As the cost of living starts to bite and electricity prices go up, like many I am paying particular attention to my electricity use.
I happen to have a smart meter and my energy retailer has an app that allows me to see my usage. This has helped me identify my energy-hungry appliances, one of which is my oven.
I have therefore been looking for a more efficient and sustainable way to cook meals, especially beige mid-week comfort food.
Running a small angry furnace in your kitchen isn't particularly energy-friendly (and isn't much fun in summer either)
My old oven, which I have dubbed "The Burninator 3000", is the kind of classic refurbed freestanding oven you'll find in many Aussie rental properties. Running a small angry furnace in your kitchen isn't particularly energy-friendly (and isn't much fun in summer either).
I only cook for myself most of the time, so turning on the oven for six chicken nuggets and a potato seems excessive.
Enter the air fryer.
Can an air fryer help cut energy costs?
Although air fryers have soared in popularity lately, I was sceptical. Are they just another superfluous, bench-hogging gadget? Especially when you already have an oven. And can they really save time and energy? After receiving my last electricity bill I decided to give one a go.
Naturally I checked the latest CHOICE air fryer reviews to narrow down my list first. Then I scoured the sales and picked up the Breville Air Fryer Chef for $209, down from $229, and put it head-to-head with my oven over the course of a week.
The results were better than this sceptic expected, with the air fryer cooking all three meals significantly faster than in my oven, and for about a third of the electricity cost.
The smart meter app.
Air fryer vs oven: How I tested
I cooked three meals, twice – once in the air fryer and once in the oven.
- Meal 1 was sausages and roast vegetables for one person.
- Meal 2 was a batch of frozen snacks including chicken tenders, arancini balls and potato gems.
- Meal 3 was a family-sized frozen apple pie.
I then compared the cooking results and the time it took to cook each meal.
The appliances were both set at the same temperature of 170°C, and I used my smart meter app to work out roughly how much energy the air fryer and oven used in kWh to cook each meal.
While this isn't the most precise way to measure energy usage, the conditions were consistent, with no other major appliances running, and the results were similar to those of our CHOICE lab tests. I multiplied the energy usage in kWh by my electricity rate (32c/kWh) to get the approximate cost for cooking each meal. (CHOICE normally measures running costs at 40c/kWh.)
I used my smart meter app to work out roughly how much energy the air fryer and oven used in kWh to cook each meal
Costs are an estimate only of what I experienced cooking in my home kitchen using a new air fryer and an old electric oven. Results will vary depending on the appliance, temperature and cooking settings, as well as how often the oven door or basket is opened, preheating time and energy costs.
The apple pie test
The frozen apple pies took a similar amount of time to cook in each appliance, but I had to add an extra 15 minutes to the oven time for preheating.
The two pies turned out quite differently. The oven pie had slight burning on the crust edges, while the air fryer pie had a better crust and more even browning. It was also structurally more sound when eaten.
The appearance, cooking evenness and structure of other food was also more appealing with the air fryer, including vegetables and potatoes in particular.
Frozen family-sized apple pie results: The pie on the left was cooked in the oven; the pie on the right was cooked in the air fryer.
Verdict: 'I love my air fryer'
When compared to my old fan-forced oven, the air fryer cooks food faster, has more consistent and even results, and better cooking results overall.
And according to my smart meter, my air fryer uses around half as much electricity per hour as my oven when set at the same temperature. It also uses less energy by cooking the food in less time.
So, if you have an energy-guzzling, unreliable oven, an air fryer could come out ahead over time in terms of cost, although this will depend on the individual appliance and its energy use, plus any outlay costs.
It's easy to use, versatile, costs significantly less than my oven to run, and has better cooking results
If you have a sketchy oven and you don't want to or can't replace it, or if your landlord is being slow to repair yours, an air fryer might be a good, cost-effective alternative. I have certainly enjoyed using my air fryer and it has saved time and effort in the kitchen, which has been a boon when midweek exhaustion kicks in.
It works well for small single meals for one, but would also be handy if, for instance, the kids want to eat something different from the rest of the family.
Much to my disbelief, I am now firmly in the "I love my air fryer" camp and will be using it regularly in place of my oven, cooktop, and even microwave for reheating some things. It's easy to use, versatile, costs significantly less than my oven to run and has better cooking results.
As long as you have the bench space, what's not to like? I will be munching on my chicky nuggies, energy-guilt free, from now on.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.