What is an air fryer? Everything you need to know

woman using air fryer to cook potato chips

Danny Baggs

Posted August 02, 2022


What do fries, chicken wings and corn fritters have in common? They might taste better made in an air fryer. Here’s everything you need to know about domestic air fryers, so you can decide whether your kitchen needs one.

Air fryers are the latest craze in domestic kitchens, featuring in thousands of homemade recipes and earning pride of place on countertops nationwide. Here are all your questions answered so you can get air frying fast.


Everything you need to know about air fryers

What is an air fryer?

An air fryer is a countertop appliance that can mimic deep-frying by circulating hot air rather than submerging your food in masses of oil. It’s like a small, portable and extra-fast convection oven. The resulting food is deliciously crispy, crunchy and low-calorie compared to their traditionally deep-fried variants.

Air fryers are safe, versatile and easy to clean. You can cook most things in them: chicken tenders, sweet potato fries, burger patties, and so on. They’re also faster to cook your food than ovens or stovetops because you don’t have to wait for anything to heat up. And they’re not limited to frying: some can bake, grill and roast too.

What types of air fryers are there?

There are several main types of air fryers.

 

Air Fryer

Features

Best for cooking

Pull-out drawer air fryer

Requires you to pull out the drawer and give it a shake every few minutes to ensure even cooking

Fish
Chicken
Meatballs
Vegetables
Frozen foods
Crumbed foods
Reheating leftovers

Self-stirring air fryer

Built-in paddle automatically stirs your food around the bowl for more even cooking

Chips
Battered fish
Crumbed chicken
Baked vegetables

Rotating basket air fryer

Automatic rotating basket with accessories that allow for roasting, grilling and baking

Roast meat
Roast vegetables

Benchtop oven air fryer

Can roast, grill, bake and air-fry

Chips
Chicken wings
Chicken tenders

black air fryer on a kitchen counter

Most air fryers are the pull-out drawer version. Image: Getty


 

What can I cook in air fryers?

Any ‘fried foods’ like chicken wings, bacon, potato wedges, mozzarella sticks, salmon, vegetables, and so on can be air fried.

While you don’t need to use oil in an air fryer, a light spritz of cooking oil spray will take your meal’s crispiness to the next level. It’s not as necessary for foods that have natural oils (like chicken or salmon) but can add great texture to foods like dumplings or samosas.

Because an air fryer is technically a convection oven, you can also bake cupcakes, sweet and savory muffins, cookies, brownies and other small baked goods. Similarly, you can roast nuts and vegetables, reheat leftovers and warm up frozen foods like party pies and spring rolls.

What can’t I cook in air fryers?

While air fryers can handle most food items, there are a few foods that don’t do well in an air fryer. These include:

  • Wet battered foods – wet batter needs to be submerged in oil to ‘set’; in an air fryer, it will slide right off the food. Pre-fried frozen battered food is fine to air fry, however.

  • Cheese – like wet batter, melty cheese will slide off your food and pool into the bottom of your air fryer.

  • Rice and pasta – these grains need to be rehydrated by boiling in water before they’re eaten, not blasted with hot air.

  • Some fresh vegetables – delicate leafy greens burn quite easily in air fryers. Frozen veggies are the way to go with air fryers: the moisture retained in the ice will preserve them better.

  • Dry spices – the inside of an air fryer is like a hot wind tunnel. Dry spices will be blown off your food and likely clog your machine. Season your food after it’s cooked in an air fryer instead.

 

potato chips and pizza cooked in air fryer

Potato chips are one of the most popular things to cook in an air fryer. Image: Getty


 

Are air fryers healthy?

Compared to frying your food in oil, eating air-fried food results in less fat and fewer calories. Consuming less oil can help reduce your cholesterol levels too.

Are air fryers energy efficient?

Air fryers are generally more energy efficient than traditional ovens and consume less electricity as they are a smaller appliance. An air fryer’s heating element sits closer to the food and blasts hot air around a smaller space, cooking your food much faster than an oven and eliminating the need for pre-heating.

If you need to cook multiple batches of food in your air fryer to complete your meal, however, an air fryer might not be a money saver - it may be more time and energy efficient to use your oven.

Always turn the air fryer off at the plug when it’s not in use to consume less energy – appliances left on at the plug are hidden energy users.

air fryer cooking samosas

Air fryers can cook a wide range of foods. Image: Getty


 

Which air fryer features do I need?

Here are some popular air fryer features to keep an eye out for:

  • Thermostat – allows you to set and see the exact frying temperature for more precise cooking

  • Automatic shut-off – prevents over-cooking or burning

  • Keep Warm mode – keeps cooked food at serving temperature

  • Double-layer tray – allows you to stack foods to maximise space

  • Twin baskets – allows you to fry two different foods simultaneously

  • Drip tray – catches excess fats dripped from meats while cooking

  • Cool-touch grip – prevents burning your hands when handling the basket

  • Cooking accessories – certain add-ons will enable different air fryer models to grill, toast, bake, slow cook, etc.

What size air fryer do I need?

What size air fryer you need depends on your kitchen space and how many people you usually cook for. When deciding on air fryer capacity, remember that smaller air fryers cook food faster than larger versions because the air doesn't need to travel as far (and therefore retains heat better).

The most common air fryer sizes are:

 

Capacity

Household

Best for

0.5-2L

1 person

Very fast cooking

Limited countertop space

Portable cooking

2-4L

2-3 people

Frequent use

Couples or small families

Smaller kitchens

4-6L

3-5 people

Meal prep / batching

Entertaining

Larger kitchens

busy man cooking with an air fryer beside an open laptop

Air fryers are wonderful time-savers for busy students and professionals. Image: Getty


 

How do I clean an air fryer?

Air fryers are generally easy to clean up compared to an oven. And unlike deep fryers, they don’t splatter hot oil around the rangehood and countertop.

Simply unplug your fryer after cooking and wait for it to cool, then empty the oil from the pull-out drawer.  Wash any of its removable components (like the basket and drawer) with warm, soapy water on a soft sponge or cloth.

Bits of hard food stuck in the basket? Use a dishwashing brush or a toothpick to poke them out. Next, wipe down the inside of the air fryer, clearing off any grease or food debris on the heating element. Dry everything and reassemble.

Make sure not to use any abrasive cleaning materials (e.g. steel wool) on your air fryer: you don’t want to scratch its non-stick coating. Check the box or product description to see if your air fryer has dishwasher-safe parts for even easier cleaning.

Is an air fryer worth it?

Air fryers can be a worthwhile purchase for time-poor students and professionals, or singles who don’t need an entire oven’s-worth of space to cook their dinner. The cost of air fryers ranges from $49 to $579 and is mostly dependant on how many features and how much cooking space you need from your air fryer.

If you are part of a large household, you may find that air fryers aren’t worth the investment considering their generally small space and high energy consumption when used for long periods of time.
 


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