Air fryers promise tasty 'fried' foods without the oil. Although they perform more like mini-ovens than deep fryers, they can be used to cook many food items you'd normally deep fry, shallow fry or grill - and some can even roast and bake food. They can also be used to make your own crispy fries from scratch, cook frozen foods such as chicken nuggets and grill smaller cuts of meats.
An air fryer is a small benchtop oven that circulates hot, dry air to produce crispy food, much like a wall oven in fan-forced mode. Just like with an oven, food being cooked in an air fryer needs to be regularly rotated or shaken to ensure even browning. There are three different ways this is achieved, depending on the design of your air fryer:
Models with a pull-out drawer and basket require manual shaking every five minutes or so to ensure even cooking. Most models don't have a timer or alert to remind you to shake your food, so you'll need to make an effort to remember this yourself. These models are best for foods you would normally shallow fry or grill such as grilled fish, chicken, meat balls, baked vegetables and crumbed foods.
Self-stirring air fryers have a paddle that gradually stirs the food around the bowl throughout the cooking process. This eliminates the need to manually shake the food, but some models stir better than others and it's still possible to end up with unevenly browned food or items that have been bent or distorted by the stirrer. These models are best for foods that are usually deep fried, shallow fried or baked such as small portions of meat, baked vegetables or chips. Some models may come with an extra bowl without a paddle suitable for roasting meats or even baking a cake.
Rotating basket multi cooker
These more versatile air fryers have a rotating basket which automatically rotates the food inside. They include accessories which allow for additional functions such as roasting, baking and grilling. Some models can even cook a whole chicken.
An air fryer may look like a big appliance, but the actual capacity is much less than an oven. Depending on the capacity of the model, you can make between 500g and 1kg of chips, which is enough for 2-4 people. Be aware that the manufacturer's claimed capacity may sometimes be misleading, for example a '10 litre' model may only be able to cook around 500g of chips.
Check the specifications for 'working capacity' or 'cooking capacity' to get a better idea of how much the air fryer can cook at one time.
You'll only need up to 1 tablespoon of oil for 1 kilogram of fresh food. Oil isn't needed if cooking pre-cooked frozen foods.
First, make sure you know how much bench space you have available. If you make chips regularly, you might want to leave it out permanently. The two basic shapes are tall and fat (Philips Vivo Air Fryer, Bellini Digital Air Fryer and the Kambrook AirChef) and short and slightly fatter (Tefal Actifry and DeLonghi Multifry). Be aware that top-opening models could be out of the running if you have restricted space above the bench, as the lid needs to be opened upwards. If you're planning to pack your air fryer away after use, look for a compact size with a uniform shape to slot easily into a cupboard.
Air fryer parts are reasonably easy to clean and fit into a domestic sink. Most parts are dishwasher-safe. but they're also easily cleaned by hand if they have a non-stick coating.
There are two types of controls: dial or digital. Dial controls are more basic and less accurate, consisting of just a temperature dial and a timer dial that dings when the timer ends. Look for a timer that can be set for longer than 30 minutes. Digital controls have a touch display with an accurate timer, temperature readings and some may also have pre-programmed settings. Look for models with easy to understand icons and an alarm that sounds when cooking is completed.
An air fryer would best suit:
- people living in one-person or small households who enjoy frozen pre-cooked foods
- those living in a caravan, campervan or a home with no oven
- home cooks who enjoy experimenting with crispy foods such as vegetable chips (sweet potato or kale)
- people who struggle with overheating kitchens in the summer, as an air fryer doesn't heat up a room like an oven does.
You probably don't need an air fryer if:
- you have a large household and you already have an oven, a grill and a cooktop
- you want to cook battered foods (an air fryer can't replace a deep fryer).
Other things to consider if you're thinking about buying an air fryer:
- They can only cook one type of food at a time.
- Cooking takes roughly the same amount of time as it would in a regular oven.
- Air fryers generally have a small capacity, so multiple batches may be needed.
- They can take up quite a lot of space – consider where you'll store it before you buy.
- Some air fryers can use more energy than an oven.
To achieve the perfect crunchy chip, cut the chips evenly and soak in water for at least 30 minutes to remove the starch. Then dry completely by laying them out on a tea towel in a single layer. Place in a bowl and toss through the oil until evenly coated. Cook according to the instructions for your air fryer.
Airfryers cost from $149 to $499.