It’s difficult, if not downright impossible, to achieve a deep-fried texture using a traditional oven. You know the one: golden brown French fries with a crispy exterior and a fluffy, airy interior. Extra-crunchy breading enveloping juicy, perfectly cooked chicken.
While deep-frying results in some of our favorite food textures and flavors, it’s not always practical and—let’s face it—a little stinky. Not only are gallons of oil and a fairly large cleanup required, it’s not the healthiest method for cooking, either—especially if you’re trying to reduce the amount of saturated fat and calories in your diet.
Air frying 101
Enter the air fryer. This appliance uses powerfully circulated hot air to cook and crisp your favorite foods, replicating that deep-fried taste without the oil. How does this actually help you?
- You’ll have crispier food, most of which can be made in significantly less time than if you’d used an oven, with no need to preheat.
- There’s no lingering fried-food smell, so your house won’t smell like a chicken shack for the next week.
- You don’t need to use much oil, if any, to achieve crispy golden brown fries and chicken wings, juicy hamburgers, tender-crisp veggies, and delicious muffins. Just a spritz or two will do on fresh foods. That’s right—there’s no used oil to funnel back into a jug and figure out how to dispose of.
With only a couple of parts to clean, you’ll have dinner on the table, in your belly and cleaned up so quickly you can watch an extra episode or two of whatever show you’ve been binging all week.
How does an air fryer work?
By now, you’re probably wondering how could an air fryer possibly rival a deep fryer when it comes to cooking traditionally fried foods? Well, an air fryer works using two very important factors in the cooking process: heat and air flow.
A fan blows heat directly down onto the food and circulates it around the cooking basket like a miniature wind tunnel. The ultra-heated wind crisps up the outside of whatever you’re cooking while the inside of your food quickly soaks in all that heat. The results are similar to deep-frying the food in hot oil—crispy and crunchy on the outside, perfectly cooked on the inside.
You may also be wondering how an air fryer is different from a convection oven. Convection ovens work similarly to air fryers in that they use a fan (or multiple fans) to circulate hot air around the cavity of the oven for faster cooking at lower temperatures, resulting in a crisp or caramelized exterior.
The difference is, because of the larger cavity and placement of the fans, cooking times in a convection oven are much longer than in a Hamilton Beach air fryer.
What types of air fryers are there to choose from?
When air fryers first made their debut, most looked fairly similar: a shape somewhat reminiscent of an egg, with a basket drawer that you can pull out from the front. Many air fryers are still designed in this traditional style.
Traditional-style air fryer model 35050.
Now, the options have evolved and you see more and more models that look like toaster and countertop ovens but with added air frying functionality. This style has a larger but more shallow basket that slides in and out, making it a good choice for foods that cook better in a single layer, like chicken wings or breaded zucchini fries.
Oven-style air fryer model 31323.
Not only do the more advanced models look like countertop ovens, they offer all of the functionality of a countertop oven, too, making them good choices for those who are either tight on counter space or want the most bang for their buck (although trust us—no matter what model you choose, you’ll be using your air fryer all day, every day). Some oven-style models even have a rotisserie feature!
What Size Air Fryer Do I Need?
You’ll definitely want to factor in the size or capacity when choosing an air fryer. Air fryers typically have a capacity printed on the box measured in liters. It can be tough to visualize what this translates to in serving size. Use this chart as a guide:
1.5 to 2.5 liter
|1-2 servings||Snacks, sides and mains|
|3.0 to 6.0 liter||3-4 servings||Snacks, sides, mains and complete meals|
|6.5 to 12.0 liter||5+ servings||Snacks, sides, mains,complete meals, whole chickens and batch cooking|
I’m Sold—Now What?
Now you’re ready to air fry main dishes, sides, snacks or desserts. Don’t limit yourself to bags of frozen chicken nuggets and fish sticks (although an air fryer cooks them to perfection). The types of recipes you can make may surprise you. Ease into this new way to cook with a few of our Test Kitchen’s favorite air fryer recipes for coconut shrimp, steak, burgers, and more.
Most foods you cook with an air fryer won’t need any oil at all. But if you like, lightly spritz some foods like potatoes or fresh veggies with cooking oil (use a cooking oil spritzing bottle) before cooking to achieve an even crispier texture. Try a batch with oil and one without and see if you can tell the difference.
Not sure how long to cook your basket of Buffalo wings or salmon fillets? Some models have pre-programmed settings to help you get cooking quickly. The air fryer will default to the optimal cooking time and temperature for those categories. Otherwise, you can easily set your own desired time and temperature.
Preset programs for the Hamilton Beach 2.5 Liter Digital Air Fryer (model 35050).
When you’re done, traditional-style cooking baskets wipe down easily thanks to their nonstick coating. Oven-style cooking baskets can go straight into the dishwasher.
The Bottom Line
If you find yourself spending too much time preheating the oven for a tray of tater tots for the kids, or even if you want an easy, mess-free way to cook a couple of steaks, using an air fryer is a quick and efficient way to satisfy every craving. Keep those calorie counts in check by using very little or no oil at all. You just might find the air fryer earns a permanent spot on your countertop.