One of the hottest gifts on the internet right now is the air fryer. And it’s understandable why people are going gaga over these little kitchen appliances.
There’s no denying that fried foods are delicious. Unfortunately, there’s also no denying that they’re terrible for you. In fact, it’s some of the worst food you can eat. So when a machine comes along that claims it can make those same foods, but healthy, people are going to listen.
Some kinds of foods that are traditionally deep fried can be replicated somewhat successfully at home without a fryer. Chicken wings are a great example. Wings can be baked in the oven, allowing you to use somewhat less oil (and also substitute a healthier oil if you would like), and with the right recipe you can get good results without having to be a culinary expert.
However, some deep fried foods you just can’t approximate in a normal kitchen. Perhaps the most notable of these is french fries. Sure, you can oven bake your fries, but you aren’t fooling anyone. Most people find it virtually impossible to make oven baked fries that are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, like fast food chains pump out by the ton. It’s always been believed that a deep fryer is the one and only secret to making good fries.
Air fryer manufacturers claim they have a product that can do it just as well. So are you curious? Of course you are. Let’s see if their impressive claims hold up in reality.
How Do Air Fryers Work?
Surprisingly, air fryers work basically the same way that convection ovens do, with a couple of important differences. Near the top of the air fryer’s cooking chamber is a metal coil (like the kind you find on an electric range). Above this is an exhaust fan that pulls the hot air rapidly upward, so that it circulates around the inside of the cooking chamber, ensuring that the inside of the air fryer is evenly heated throughout.
The reason air fryers replicate fried food better than convection ovens mostly comes down to the fact that the air is circulating much faster, meaning you get a constant stream of hot air over the surface of the food. In a convection oven the air is also moving, but much, much more slowly. If you’ve ever tried to make something crispy in a convection oven, you usually find that only the surface that is resting on the pan gets crisp (or, in most cases, burned), while the rest of the outside of the food stays soft. Because the hot air in an air fryer is constantly circulating, it surrounds the food much in the same way that hot oil does inside a fryer, cooking every surface evenly. It also ensures that the food is being constantly hit by a fresh wave of hot air.
It’s such a simple concept that it’s kind of amazing someone didn’t think of it sooner. But the question still remains: does it really work? People are understandably skeptical, having tried so many times to make really good, fast-food quality fries at home, and having been disappointed over and over again.
Air Fryer French Fries
We’ll end the suspense right here. Yes, air fryers make great french fries!
Of course, “great” is a subjective word, so you’ll probably have to try them for yourself to decide if they live up to that label. But almost everyone seems to agree they do. Air fryer french fries achieve that coveted outer crispiness without getting over-cooked, drying out, or shriveling up; the kind of fries that are nearly impossible to achieve in an oven.
Most people who own air fryers say their french fries taste like the traditional deep fried variety, but less greasy. So you won’t feel as bad about eating them (which tends to make things taste better by itself). Air fryers can work with as little as 1 tablespoon of oil (Philips advertises that their air fryer can reduce fat by up to 80%).
Perhaps even more impressively, air fryers make really good sweet potato fries. Because of sweet potatoes’ lower starch content, trying to make crispy sweet potato fries in your oven is almost impossible. You’re all but destined to end up with limp, soggy potatoes. An air fryer, on the other hand, can serve up restaurant-quality sweet potato fries by the basket, all in a matter of minutes.
How to Choose an Air Fryer
Given the overwhelming success of the Philips Airfryer, it’s no surprise that the market has been flooded with imitations. And while this competition is good from a cost perspective, having so many options can be confusing.
The good news is that most of the air fryers on the market seem to have good reviews. The major differences from one model to the next come down to basket size, level of programmability, and of course price.
If your kitchen has limited space, then a smaller air fryer is going to be a better option for you. While they’re not necessarily big appliances (they don’t take up as much room as, say, a toaster oven or even a microwave), space is at a premium in many people’s kitchens. On the other hand, if you’ll be cooking for three or four people at a time, as opposed to one or two, you may appreciate the larger basket size of an XL model. One of the nice features of all air fryers is that because they cook so fast, even if you have to buy one with a smaller basket, this shouldn’t be a deal breaker. You’ll still be dishing out batches of healthy faux-fried food in short order. So when it comes to size, it’s mostly a matter of priority: speed vs counter space.
Another major difference from one model to another is programmability. Some models come with preset programs for different kinds of food, so it’s just a matter of pushing a button. Others have no presets at all, just a turn dial for temperature, and another one for cooking time. If you’re a set-it-and-forget-it type, this may be a big deal to you. Other people may prefer to experiment with cooking time and temperature on their own to see what works best.
Like we mentioned before, there are plenty of air fryer brands on the market vying for your dollar. The original is the Philips Airfryer, and not surprisingly it costs more than most other brands, though even Philips offers some lower-cost models, especially if you’re willing to buy refurbished.
Most of the lower-priced brands have very good reviews too though. If you’re comfortable venturing into off-brand territory, you might snag a really good deal. If you want the comfort (or prestige) of a known brand like Philips, you’ll probably have to pay for it.
All in all, an air fryer can make a great addition to most anyone’s kitchen. We predict that these will only increase in popularity as time goes on, because they truly deliver on their hype for replicating many kinds of traditionally fried food, french fries included. Will they ever be as common a kitchen item as the toaster or the microwave? Maybe not. But their days as a novelty item are definitely numbered.Shop Airfryers on Amazon