Air Fryers are a popular choice for enjoying crispy homemade snacks without excess oil. And there are a lot of air fryer recipes you can enjoy if you have one!
But what is exactly an air fryer? How does an air fryer work? And how is it any different from using an oven or a deep fryer? You might be wondering if it’s the right option for you.
Well, with this guide, you can learn everything you need to know! We’ll explore how an air fryer works and what you can cook with one. We’ll also look at the drawbacks so you can decide if it’s right for you!
What Is an Air Fryer?
An air fryer is a small all-in-one cooking unit that mimics deep-frying using hot air instead of oil. And it’s a countertop kitchen appliance that has a fryer-style basket, fan, and electric heating elements.
While not technically a fryer, an air fryer works like a mini convection oven. But it’s a lot smaller and emits less heat. Some reviewers even note that air frying is very similar to convection baking.
How Do Air Fryers Work?
Air fryers work in a similar way to a convection oven by circulating heated air to cook food.
Instead of submerging the food in oil, an air fryer radiates heat near the food. After placing food into the fry basket inside of the unit, it coats the food in a thin layer of oil. Then, the fryer heats to 392°F (200°C), and the built-in fan circulates the hot air inside the chamber.
The hot air rushes around the food imitating the deep-fryer cooking process. And this initiates a Malliard reaction using air instead of hot oil. This reaction heats the sugar and proteins in your food to make it crispy and brown.
So the frying process involves very little oil. In fact, it uses 70 to 80 percent less than traditional deep frying.
However, this does result in a slightly different taste and consistency than traditionally deep-fried foods. Because the excess oil in deep-fried foods adds flavoring that the hot air doesn’t.
What Can You Cook in an Air Fryer?
Basically, if you can bake it, you can air fry it! So there are a lot of various foods you can cook in an air fryer.
For example, you can prepare frozen finger foods such as frozen french fries, frozen chicken wings, or chicken nuggets. Thanks to the convection cooking process, air frying will crispin these foods nicely.
According to many users, frozen french fries prepared in air fryers taste like their deep fried counterparts. To know more about their differences and similarities, you can read our deep fryer vs air fryer article.
Homemade Finger Foods
As well as frozen foods, you can also make homemade finger foods like homemade french fries.
But it’s important to note that you’ll need to freeze food with any homemade liquid batter before you cook them. Otherwise, the wet batter can drip inside the unit. This is also why you can’t make mozzarella sticks or homemade cheese curds. Fresh cheese melts, and can cause a gooey mess in your fryer.
You can also cook meat such as chicken, fish, bacon, steaks, or burger patties. Plus, they don’t need to be breaded or battered because the air frying process will make them juicy and tender.
But keep in mind that a whole chicken won’t fit in your fryer. So make sure you keep the portion sizes appropriate to the size of your fryer.
Other foods you can enjoy in air fryers include roasted vegetables such as sweet potatoes. With a drizzle of olive oil, your roast vegetables will be crispy and brown when they’re done.
However, we recommend avoiding cooking broccoli and leafy greens in your air fryer. This is because these units cook food quickly. So these greens can easily burn or dry out during the convection cooking process.
Leftovers are also easy to reheat in an air fryer. You can enjoy leftover pizza or pre-prepared meals!
Finally, you can bake cookies or enjoy many sweet treats in your air fryer! Fresh baked cookies or desserts like apple fritters are perfect to air fry. Plus, muffins or loaf pans are also safe to use to enjoy all of your favorite treats.
Here are some of the best air fryer recipes for you to try: America Test Kitchen Air Fryer Recipe.
Drawbacks of an Air Fryer
There are many benefits to using an air fryer. However, there are also some drawbacks to consider.
Small Cooking Capacity
First, air fryers have a much smaller cooking capacity than traditional convection or toaster ovens. So you won’t be able to cook large meals or prepare food for a big event.
Convection ovens have the same features as an air fryer and are a lot bigger. With an air fryer, you can only cook small portions of food at one time. Therefore if you need to cook a large amount of food, you’ll have to do so in batches. And this can make the cooking process a lot longer.
While some extra-large models do exist, even the largest air fryers have a limited capacity compared to convection ovens.
Because an air fryer uses hot air instead of hot oil to heat your food, it does result in a slightly different taste. Some reviewers say that the food doesn’t taste deep-fried.
Both oil and air frying results in food that has a similar color and appearance. But, the traditional deep-fry process uses a lot of oil that is absorbed into your food (1). This achieves the traditionally crisp and moist flavor of deep-fried food that baked goods air fryers don’t have. So it does result in a slightly different taste and texture.
In fact, air-fried food is not as crunchy. And some reviewers were disappointed in their air fryer results. Often, cooking in a convection toaster or pressure cookers had better results.
Plus, because it uses a concentrated heat source and less oil, food can easily dry out or burn if you’re not careful.
Can Create Harmful Compounds
Another drawback is that it does have the risk of creating harmful compounds.
With air-frying, there is a reduced risk of acrylamide formation. This is a harmful compound that can form with high-heat frying (2). However, air fryers do still have this risk, as well as other potentially harmful compounds.
For example, air frying can form compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines. And the national cancer institute indicates that these compounds are associated with a cancer risk (3).
So it’s important to know that there is still a risk of harmful compounds resulting from an air fryer.
Cooking with an air fryer can result in unevenly cooked food.
Because it works by exposing the food to a rapid circulation of hot air, the air needs to reach all of the food entirely. If there is any blockage in the airflow, it can result in an uneven cooking process.
Therefore if there’s too much food in the air fryer baskets, the air won’t flow properly and won’t heat the food.
So for an even cooking process, it’s important to make sure you don’t stack any food in the basket. And if you’re preparing food like french fries or other batches of small foods you should stir or shake the food halfway through cooking. This will make sure they’re evenly cooked from all angles.
Healthy Frying With Hot Air
Air fryers are a great choice for healthy and fast frying with less oil and fat. But, there are some important things to remember before you invest in one.
Thanks to the convection cooking process, you can cook almost anything in the best air fryers.
Cooking with an air fryer can result in crispy, crunchy air fried foods with little or no oil. But, they only have a small cooking capacity. And cooking large meals can require cooking a lot of smaller batches to make sure it cooks food evenly.
Plus, some reviewers prefer to use a convection or toaster oven to achieve the same results. So deciding if an air fryer is the right choice for you can come down to personal preference.
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