Air fryers have become hugely popular over recent years for their speed, convenience and the perceived health benefits of cooking with less oil.
But do these wonder machines really live up to their 'mythical' status – and should you buy one? To help you decide, we asked CHOICE home economist Fiona Mair, who's been using and testing air fryers for years, to bust the myths surrounding this latest kitchen craze.
Our air fryer aficionado Fiona Mair.
Myth 1. Air fryers 'fry' your food
Despite its name, an air fryer doesn't actually 'fry' your food at all – it bakes it.
"The biggest misconception is that air fryers cook foods the same as deep frying," says Fiona. "They cook as an oven would, so foods are more oven baked than deep fried."
An air fryer is basically a small benchtop oven with a fan and an element, says Fiona. The fan circulates the heat from the element and a pull-out drawer with a basket or removable grill rack lets the hot air flow around the food. It essentially works in the same way as a fan-forced oven.
An air fryer doesn't actually 'fry' your food at all – it bakes it
But a kitchen appliance called an 'air fryer' sounds more appealing than an 'air baker', right?
"It's just smart marketing to make people think they can get the same results as deep frying without all the oil used, but that's not the case," Fiona says. "You need oil to give the flavour and texture to the food to call it fried. Food cooked in an air fryer is the same as oven-baked food."
That said, air fryers do generally have faster heat transfer capabilities than most ovens, which can shorten the cooking time of certain foods and create a crispier outer layer – not unlike that of fried food. So, let's say, it's a 'perceived fryer' rather than an actual fryer.
Myth 2. Air fryers are just a fad
It's easy to dismiss air fryers as the hot new fad that's soon destined to be replaced in popularity by a newer, swankier kitchen appliance. But they do have genuine benefits that their fans swear by.
"Air fryers are popular because of their convenience for families who cook a lot of frozen foods, eat at different times or don't have a great oven," Fiona says. "They also don't heat the kitchen up like ovens can and are fairly safe to use."
Air fryers do have genuine benefits that their fans swear by.
To get the best out of your air fryer, keep it on the benchtop rather than hidden away in a cupboard, and use it frequently. Also, find inspiration online for new air fryer recipes to try.
Myth 3. Air fryers are just for junk food
Think air fryers are just for cooking chips, nuggets and other frozen foods? Think again!
"Air fryers can be used for cooking similar foods to what you cook in the oven, like roasting and grilling meats, vegetables, nuts and even reheating," Fiona explains. "The health benefits are the same as cooking in an oven - very little oil is needed."
A crispy kale salad made in an air fryer.
Dedicated air fryer fans have reported boiling an egg, toasting a sandwich, popping some popcorn and even baking bread in their air fryers. You can also try cooking salmon, vegetable chips, homemade vegetable patties, crispy chickpeas and even crispy tofu.
Although Fiona acknowledges that air fryers are versatile, she also offers a word of caution. "I'd avoid cooking cakes, pizza and pies in your air fryer," she says. "Because these appliances have a constant top element and no base element, foods will not cook evenly."
Myth 4. The more accessories, the better
It's easy to get sucked in by all the bells and whistles some products offer. But when buying an air fryer, your top priorities should be how well it performs and how easy it is to use.
"A standard air fryer doesn't have any accessories other than a pull-out drawer with a perforated basket or a grill rack that sits on the base," Fiona says.
"That said, a rotating basket is useful because you don't have to remember to shake the food midway through cooking. But this accessory only comes with the benchtop-oven varieties."
Whether you prefer your air fryer to have a drawer or a top lid is entirely up to you. But you should consider how easy the air fryer is to clean, how efficiently and evenly it cooks, and whether it has an 'overheat cut out' safety component.
Myth 5. Air fryers make food super healthy
If only! Yes, there are health benefits to reducing your fat intake by eating foods that are air fried rather than deep fried. But you still have to consider the foods you're cooking – and your portion sizes – to ensure it's healthy overall.
And remember, if you're eating lots of air-fried nuggets and hot chips instead of healthier food options such as fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates and healthy proteins, you aren't doing your health any real favours in the long term – even if you're cooking with just a tablespoon of oil.
Homemade chips are healthier than frozen ones.
The best way to make sure your air fryer becomes your healthy sidekick is to avoid using it to cook processed convenience foods .
"Avoid frozen prepackaged foods such as chips and chicken nuggets, as they've been pre-cooked in oil," says Fiona.
"It's just so easy to make homemade potato or vegetable chips. Roasted nuts are also simple to do in the air fryer – just toss two cups of natural nuts in a bowl with half a tablespoon of oil, half a teaspoon each of cumin and paprika, and one teaspoon of salt. Mix, shake and enjoy!"
Myth 6. More expensive models are always better
We independently test air fryers from brands including Philips, Tefal, DeLonghi, Healthy Choice, Kmart Anko, Kogan and many more.
Our expert testers have found that you don't need to spend a fortune to get a quality product. In fact, one of our CHOICE Recommended air fryers is half the price of the most expensive model we tested.
Our reviews also include benchtop ovens that are claimed to air fry. "These tend to come with more functions such as a rotisserie and even a rotating basket, which eliminates the need to stop and shake the food during cooking," explains Fiona.
"They have a large capacity and can accommodate a whole chicken, but are bulky and can take up a large area of your kitchen bench."
One of our CHOICE Recommended air fryers is half the price of the most expensive model
If you're in the market for an air fryer, then as well as looking at our air fryer reviews, Fiona suggests choosing a model that has:
- a durable non-stick coating
- a large basket that is perforated
- digital controls, which are more accurate than dials
- a clear indicator and preheat light
- an easy-to-clean exterior and interior.
Myth 7. Air fryers are very easy to use
These appliances exude convenience like a kind of charm, but just how 'easy' are they to use? Well, there's no hard and fast answer because not all air fryers are created equal – how simple they are to operate will depend entirely on the model.
But if you're under the impression that 'easy to use' means you can leave your air fryer unattended like a slow cooker, you can forget it.
"Supervision is important," says Fiona. "No matter what air fryer you have, you will have to shake or turn the food at some stage – and more than once is my advice for better evenness of browning and cooking."
Not all models will beep to tell you it's time to shake the food either. So Fiona suggests buying one with digital controls, preprogrammed settings and a timer that lasts more than 30 minutes.
"These features will be essential if you want to use your air fryer for roasting meats and vegetables, and not just for reheating frozen foods," she says.