Air fryers are becoming increasingly popular these days specially in the U.S. These devices make big promises that appeal to many people most notably to those with health-conscious eating habits.
Let’s dive into what these devices promise, if they deliver on their promises and what should you be looking at when shopping for such devices as there are plenty of options and the differences are not at all clear cut.
They might be fast and easy to operate, allowing you to cook without headaches after a crazy day at work. They might be easy to clean so that you can reuse them at a faster rate than others. Some might remove the fear of burning your food by stopping cooking at a set time. Some are just healthier or more convenient.
What are air fryers and how do they work?
Air fryers, sometimes called oil less fryers, are devices that work by heating the air inside a closed space and blowing that air onto the food with a fan. Sounds familiar? Yes, they are convection ovens.
That is what convection oven does, it circulates the hot air around the food. This helps distribute heat evenly and also reduces the time it takes for some foods to cooks. It also helps give food a nice browning while the inside remains moist.
But there is more to the story, there are many types of devices and this is where some confusion might start to kick in. There are multiple designs that come with their own pros and cons. But we will get to that in a bit.
Let’s first see what they promise.
What’s so special about air fryers?
First of all, somebody thought it’s a good idea to call them fryers, which is a bit deceiving but non the less attention grabbing. A better name would be air roasters maybe but I get where that name comes from.
The main premise of these devices is that they are very good alternatives to oil frying. If you think about your health and you want to cut out fried food from your diet then air fryers jump in an propose an alternative without the fat.
On the side of taste there is nothing to replace the oil fryer. I don’t care what the commercials say you just don’t get the same taste with the other fryers. You get somewhat similar, good alternative tastes but not the same.
Also note that you will need a touch of oil when you want to replicate frying so there is still a bit of oil involved but indeed very little.
So if you want to eat healthier you can replace your oil fryer with an air fryer for most fried meals but don’t expect the exact same taste. For that reason, I wouldn’t throw away the oil fryer. Every once in a while, I still like oil fried chips and chicken.
Other than that, I can say that you can get nicely done meals with these devices. You do however need to spend a little bit of time with your device until you understand its ins and outs because sometimes they will cook slower or faster than you see in recipe books.
At the end of the day you are still cooking and the better you are at cooking the better the end results. This machines just make life easier but they are not going to be your personal Gordon Ramsay.
Another thing some devices will do is they will get out the excess fat already in the food. Because in some devices the fan that circulates air directly above the food and the excess fat gets out from the food and drips in the bottom bellow the food.
Like I mentioned above, the main selling point of oil less fryers is that you can “fry” without oil but due to the fact that these devices are reimagined convection ovens they are quite versatile.
You can roast, grill, bake, fry, broil, steam or simply to heat up your already cooked food depending on what kind of device you get and how you set it up.
There are also numerous recipe books and recipe blogs to fuel your imagination with a wide variety of easy and fast meals to more complex dishes, some even from Gordon Ramsay , to cakes, cookies and other desserts.
Given that there is not much oil involved this eliminates the need to store or dispose of quite large quantities of oil like you have to with deep fryers.
Advertisements of air fryers also compare them to deep fryers and frying in the pan in terms of oil splatter and it is true there is no oil spatter because the cooking is done in a closed chamber. You kind of expect that anyway but seems a good selling point.
Most devices are advertised as being easy pull apart into smaller pieces and easy to clean. Most parts also being machine washable.
While is it true for some devices, there are some that use huge bowls, like the NuWave Oven or the Big Boss oil-less fryer. I find these bowls quite hard to handle if you are manually washing them but if you have a dishwasher that might save you the hassle.
The parts with the heating elements you cannon just slap under water but you have to clean those with a rug or brush depending on what device you get.
All in all they are indeed easy to clean for the most part but it has a lot to do with what kind of device you get. That being said let’s see the different types of air fryers you’ll see on the market.
The different types of oil less fryers
Halogen fryers or the bell style fryers
Halogen fryers or halogen ovens are first that I want to get out of the way. They are oil less fryers that use halogen bulbs as heating elements. A popular example of such device is the Big Boss Oil-less fryer.
There is no real advantage for using halogen bulbs over the regular heating elements used in other devices but there is a disadvantage in that they make a lot of light. Halogen bulbs are actually light bulbs that have halogen gas inside them so when you use the device there is plenty of light coming out of them.
Other devices use more or less regular heating elements similar to what you see in regular ovens.
I find this type of device the most difficult to use because the glass bowl becomes very hot while you are cooking and you have to be very careful how you work with it while and after you cook.
Also, you have to take out the lid to work inside. The lid is also the â€œengineâ€ of the oven and you need to place it somewhere safe because it will be also super-hot so you can’t just put it anywhere. Some devices include a lid holder but you have to be so gentle in placing the lid on it that I find it pretty much useless.
The bowl is also pretty challenging to handle while cleaning because on most machines it doesn’t have any handle and quickly becomes very slippery. With glass bowls you also run the risk of breaking them if they slip out of your hands, which is not so unlikely to happen.
The advantage of similar designs is the cooking capacity which is larger compared to other air fryers. So if you are looking for as much cooking capacity as you can then this might be the type of device to gravitate towards.
It can easily handle food for 4 or more people and in some devices you could also fit a whole turkey.
I also like that you can see inside without opening the device.
In terms of cooking they do the job but it requires a bit of practice to get the hang of it, just like I mentioned earlier. Also recipe books can be a bit off in terms of temperatures and times required so you will need to use your own judgement in some cases.
The trunk style air fryers
for a lack of a better name, solve the problem of taking the lid of and having to place it somewhere safe by attaching it to the body of the fryer. A popular example is the T-fal ActiFry.
Having the lid on a hinge and attached to the devices makes it very easy to work with compared to the other designs.
Most devices of this kind also have some form of stirring paddle to automatically stir the food while it’s cooking. The downside is that sometimes it ends up smashing your vegetables.
You can remove it on some devices giving you the choice whether to use it or not but no some devices that is not an option. Make sure you find a review before you decide to purchase one.
Another thing is that, compared to other designs, where the excess fat from the food drips to the bottom so you don’t end up eating it with most of these devices that doesn’t happen as there is no place for that excess fat to go besides the pan where the food is.
So if you want to reduce excess fat from the foods you are cooking this type of fryer might not be the best option for you.
The Philips Airfryer style
I’m calling it this way because I think they are the ones that made this style popular. Now there are tons of manufacturers that make similar devices but Philips seems to have put the most effort to make their air fryers popular. They are also the more expensive of the bunch.
I feel like these devices are the sweet spot between size, ease of use, capacity and ease of cleaning. The food stays in a drawer like compartment that you pull out and it’s designed in a way that lets air circulate properly around the food.
The drawer is make from two parts, the “pan” and the food basket that sits inside. This design lets excess fat to drip to the bottom and when you pull out the drawer you can separate the basket from the drawer.
It’s a simple to use and simple to clean device. What I don’t like is that when you pull the drawer out you have to be careful where you leave it because it’s hot.
Another downside of these devices is mostly the fact that they are generally smaller compared to the other designs so they are ideal for 4 or less people.
Oil less fryers vs convection ovens
A lot of people ask what is the difference between air fryers and convection ovens. First of all, air fryers are convection ovens. The convection part means that the oven has a fan that blows air onto the food inside the oven. Of course there is more to it but that is what it boils down to.
To compare air fryers to any other convection oven you should first know what kind of convection oven you have in mind. If you are comparing these air fryers with your wall mounted oven then the immediate advantage of air fryers is that they consume way less power.
A typical wall oven can require anywhere from 2000W to 5000W while the small countertop air fryers typically require anywhere from 1000W to 1800W. Cooking capacity is obviously incomparable but you also don’t need to use a big oven for a couple of people.
It largely resumes to what you want to get out of your oven, how you want to use it, if you already have a big convection oven or not, etc. There is no clear cut answer to this question.
Do you have a big oven but you want to save some energy? Do you want a quick and simple way to cook for one or two people? A small counter top air fryer might suit you well.
Don’t already have a convection oven but you want to try it out? An air fryer might be a good way to do it.
Think of the above question when you decide if oil-less fryers are something you should try.
How to choose a device
You considered all of the above and decided to get an air fryer. But which one to get? With so many option it definitely is a confusing landscape.
Let’s do a small recap and I will also give you some suggestion for what devices you might want to take a look at.
We have already looked at the major designs that are out there but we didn’t get to a conclusion, so now it’s time for that conclusion.
If you want the simplest device to cook for up to a max of four people, the small boxy air fryers are your best bet. Very popular devices here are the Philips air fryers and the slightly cheaper alternatives from GoWISE.
A good example from Philips is the Viva Collection HD9220, a simple device that does the job very well. You can also look at our comparison of Philips air fryers for more devices from Philips and how they stack against each other.
The main GoWISE devices that I would recommend have also been reviewed and compared here on The Daily Fry so you can check those out as well.
If having a large cooking capacity is your thing then the bell shaped fryers might be your thing though how much you can cook in a go really depends on what you cook.
The big dome is definitely an advantage and with some devices you can even cook a whole chicken. However with smaller things like vegetables you have to stack multiple layers and if you stack too many layers they will not cook evenly.
The point is that even if in some cases they really show their size, the bell shaped fryers are not really the holy grail of cooking capacity in an air fryer.
A good example of one such popular device is the NuWave Oven and what I like about it is that it’s not a halogen oven like the usual suspects. It’s not without flaws but I think it’s the better device among the bell shape category.
I said earlier that compared to big convection oven that require a lot of power smaller air fryers require way less than that but that doesn’t mean you should just get the lowest powered device that you can find.
Generally speaking a more powerful device will cook slightly faster from my observations but don’t take that as an absolute truth. Also you might find that a device with very low power requirements might struggle to actually do what it was built for.
If I were to choose between two devices that differentiate themselves only by power I would pick the more power hungry one.
Of course budget will play a big role in the decision and I would advise what I believe to be generally a good starting point.
Generally there are always products more expensive than others and some that seem too cheap to work. I would stay somewhere in the middle. The cheapest products are probably not worth it while the most expensive ones might be expensive without any good reason.
It might be true that some products are expensive for good reasons like features or build quality while others are cheaper because of some clever manufacturing technique that doesn’t affect quality but that certainly isn’t the case most times.
Again, this is not something specific to air fryers but rather a general way of looking at prices.
By now, hopefully you have a better picture of what are fryers are and what are the different types of devices you might find on the market. There are many more, of course, but you should have a solid starting point if you decide to go shopping for such device.
If they pricked your interest you might also what to check out our picks for the best air fryers to save you going through an endless sea of samey devices or to simply set some good expectations.
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