An air fryer is essentially a mini oven, which means it can cook pretty much anything you would usually cook in the oven (size permitting). But the question is: does it do a better job?
If you're considering investing in an air fryer, it's worth investigating whether it can actually deliver better results than the appliances you (probably) already have in your kitchen, like an oven and a stovetop.
To find out for you, we took an Aldi air fryer home and pitted it against the old fashioned cooking methods of oven baking and stovetop boiling.
First air fryer fail – a standard boiled egg.
Day one: Eggs – air fryer vs stovetop
A boiled egg can be a great breakfast so I decided to try a recipe I found for "boiled" eggs in the air fryer and pit it against the traditional stovetop method.
The recipe suggests that a semi-set egg would take 12 minutes at 120°C and the instructions couldn't have been simpler – place the egg gently in the basket and away you go. Boiling an egg on the stove for the same result takes 7 minutes (plus the time to bring the water to the boil).
Unfortunately, my air fryer egg was still largely uncooked after following instructions, while my stovetop egg was perfect.
Verdict: Stovetop beats air fryer
Air fryer danish is the way to go.
Day two: Gozleme danish – air fryer vs oven
This dish revealed to me how well puff-pastry browns in the air fryer. After just 15 minutes at 180°C the pastry was golden and nicely risen. While the contents of the pastry (feta cheese) remained firm and not really hot, it was still tasty and a nice lunchtime treat.
Cooking the same dish in the conventional oven at 180°C for the same amount of time left the pastry pallid and obviously uncooked. I needed to push the temp to 200°C and give it another 15 minutes to get a good result. Cooking it this way heated the filling more effectively, but the pastry browning was comparable.
Verdict: Air fryer beats oven
Beautiful salmon fillets in just 10 minutes.
Day three: Salmon – air fryer vs oven
I wanted a quick dinner option one night when most of the household was out and I only had two people to cook for. Salmon fillets seemed like a good option, so I decided to cook one in the oven and one in the air fryer. The recipe I used – a simple mustard, brown sugar, garlic, and thyme crust – browned beautifully in the air fryer and was done in much less time than it took in the oven - about 10 minutes vs 20, including heat-up time.
I was pretty impressed. Would I have to revise my previous opinion of this popular appliance?
Verdict: Air fryer wins again
The jury is still out on which is best for steak.
Day four: Steak – air fryer vs barbecue
I was definitely sceptical about this one. Could a steak cooked in the air fryer be better than the classic barbecue?
I took two porterhouse steaks, seasoned them and then gave one to my husband to cook on the barbie while I popped the other one in the air fryer. Following directions I found online produced a well-done steak, which was a little disappointing, but the fat was crisp and rendered beautifully. It lacked the charring of the barbecue version, but it was quicker to cook and since my other half left his steak on the hotplate for too long it was just as overdone.
Interestingly, while I thought the air fryer steak was tastier my husband thought the barbecue did a better job.
Verdict: It's a draw
Day five: Choc chip cookies – air fryer vs oven
I admit that I have a sweet tooth so I was definitely looking forward to this test. Following the recipe from our CHOICE test kitchen I made up a batch of cookie dough the day before, froze it and then added two cookies to the oven and two to the air fryer.
While the air fryer was quicker to brown the biscuit, it just didn't cook the bottom, resulting in an undercooked cookie. Yes, the oven took longer but it was a far superior outcome.
Verdict: the oven takes the victory
While the air fryer was quicker to brown the biscuit it just didn't cook the bottom, resulting in an undercooked cookie
Day six: Toasted nuts – air fryer vs stovetop
I love adding toasted nuts to salads and other dishes for extra crunch and flavour. Unfortunately, I often get distracted when I try to do them in a frypan and have burned far too many batches of nuts over the years. Would the air fryer save me from another cooking fail?
Cooked with a mix of maple syrup and spices – another recipe from our test kitchen – this batch of nuts was so easy to do in the air fryer. They cooked quickly, browned perfectly and were very tasty. The fact that you set the time for the cook and then just give the air fryer basket a few shakes over the 10 minutes of cook time meant that even a cook as inept as me managed to turn out a good result. I modified the recipe by adding cayenne pepper, fresh rosemary and thyme – delicious!
Verdict: Air fryer takes another one
Air fryer vs oven fries – no competition.
Day seven: Frozen chips – air fryer vs oven
When singing the praises of air fryers, everyone mentioned to me how good they are at cooking frozen chips. Was my scepticism going to be challenged again?
It turns out the air fryer fans were right: chips cooked in the air fryer were a revelation. It was simple, quick and the chips in the air fryer were done only a few minutes after my oven had reached cooking temperature, meaning they were ready to eat nearly 20 minutes before the batch cooked in the oven were done.
Verdict: It's the air fryer again and it's not even close.
The final verdict
Overall, the air fryer took four of the heats, and drew on a fifth, clearly coming out ahead of the more conventional cooking methods. If that was the only consideration I'd be a convert, but there are other factors that are important to me.
Firstly, there's nothing the air fryer can do that another appliance can't do, albeit more slowly. Then there's the issue of sustainability. Why use resources to produce more plastic – which will eventually go to landfill – when you have the means to duplicate its function already? There is also a question of how long it will last. Our expert testing tells us that a high-end oven can last 20 years. Air fryers are still relatively new so we don't have the data on how long they last before they need replacing, but some enthusiastic users report needing to find a replacement every two years.
There's nothing the air fryer can do that another appliance can't do, albeit more slowly
Space is also a consideration. This is a bulky appliance, and if your kitchen is small you're sacrificing quite a bit of bench space (or cupboard space) for something that does the same thing as other, more standard appliances. And while an air fryer can do some of the things an oven can do, it can't do everything, so you can't entirely eliminate the need for an oven. That's especially true if you are regularly cooking for more than one or two people.
So, while I concede that the air fryer has lots of pluses it just doesn't make sense to me to add another appliance to the kitchen for the sake of saving 20 minutes a few times a week.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.