter. Everything else generally works, as long as the cooking process is relatively dry. When in doubt, always search online as there are tons of resources to help you on your air fryer journey.

When you’re ready to get one, be sure to keep our buyer’s guide handy, which helps you pick the perfect one for yourself!

And if you’re curious about how air fryers compare to ovens, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide. Or you’re just straight up wondering how convection ovens work, we have that covered too.

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