What Is An Air Fryer And How Does It Work?

What Is An Air Fryer And How Does It Work?

By Jen Evansy / October 27, 2019

Most people that are keen on healthy eating are always looking for tools and gadgets that will make their cooking more nourishing and easier, yet keep it delicious. Kitchen appliances that could help reduce calorie intake have never been more popular; one being the Air Fryer.

air fryer versus deep fat fryer

The whole idea of air frying sounds too good to be true.

Frying with Air? How is that even possible? 

When we examine the concept bit closer, we can see that the explanation is actually quite straight forward.

So, if you're looking for healthy alternatives or just want to try something new and interesting, then this article is for you.

These cool little gadgets are great for everything from knocking up quick snacks to preparing full family dinners.

Here is everything you need to know about Air Fryers, how they work, how to use them, and the best ones to buy.

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So, What Is An Air Fryer?

an air fiyer

Air fryers are kitchen appliances that range in size between 2 to 6 liters. The air fryer works by circulating hot air (200°C/392°F) around the food, covering it in a fine layer of oil. Prices range from $70 to $200, and these are roughly based on sizes and, of course, brand.

How Do Air Fryers Work?

An air fryer works similarly to a convection oven. It consists of a fan and a heating element and the cooking vessel. Hot air and a tiny drizzle of oil are circulated around the food inside the cooking chamber. Unlike the oven, the air in the Air Fryer is circulated very quickly, making it reach food evenly from all directions and creating a brown and crisp surface.

The crispy browning results that you will get is called the Maillard effect. It is a surface-level reaction between sugars found in foods and amino acids. Maillard effect occurs when the temperature reaches 280-330 degrees. Using rapid air technology, this appliance does it perfectly, giving you food that’s cooked on the inside and crisp on the outside.

What Are The Best Foods To Cook In An Air Fryer?

air-fried foods

With an air fryer, you are able to cook almost anything. Most commonly, fries are what air fryers are used for, but there are plenty of other options too. You can cook fresh fish, chicken, beef, and frozen foods like chicken nuggets, fish sticks, vegetables, and even reheat leftovers in them.

I absolutely love cooking frozen food in it because it's not only very efficient, but the food is always super crispy and taste very delicious. 

Benefits Of An Air Fryer

One of the main reasons for the popularity of this clever device is due to it reducing the calories compared to deep frying. In many cases, switching to an air fryer has reduced people's calorie intake by around 70-80%.

They are also more efficient in terms of time compared to both a deep fryer or an oven. Oven cooking a chicken breast will take considerably longer than in the air fryer.

Air frying vegetables is a great way to crisp them up, making them much more appealing to kids.

Another benefit is that it will not leave your home smelling like a burger bar. All the odors are kept inside the machine.

All in all, I believe that air fryer is a welcome addition to your kitchen, and are worth buying.

 There are plenty more benefits to an air fryer:

  • Quicker at cooking than regular ovens.
  • Are a healthier cooking option.
  • Keep in the odors of cooking.
  • Allow plenty of experimentation.
  • Are easy to clean.
  • Cook great tasting food.
  • Keep your food moist on the inside and crispy on the outside.
  • Provide you with unmatched convenience among other kitchen appliances.
  • Are more economical and simple to use compared to traditional pan-frying.
  • Are user-friendly and fitted with timers to help get the ideal frying time.
  • Are safer than pan-frying; you can safely leave them without worrying about grease splatter or your food getting burnt.
  • Air-fried food will have significantly less fat content than other forms of cooking.
  • These are not just fryers, they are roasters and bakers too.
  • Let you cook an incredible array of different foods.
  • Are generally safer than other fryers.

Is that enough for you? I hope that there are one or two benefits in there to convince you that it's a good idea to get one. 

Disadvantages Of An Air Fryers

But, just to keep things balanced, here are a few other things to consider on the other side:

  • Air fryers may not be the ideal cooking appliance for everyone.
  • These gadgets can be expensive, somewhere in the region of $200 plus for some of the functionality we've been referring to in this article.
  • They can make you eat more fried food because it is lower in calories, but still delicious.
  • Air fryers do just that, they fry. So if fried food isn't part of your diet, maybe this fryer isn't for you.

Makes You Eat More Fried Foods

Since the food is lower calorie and in general a lot healthier then I tend to cook a lot more fried food now.

The Danger of Overcooking And Drying Food

I have burnt and overcooked my food, it had happened to me a few times, especially at the beginning, when I started using my air fryer. Because it operates on quite a high temperature and cooking times are a lot faster then if not watched closely it is easy to overcook and burn food. However, once you have got used to cooking with it, then it is not a problem.

Not Enough Cooking Capacity

3 pounds of food at a time, then catering for a large family or a dinner party could be tricky. There are larger units available, but they tend to be a lot more expensive than normal size units.

Best Air Fryers To Buy

The Best Choice

Being an owner of this Health Fryer and having researched and tested several ones for this article, I feel that I am now in a position to issue some advice on this topic. 

There is an abundance of air fryers out there, so it's good to have some sort of guide to assist you, and hopefully, this will. So here are a few popular, tried and tested calorie-saving air fryers to buy.

Most Popular

Cosori 5.8-Quart Air Fryer - Perfect For Families

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A frustrating aspect of many air fryers is their ability to cook smaller batches better than larger ones. Well, the Cosori 5.8 seems to buck that trend; its square-shaped basket is also non-stick, and it easily copes with family-sized portions.


It is also easy to clean thanks to that non-stick, dishwasher safe basket.


And also comes with staggering 12 functions:

  1. Steak
  2. Frozen Foods
  3. Poultry
  4. Seafood
  5. French fries
  6. Shrimp
  7. Bacon
  8. Vegetables
  9. Desserts
  10. Root Vegetables
  11. Bread
  12. Preheat

An added bonus with purchasing the Cosori 5.8 is a recipe book with over 100 different ideas to get you going.


Cosori also has an online community through which you can share your own recipes, tips, and ideas.


As far as features go, Cosori boasts a handful; fast preheating, LCD touch panel display, reminder shake feature, and a keep warm facility.


This is a very high quality and well-priced appliance that gives you everything you need in a first-grade kitchen gadget. It is not surprising that this device is the most purchased and comes with great reviews.

Best Budget 

Gowise Electric Air Fryer - Straightforward And Affordable

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Here is an excellent little starter one for those looking to start their air frying experience. The Gowise Electric Air Fryer gives you great performance at a lower price compared to most other brands.


At 3.7 quarts, it is on the small side, but its removable basket, ease of maintenance, user-friendly interface, and very good price more than make up for that.

Best All-In-One

Chefman 6.3 Quart Digital All-In-One Air Fryer (spacious 6-liter unit)

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This device from Chefman has multiple settings. It will cope with absolutely everything from air frying to dehydrating, and it does not need a lot of counter space to do it all. It was designed with the whole family in mind.


The Chefman 6.3 has 8 pre-set cooking functions  which will cover pretty much everything you need to do in a kitchen:


  • Toaster Oven
  • Bake 
  • Broil
  • Slow Cook
  • Food Dehydrator
  • Rotisserie Spit
  • Pizza Function
  • and more...

As for air frying, this Smart Device has Quick Cook Heat Technology, a programmable timer, and several different food preset functions. Airflow is maximized through high temperatures to give your food a wonderful crispy texture.


Interior lighting lets you easily check on your food as it cooks. Accessories that are included are rotisserie spit, 2 airflow racks, basket/retrieval tool and forks, rotating and drip tray. Removable drip tray and also parts that are dishwasher safe making cleaning it a breeze.


This single kitchen appliance can replace five others; your dehydrator, your slow cooker, pizza oven, convection oven, and your toaster. Now that's what you could call Smart.

Multi-Purpose Runner-Up

Ninja Digital Air Fry Oven - Flip Up To Store

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This air fry oven is compact and easy to store. It will only take up a small corner of your countertop, and it flips to become even smaller for storage.


Despite its compact size, it can rustle up a good portion of French fries. Other air functions in addition to frying are air roast, broil, bake, dehydrate, and warming settings. 


A handy feature to help keep it clean is the crumb release tray. It also comes fitted with interior light for the oven, so you can observe the cooking. There is also a digital display that is both useful and adds a touch of quality. You get a frying tray and a non-stick pan thrown in as a bonus.

Multi-Purpose With Best Reviews

Ninja Foodi TenderCrisp Pressure Cooker and Air Fryer

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Here you get two great kitchen appliances in one. Ninja Foodi TenderCrisp combines a pressure cooker and air fryer to offer you a truly multi-functional device. You can quickly pressure cook a chicken and then get it nice and crispy in the air fryer.


Speed of cooking is one of the TenderCrisp's biggest benefits. As too is its ability to produce foods that have a near-perfect crisp, but are healthier than a deep-fried equivalent. 


The TenderCrisp is a good size with a 6.5-quart pot for pressure cooking and a 4 quart one for air frying. Both containers are non-stick and ceramic coated.


This device is a real multifunctional tool; you can seal in the flavor with the pressure cooker and crisp things up in the same device.


There are a few different models of the Ninja Foodi TenderCrisp, including a deluxe version with an enhanced user interface, increased cooking capacity, and a rack that can be reversed.


It has some of the best reviews, but the only downside is that it is quite expensive.

Easy To Use - Amazon's Choice

Philips Avance TurboStar Airfryer - Pre-Set Popular Dishes

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This modern-looking gadget can do a lot more than just fry; it also roasts, grills, and you can even bake cakes. It is a great choice for cooking for your family or entertaining guests.


This is also a great appliance if you've never tried air frying before and want to give it a go. It's a very user-friendly device with an easy to use digital display panel, programmable timer, and an intuitive user interface.


The Turbostar performs its core function really well; cooking fried food more evenly than most of its competitors.


Anyone new to air frying experiences a few hiccups at the start. These can be minimized by using the 5 simple presets that this model comes with. 


This device also comes with a recipe book to get you going.

Most Durable

Cuisinart Toaster Oven Air Fryer - Kitchen Workhorse

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This is as old school as it can get, with not a digital display in sight. Manual controls are the order of the day with the Cuisinart Convection Toaster Oven Air Fryer.


Its 1800 watt power means that it heats quickly but is also very quiet. There are 7 preset functions that can be accessed by easy to use controls.


This no-nonsense kitchen device will air-fry pretty much anything you can think of. It is super durable, can easily handle heavy daily usage, and will last you for years to come.

Unique Design

T-Fal Actifry Air Fryer - With A Unique Stirring Paddle

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The T-Fal Actifry Air Fryer is the perfect choice for you if you want to achieve the classic French fries; perfectly crisp with no excess oil. 


The great thing is, you can achieve this without having to break the bank; the T-Fal Actifry is very reasonably priced. 


One unique aspect of this air fryer is a rotational arm that rotates the food while it is cooking, ensuring that everything gets cooked evenly.


I did find, however, that the arm did not always work as planned, especially when trying to rotate more delicate foods, which ended up getting damaged.


It comes with a secure lid that makes sure you won't splash oil everywhere that it's not meant to splash. A quality filter keeps odors where they should be - inside the device. The removable non-stick ceramic coated pan is very easy to clean, so there is no hassle with this kitchen appliance.


No hassle with the price either; this reasonably priced device would make an ideal gift for someone you love, or yourself!

Does Air Fryer Use Oil?

air fried chicken

Some Air Fryer recipes don’t use any oil at all. However, most do—but it is notably less oil that is used in a deep fryer or standard fried recipes. You only need 1 teaspoon of oil for the most recipes and 1-2 tablespoons for breaded foods.

As you can see, the great advantage of an air fryer is that it only requires a small amount of oil or fat to do its job and produce deliciously crispy food.

Recipes that include breadcrumbs, generally use more oil, maybe around 1-2 tablespoons. Other methods only require a light brushing of oil. It comes down to you experimenting and finding out what works best for you.

Don't go over the top with oil; you want enough but not too much. So start low and add it slow is the motto for adding oil to your air fryer.

In fact, you can start with no oil if you really want to. These clever appliances can do the job without oil, and you'll still get a beautiful crispy exterior to your food. A smidgen of oil does, however, give it a little bit of extra taste that many people prefer. So, if you really want to crunch the calories, try a dry fry.

You can use a whole selection of oils that would not be practical to use in the large quantities required for deep frying. Your oils will also last you much longer as you will only be using a small amount of them at a time.

Below you can read about some recommended oils for you to consider the next time you get your air fryer out. Some are liquid oils, and some are solid fats that require melting before they can be used.

But before I get to the best cooking oils to use, we need to cover the smoke point of cooking oils.

Smoke Points For Cooking Oils

As their name implies, air fryers use very hot air to cook food. The temperature can reach up to 400°F. Due to these high temperatures, it is important to choose oils that will remain stable at such high heat levels, but ones that are healthy and will also make your food taste great. 

Oils that are heated past their smoke point give off a bluish smoke, and start to break down, losing some of their nutritional value. However, there are plenty of great tasting oils and fats that can withstand these high temperatures.

Best Oil For Air Fryer

cooking oils for air fryer

The best oil to use in an air fryer is something that is healthy, gives the food the flavor texture you like, and that can withstand high temperature e.g has a high smoking point.

Below are some of the best healthy oils you can use.

Avocado Oil

Avocado oil has a very high smoke point if 520°F makes it one of the most suitable oils for cooking with an air fryer. The oil is extracted from Avocado by pressing the fruit and squeezing juice from it. Avocado oil is at the higher end of the market, evident by its quality and price.

Extra Light Olive Oil

This oil should not be mistaken for a similar-sounding oil; Extra Virgin Olive Oil, as the latter, has a much lower smoke point at 380°F. The smoke point of Extra Light Olive Oil is 460-470°F. It is a pale yellow color and has a subtle, delicate flavor that produces just a hint of olive. This one is a great option for air frying.

Soybean Oil

This is one of the most popular cooking oils around. Soybean oil is classed as vegetable oil and comes from the seeds of soybeans. It has a high concentration of polyunsaturated fat. Its smoke point is 450°F.

Sunflower Oil

Another very popular cooking fat is sunflower oil. It contains a high level of monounsaturated fats and lower level saturated and polyunsaturated fats. This makes sunflower oil a pretty healthy choice. Sunflower oil is very versatile; it can be used for normal daily cooking, and its high smoke point of 440°F makes it a good choice for high-temperature cooking.

Refined Coconut Oil

This cooking oil is extracted from coconut meat. Refined Coconut Oil has a nutty and slightly sweet taste to it. It can come in solid form also, and it is called coconut butter when it is presented in this state. Coconut oil, however, has a conflicting reports as far as health is concerned. It has an high concentration of saturated fat, so much so that many health organizations advise against its use in cooking. It has a smoke point of 450°F.

Peanut Oil

This is a mild-tasting oil that has the smell and taste of peanuts. Also known as Groundnut or Arachis oil, people with peanut allergies can still enjoy this cooking oil as the allergens get removed during the refinement process. If you have a nut allergy, make sure you select Refined peanut oil rather than cold-pressed. (read more) Peanut oil's smoke point is 450°F.

Oils You Should Not Use In Your Air Fryer

Margarine

The following oils and fats are not recommended for air frying due to their low smoke points:  

  • Bacon Grease
  • Butter
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Lard
  • Margarine
  • Non-Stick Sprays

Smoke Points For Other Oils and Fats

  • Almond oil  430°F
  • Butter 302°F
  • Canola oil  428–446°F
  • Castor Refined  392°F
  • Coconut oil Unrefined  350°F
  • Corn oil 446-460°F
  • Corn oil Unrefined 352°F
  • Cottonseed oil Refined 428–446 °F
  • Flaxseed oil Unrefined  225°F
  • Grapeseed oil 421°F
  • Lard 374°F
  • Mustard oil 480°F
  • Olive oil Extra virgin 320°F
  • Palm oil 455°F
  • Peanut oil Unrefined  320°F
  • Rice bran oil Refined  415°F
  • Sesame oil Unrefined 350°F
  • Sesame oil refined  450°F
  • Sunflower oil Unrefined 320°F
  • Vegetable oil Refined 428°F
So, just remember...

When selecting the oil or fat for your air fryer, you should consider flavor, cooking temperature, and fat content. Make sure that these three things complement the food you're cooking. Try a few different ones out and always have a few handy when you are air frying as you may be in the mood for something different. You could try cooking the same food with different oils to learn the effect each oil has.

How To Use Oil For Air Frying? 

Instructions
  • Dry your food items with kitchen paper, if necessary.
  • Lightly spray or brush a thin layer of oil onto the food.
  • Or, marinate or dip the food in little oil before frying.

Spraying oil onto your food before air frying is a great way to get a light and even coverage of oil on your food. You can buy a commercial spray bottle, or you can make a DIY version.

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Chosen Organic Oil Blend Spray - 490° F Smoke Point for High-Heat Cooking, Baking, and Frying

You can make your DIY sprayer out of an old bottle with a hole in the top. Make sure that the bottle is food safe and keep your herb infused in it. Until you're using it, keep it sealed in your refrigerator. You will not achieve as even a covering as you will with a commercial sprayer, but it's a fun way to experiment with your frying oils.

Brushing your food with oil is good for meat, fish, and roasting vegetables. As is tossing your food in a little oil to get a reasonable covering.

Butter, however, is off-limits as it breaks the rules on high smoke points. In fact, applying any solid fat to food is not recommended for air fryers.

My recommendation here is, if you don’t own one already, get yourself an sprayer. It is simply a must-have item for everyone with an air fryer.

Air Fryer Tips And Mistakes 

circulate hot air around the food

Ok, you have now purchased your new appliance, and you are a mere few minutes away from some delicious, succulent, crispy hot food. Don't blow it by making one of these 6 common air frying mistakes.

The air fryer is a pretty awesome piece of kitchen equipment. It will treat you to the most beautiful, crispy fries and at half the calories of a restaurant or fast food outlet. You can even enhance the taste (not that you need to) by adding your own herbs and spices.

So, if you want to enjoy the full benefits of this great device, just try to avoid these frequently made mistakes.

1. Pre-Heat

Although, it is not a requirement, preheating your air fryer will give you the best results, so be sure to do it. It only takes 2-3 minutes to get your air fryer to optimal cooking temperature. Achieving this will allow the air to cook your food to crispy perfection.

Preheating temperatures should be between 325-400°F because simply sticking food into the air fryer and trying to cook it straight off could lead to an uneven cook. Preheating the basket will ensure you are ready to cook it perfectly.

2. Cook More Vegetables

You might be in love with the fried chicken you can get from your air fryer but, if that's all you're using it for, you're missing out on a whole lotta love. 

You can fry up some delicious vegetable foods and snacks that are bursting with flavor and nutrition. You can prepare everything from stuffed peppers to potato hash and all really quickly. Pretty much all vegetable-based meals are compatible with your air fryer. Great, as they'll be nice and crispy but with fewer calories and fat.

In this respect, your air fryer is more like a countertop convection oven than a conventional fryer.

3. Make Less Precooked Foods

Just throwing something into your air fryer that's already been fried is a waste of this great device's capabilities. Rather than reheating last night's chicken wings, try to create something from scratch. Most air fryers come with suggestions for meals or even complete recipe books, so give some a go.

4. Leave Some Room For Air To Circulate

Yeah, I know you want to impress everyone at the same time, save electricity and make a big batch of food. But, give your food a chance to fry; give it some space to allow the air to circulate and get around the food. 

It is important that your food has a chance to cook evenly; you should even pause during each cook to give the basket a shake and make sure none of the food is sticking together.

Preparing the food into smaller batches is a much more efficient way to fry, and the results will be so much better. If you do need to fry for larger groups of people or your family frequently, then maybe you should consider investing in a larger machine such as the Cosori 5.8-Quart one.

Standard air fryers are only really suitable for 2 people, 4 at a stretch. In contrast, the Cosori can cope with 6 portions easily. There is also a mid-size Ninja Foodi machine available. This would give you a good balance and at least let you cater to more than just a couple of guests at a time.

5. Bake 

So, now you've committed and bought one of these multi-purpose devices I recommended above. It's now time to consider ditching that oven for good. You can use your new appliance for some delicious baking options like croissants, doughnuts, and desserts. They are so easy to cook in an air fryer, and they’re delicious.

Since this device is so good for baking then it would make a perfect baking gift for anyone who loves baking.

6. Take Care Of It Properly

If you want to keep your new device in pristine condition, ideally, you will clean the basket after every use. Newer air fryers have removable parts making it really easy to keep them clean.

Hand-washing is best, and many models will specify that their parts are not dishwasher safe. To make hand-washing a bit easier, you can spray the basket with a non-stick coating before you use your air fryer. You could also try lining the bottom of it with aluminum foil.

Not washing your air fryer after use is really bad practice. Next time you come to use it, it is bound to be for something different from what you cooked previously. Not only will you get charred remains from previous fries, but you will also contaminate your new food with the old. Yuk!

What Does Air Fried Food Taste Like?

air-fried chicken

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and taste is on the lips of the diner. Of course, this is an impossible question to answer. We would say that you have the same functionality in an air fryer as you do with several other kitchen appliances combined.

Once you get familiar with your air fryer, you will be cooking as well with it as with any other kitchen appliance you've been using for years. Your chicken will be crispy on the outside, moist on the inside; just the way you want it. Fries will give you a combination of crunch and fluffy potato interior; and your cheese on toast will have a beautiful brown crust of melted cheese.

Summary

Air frying makes cooking efficient and straightforward; you'll cut your cooking time and your cleaning up time too compared to traditional fryers and ovens.


There are a host of bonuses that come from owning an air fryer.


  1. Healthier Cooking
  2. Space Saver
  3. Easy To Clean
  4. Low-Fat Meals
  5. Faster Cooing
  6. Ease of Use
  7. Energy Efficiency
  8. Versatile
  9. Smell and Mess-Free Cooking

Overall, air fryers are fantastic devices and will be a great addition to any kitchen. Hopefully, this article will have helped inform your decision to buy one of these appliances. If it has, it could be great news for your diet and your taste buds. 

About the author

    Jen Evansy

    Nutritionists, researchers, and writers, interested in everything healthy-living related. Helping you identify the best diets, learn about food and nutrition, to help you live happier, longer and stronger.


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