What is so great about air fryers, and do you need to get one?

The small kitchen appliance is all the rage right now, but what is it about air fryers that makes them such a must-have?

Philips Premium Twin Turbostar Digital Airfryer
(Image credit: Philips)

You may have been hearing a lot about air fryers lately. Whether it's people trying to save space with a small appliance, trying to eat healthier, or simply updating their kitchens for modern times, the humble air fryer has been on everyone's mind. Of course, they're also becoming popular as a cost-saving measure, as it is thought they are more energy efficient than many other cooking methods.

In this article, we will try to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the benefits of using air fryers and give our verdict on whether they are a worthy addition to the average busy, modern kitchen. Of course, if technology is key for you, you can take a look at our guide to the best smart appliances.

What is an air fryer?

First, let's talk about what an air fryer actually is. A small appliance designed to sit on your countertop, air fryers use rapidly circulating air to cook food without needing to add oils and fats. The revolutionary thing about them is that they have a reputation for creating crispy foods much like a deep fryer, but without a lot of the health downsides. They're also faster and more efficient than traditional ovens because of their small size and how quickly air and heat are circulated around the items inside.

Beautiful 6 Quart Touchscreen Air Fryer

(Image credit: Beautiful)

What can you cook in an air fryer?

The sky's the limit when it comes to what you can cook in an air fryer. From fries and veggies to chicken thighs and juicy burgers, there are surprisingly few things that won't come out delicious. They are best when utilized for crispy dishes that would usually require a lot of oil in a deep-fat fryer or quickly warming up leftovers (pizza!) without them going soggy in the microwave.

They're not miracle workers, though - some food types come out more appetizing than others. Anything ready-made and frozen, like chicken fingers, or meat you want to cook through, is perfect, but trickier things like steaks (you might not be able to achieve that perfect medium-rare), watery greens like spinach or broccoli, or melty cheese probably won't turn out well. 

You should also be wary of putting fresh batter in an air fryer. It sounds like a good idea, especially when many blanketly recommend replacing your deep-fat fryer with an air fryer to reduce oil intake, but the way these appliances work is fundamentally different. As such, you're better off with something ready-battered or switching to an alternative like breadcrumbs.

What you cook also depends on how large your appliance is, which can vary widely. While smaller air fryers can only really cook one portion of meat, fries, or veggies (and not together), those with a larger capacity or that have dual zones open up the possibility to cook your entire family meal. 

Philips Premium Twin Turbostar Digital Airfryer

(Image credit: Philips)

Is an air fryer healthier than the oven?

The honest answer to this is - it depends. The bottom line is that the less oil and fat used in the cooking process will result in a healthier meal in the end. If you tend to add oil to your chicken when cooking it in the oven, hoping to achieve the ultimate crispy texture, then air frying the same dish is a healthier way of getting the same result. The same applies if you usually fry your burgers or deep fry your potatoes.

Where air fryers are no doubt the better option over conventional ovens is speed. While ovens heat up gradually for even cooking, air fryers get to work right away by heating up a smaller space with more efficiency. This means you can cut down on cooking times without risking your food coming out raw or still frozen. 

Ninja Foodi 6-in-1 10-qt. XL 2-Basket Air Fryer

(Image credit: Ninja)

What are the different types of air fryer?

The air fryers you may be most familiar with are the smaller single-basket appliances with a pull-out drawer. This is indeed the most common kind of air fryer and perhaps the easiest to use for beginners. Because of their more compact size, they pre-heat and cook quickly, but most only allow one mode of cooking. This might not be for you if you like to be precise with your food.

There are also air fryers that look more like mini ovens, and this is where you can make the argument for using them in place of a traditional kitchen setup. An oven-type door and shelves within the unit mean more even cooking more settings, and a way to look inside without opening it up mid-way.

As said, this type of air fryer gives you a little more choice, as many have modes for roasting, grilling, or toasting as well as frying, and some even come with a rotisserie attachment for perfect kebabs and roast chickens.

The next step up is a dual-zone air fryer, which has multiple compartments or drawers that can be set at different temperatures and modes. This means you can cook more than one thing at once - something your traditional oven can't do. 

Are air fryers worth it?

We think air fryers are a fantastic addition to any kitchen where fried food is regularly eaten, as they can achieve close to the same delicious textures and flavors, just that little bit healthier. If you're in a minimally kitted-out kitchen, we would recommend a multi-function model that can cook in various ways, and if you're feeding a larger family, a dual-zone model would make cooking different items at the same time much easier. If you just want perfectly crispy fries, though, your normal single-basket air fryer will do nicely.