Kids complain about dinner taking an hour, but can we blame them?
The agony of waiting for the oven to preheat on a nightly basis is reason enough to consider an air fryer. An air fryer’s compact size and unique heat bouncing method speed up the cooking process by up to 30 percent compared to a conventional oven.
What is an air fryer and how does it work?
Air frying is essentially glorified convection baking — but faster. Air fryers are outfitted with internal heating elements and high-powered convection fans that work to surround your food in hot air and achieve a crispy, golden result that’s similar to actual frying — without the oil. While your typical deep fryer needs enough oil to completely douse the food, an air fryer barely uses any (like, a tablespoon at most).
Most air fryers elevate food off the bottom of the device using a perforated tray, which allows for maximum hot air circulation. The overhead air bounces off of the bottom and back up across the underside of the food, quickly evaporating moisture and achieving a balanced, golden-browning in just minutes. The circulating heat in itself sets air fryers apart from a regular oven.
You might wonder how air fryers function any differently than convection toaster ovens, and the fact is that they’re pretty much the same. Some air fryers do offer higher temperatures and faster convection speeds to get food crispier faster.
One difference that does affect overall performance though, is size. Basket-style air fryers are smaller and rounder than your typical toaster oven shape, making them able to concentrate a high amount of bouncing heat onto a smaller area, meaning that your food will get crisp faster. Air fryers come in toaster-oven shapes too, which can still achieve max-crunch levels, but might take longer to preheat and cook than a basket-style fryer.
Whether you even consider air frying to be “frying” with the absence of hot fat or oil is up to you, but it does technically jumpstart the Maillard reaction — the phenomenon that gives browned or blackened foods that signature taste and texture. And many air fryer users don’t even use it for frying. They’re perfect for roasting summer veggies without heating up your kitchen, for example.
Is air-fried food actually healthy?
Taking the guilt out of guilty pleasure snacks is probably a main reason you’re looking to buy an air fryer. But let’s all take a moment to accept that an air fryer isn’t a magic wand that automatically turns french fries into carrot fries.
We will say that air frying is health-ier than deep frying. Manufacturers claim that air frying can reduce calorie intake by up to 80 percent — so yes, air frying is a better preparation alternative than drowning battered snacks in fat or oil. But let’s be real: The “fried food without the guilt” comparison only makes sense when compared to a legitimate deep fryer. If you’re using an air fryer as an oven replacement, remember that the amount of oil used won’t change much.
Oddly enough, though, air fryers could be the ticket to getting those greens in. Put a crispy twist on your Brussels sprouts or cauliflower wings by chucking them into the air fryer with some seasonings and a drizzle of olive oil. It’s an easy way to spice up a straightforward side dish, and could teach picky eaters that they don’t always have to run for cover when the veggies come out.
Which air fryers are best?
The pull-out basket is the shape often associated with the air fryer’s rise to fame. Oven-shaped air fryers typically afford more features outside of air frying (like broiling, baking, and dehydrating) due to the large, flat cooking space. Because they’re larger, cook times may be longer than the drawer design — but both will still kick your conventional oven’s ass.
The amount of food on the menu is a quick way to narrow your air fryer contenders. Couples or folks cooking for one could get away with a capacity as small as 4 quarts, especially if countertop space is a deciding factor. Families of four or a group of roommates should probably expand to at least 5.8 quarts, while hitting 10 quarts (or more, if you have the room) provides ample space for full households or entertaining enthusiasts who like to offer a variety of appetizers.
So, here’s what you need to know about the best air fryers of 2023 — we’ll keep it simple so your brain doesn’t get too fried.