Who doesn’t love fried food? It’s just so… um… addictive. Given the number of fried food joints across the globe - it’s easy to see how popular it is. But, the rising number of healthier options for fast food is a key indicator as to unhealthy fried food really is.
Rather than giving up on fried foods, the powers that be decided it would be nicer to invent machines that cut the fat while keeping the flavor: the air fryer.
And, there are plenty of other benefits too - as long as you choose the best oilless air fryer for your household.
The primary benefit of oilless air fryers
Healthier foods that hold the delicious crispiness of fried goodness is the obvious reason for turning to an air fryer.
The amount of oil fat you can cut from a meal depends on the foods you cook (and the quantities you eat), but most reputable air fryers claim to cut as much as 80% of the fat you would find in foods prepared in other types of fryers. That includes foods deep fried in your wok - or an electric deep fryer.
Now, air fryers can’t eliminate fat from foods that already contain it. Even the best fryers (or other cooking methods) aren’t going to get the fat out of sausages (nor can they make carrots taste like burgers).
And, you still need to add a little oil to most foods to get both the flavor and that fryer crisp that you love so much. But, rather than dropping cups or gallons of oil into a traditional fryer, you can get away with a spray or a tablespoon of oil (whatever you deem most healthy).
The mechanical operation of air fryers also allows for the retention of nutrients within food (they’re not lost to the pot), though the type of food determines how much of these vital elements are transformed at high heats.
It’s no secret that healthier diets contribute to overall improvements in physical and mental well-being. And the more smart choices you make, the less susceptible you’ll be to cancers and heart diseases. At the very least, opting for air fried foods over oil fried foods makes it easier for your kidneys and liver to do their job.
Other benefits air fryers bring to your life
Healthier foods aren’t the only benefit behind these appliances. There are plenty other reasons you may want to consider investing in an air fryer.
Quick cooking - While cooking times vary based on the air fryer you choose, most are exceptionally efficient and can cut the time you spend preparing meals. Cooking times are variable, however, based on the food and quantity. And, you’ll definitely save time on the oil heating process. Many models can reach temperatures between 200 and 300 degrees in a matter of minutes.
Energy efficiency - Air fryers were developed at a time when people had already begun to consider energy costs. As such, they typically operate with lower consumptions than stand alone-oil fryers. And, often, these appliances require less energy to run than heating a pot of oil on the stove. With a range of air fryers, you can opt for more efficient fryers if that’s important to you.
Easy cleaning - Okay, every additional kitchen utensil and appliance you have does mean you will need to spend some time cleaning and maintaining it. But, without hot oil bubbling all over, you can expect to spend significantly less maintenance time than with traditional fryers.
If cleaning after cooking (anything) is an irritation, you should consider this and choose one with dishwasher-safe baskets and inserts. That said, never stick something in the dishwasher without the manufacturer’s go ahead; you’ll likely ruin your appliance while invalidating your warranty.
Save some money - Listen, if you’re out getting fried chicken every other day, it’s easy to see how you’ll save (same as Starbuck’s addicts making coffee at home). But, even home cooks will save some money in oil costs if fried foods are often on the menu.
If you’re just craving a new kitchen gadget or wish you could eat more fried foods without the negative health consequences, you can still get an air fryer - you just won’t be able to claim it as a saving.
Safer and easier - Without the hot oil, some of the safety improvements are obvious. Some models incorporate additional safety measures such as auto shutoffs and locks which you may want to consider if you have younger cooks in the kitchen. Placing food in the basket is typically a straightforward, easy process - and touching a button is always easier than a deep fryer basket.
How do air fryers work?
Once you’re sold on the benefits, you’re going to start wondering how these babies work.
It’s a lot simpler than you may think. Oilless air fryers use something known as Rapid Air Technology to circulate really hot air at a really high speed.
It’s easiest to think of it this way: the oil in a deep fryer doesn’t cook your food, the heat does. The air in an air fryer doesn’t cook your food, the heat does. No matter what type of cooking you do, you need to get the heat to the food - air fryers just do it more efficiently than many other methods.
In the case of air fryers, the heating element is located just above the basket where you place your food. A fan circulates this heat (that’s the rapid air bit), and the process is aided by the smaller chamber and the resulting increase in pressure.
As a self-contained unit, an exhaust system with cooling fans occupies the upper levels of an air fryer. This keeps the internal mechanisms cool as well as the released air.
Both air coming in and going out passes through an air filter to ensure your kitchen doesn’t smell like a fast food restaurant - and to cleanly cook your food.
Different brands will use different specifics (especially as the first releases came out of Europe and Australia which operate at higher input voltages than found in the US), but you’ll find that most models will provide you with clear operational schematics so you can make a solid decision if engineering is important to you.
Purchasing factors to consider
There are more oilless air fryers on the market than you might suspect. As with every product, you can expect to trade off a few features for those that are most important to you. And, that will vary based on your eating preferences and the number of people you must feed; there’s no single golden standard here.
Capacity - How much food will you need to tuck into your air fryer? Obviously, the bigger your household, the larger the capacity you will want (unless it’s only for after school snacks). There’s a wide variety here - usually somewhere between 1.8 and 2.5 pounds of food - and some work with volumes (quarts) instead of weights, but the more food it can hold, the more you should expect to pay.
Size - Different from capacity, this is the amount of space your air fryer consumes in the kitchen. It’s always a good idea to measure the space you have (both counter and storage if you plan to pack it away from time to time) and then look for an air fryer. But, if you really want one, you’ll find a space for it. You should know, though, that some are real beasts.
Manual or digital control - You can find both, and you already know which is more expensive. But, the digital options usually give you significantly more control. If you’re on a strict budget, however, it’s not a bad idea to compromise here for better features elsewhere.
Temperature control - There is a huge range of temperatures that vary with the air fryer you choose. You should expect something between 200 and 400 degrees, but some reach as high as 500 degrees F. The more control you have over the temperature, the wider range of foods you can cook - but you will definitely pay more for this feature as it taxes the motor and therefore the cooling mechanisms (so you’ll need stronger parts).
Cleaning - Air fryers typically include durable non-stick coatings (because they’re trying to reduce the amount of oil and fat in the cooking process), but that means only some of the parts are truly dishwasher-safe. You should expect a combination of hand wash and dishwasher-friendly components. Although this will be a concern for some users, there aren’t any current ways around it.
Cooking methods - Most people that invest in an air fryer already have a complete kitchen with an oven and a handful (or more) of cooking gadgets. But that doesn’t mean you should discount the additional cooking methods available with some of the better oilless air fryer models.
Sure you can roast and bake in your oven, but air fryers can halve the time and your energy consumption - and may cook more evenly than a conventional convection oven. So, even if you don’t need these options, you may still want to consider them.
Additional features - We’re talking preset programs and auto shutoff in addition to timers and the like. Different brands focus on different features - and the more you have, the more you’ll pay. We strongly suggest safety features over functionality if there are children in your home. But, this is, of course, up to you.
Price - You can expect to pay anywhere between $100 and $400 for most quality air fryers, though there are many in the $120 to $160 range. And you can find solid models under $100 if you skimp on flexibility and features.
Warranties - If you have any choice at all, opt for a product with a warranty - and get the extended warranty if you can. The less often you think you’ll use this machine, the longer the warranty should be as it takes time for some appliances to reveal their glitches.
Brands - While Philips is the clear leader among air fryers, there are plenty of other brands out their and Philips hardly owns the technology. There’s no reason to walk away from a brand unless actual users recommend that you do so.
Tips for using your air fryer
The best tips for using your air fryer will come from the manufacturer itself. Yes, reading the instruction manual will help. But, there are some general hints that will make cooking with your air fryer that much easier.
Leave space - No matter where you store your air fryer, you need to ensure there is at least 5” of space around the air vent when using it.
Pre-heat your fryer - You wouldn’t normally place food in the oven without pre-heating it; follow the same rule of thumb here. If you’ve gone for a basic model (without a set pre-heat function), allow 2-3 minutes for this process.
Make use of oil or water - Spraying a little oil onto non-fatty foods will help cook them with the proper crisp. If you’re air frying fatty foods (think sausages or burgers), add a little water to the drawer under the basket (if you have a traditional model) to stop the smoking that occurs when grease becomes too hot.
Don’t crowd the basket - Your air fryer is designed for a maximum amount of food. If you add more, you won’t get the results you want. It’s usually better to avoid crowding the food whenever you cook. It goes quickly, so cooking in batches shouldn’t be a huge issue.
Flip and shake - With any cooking method, you’d flip burgers and stir the fries around - you need to do the same with your oilless air fryer.
Don’t be afraid to check - You’re likely to become concerned when you can’t see what your food is doing. Luckily, most air fryers totally allow you to check mid-cooking cycle. But, you should first ensure the manual doesn’t advise otherwise.
Clean and maintain - It’s critical to clean your air fryer and all the little pieces after every use. Grease from last night’s meal might just start to smoke on the next use if you leave it - and then you’re ruining your food and your appliance. Make sure all pieces are completely dry before closing and storing your machine.
And, of course, you need to be careful when removing food from your air fryer. Remember to remove the basket from the drawer before flipping food out of it (or you’ll get all the drainage with it). And, it will, of course, be hot.
What happens if?
As easy as they seem to be, air fryers aren’t always the most intuitive cooking devices. In addition to paying attention to the instruction manual, there are a few common troubles new users run into.
Smoking - If it’s white smoke, it means the grease is too hot in the drawer, and you need to add water. If it’s black smoke, there’s probably food stuck on the heating element, and it will need to be gently removed.
Food doesn’t crisp - There’s a good chance you’ve added too much food - or you became a little overzealous with the small amount of oil you should have added.
The machine doesn’t stop - It will seem frightening at first, but before you unplug it or begin randomly pushing buttons, check the instruction manual to ensure your appliance doesn’t have a delayed shut-down to ensure proper cool-down. It probably does.
Now, what are you waiting for? Crispy fries and chicken (not to mention super fast cupcakes and broiled beef) are waiting for you…