This Is What an Air Fryer Really Does to Your Food

Air fryer recipes are sweeping the nation, but what is an air fryer? Is it really worth your hard-earned cash?

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What’s an air fryer?

Patented by Philips Electronics Company, this handy appliance claims to mimic the results of deep frying with nothing more than hot air and a tiny amount of oil.

How does an air fryer work?

The air fryer is essentially an amped-up countertop convection oven. Its compact space facilitates even faster cooking. The top of the unit holds a heating mechanism and a fan. Hot air rushes down and around food placed in a fryer-style basket. This rapid circulation makes the food crisp, much like deep frying. (Here’s the difference between air frying and baking.)

Cleanup is super easy, too, and most units have dishwasher-safe parts. Find out how to clean your air fryer.

What can you make in it?

Air fryers do a fantastic job cooking up frozen foods that are meant to taste deep-fried—think frozen french fries, chicken wings and mozzarella sticks. They also do a great job with similar recipes made from scratch. Maybe best of all, air fryers can bake, too.

What can’t you make?

You can’t make anything with a liquid batter (unless you freeze it first). You also can’t make anything in large quantities, so if you’re feeding a family, be prepared to cook in batches.

Here are more surprising foods you can’t cook in an air fryer (and some you can!).

Check out our Test Kitchen’s complete guide to air fryers.

What are the best air fryers?

Our Test Kitchen has put several air fryers to the test, and two rose to the top. We’ve been fans of the Philips Avance Turbo-Star Air Fryer ($280) for a long time. More recently, we were wowed by the PowerXL Vortex Air Fryer ($100). Both are models we’re proud to recommend. Learn more about our testing process to find the best air fryer.

Other things to consider…

  • Cost. On the pricey side of home appliances, air fryers run between $100 and $300 depending on size and features. Find the best air fryer for your lifestyle.
  • Space. Bigger than a toaster, the air fryer is not a small appliance. You’ll need to give up valuable storage (or counter) space to house one.
  • Skills. Air fryers are essentially plug and play. Place your food in the basket, set the time and the temperature and bam! You’re cooking.
  • Taste and texture. While an air fryer will give you results much closer to deep frying than your oven will, at the end of the day, it’s still not the same.
  • Healthier? The argument can be made that it produces healthier food by using less oil. Frozen french fries prepared in the air fryer contain between 4 and 6 grams of fat versus their deep-fried counterpart at a whopping 17 grams per serving.

Bottom line?

At the end of the day, this is a pretty slick gadget. When you’re cooking up things like french fries or chicken nuggets, you can’t beat it. The results are much better than oven frying, and your kitchen stays cool. While it does an admirable job cooking other meats and vegetables, the air fryer really shines at mock deep frying. So if you don’t normally eat deep-fried foods, it’s probably not worth the investment.

Try These Copycat Air Fryer Recipes!
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Sue Stetzel
Sue has been part of the Taste of Home family for over 16 years. Her collection of magazines dates back to the premier issue in 1993. When she isn’t writing, she’s answer your burning cooking questions and working with our team of Volunteer Field Editors.