What is an Air Fryer and How Does It Work?

What is an air fryer? This is a question many consumers are still asking. The name can be misleading, as this handy device does much more than fry up diet-busting treats. It roasts, grills, fries, and even BAKES!

We’re here to demystify the inner workings and results of this handy kitchen appliance. Below, you’ll learn how the air fryer uses convection currents to cook your foods, examine comparisons to similar kitchen products, discover amazing uses for this device, and more.

How Does an Air Fryer Work?

Philips Viva Air Fryer Circulating Heat

Air fryers simulate the traditional frying of foods by circulating hot air around food rather than submerging the food in oil. As with frying, properly prepared foods are crispy, juicy, golden brown, and flavorful.

Air fryers work due to the Maillard reaction, a scientific principle which refers to what we usually call “browning.” A Maillard reaction occurs when the surface of a food item forms a crust due to dehydration, and the intense heat breaks down proteins, starches, and fibers. That is what gives fried, roasted, and baked foods their delicious, complex flavors.

An air fryer is a convection oven in miniature – a compact cylindrical countertop convection oven, to be exact (try saying that three times fast).

Basically, convection is the tendency of gases (or liquids) to move past each other when heated. Hot air rises, for example, simultaneously forcing cooler air to sink. Convection influences the weather; it is even at work in the molten rock that causes volcanic eruptions. But what, you may ask, does this have to do with your kitchen appliances?

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Air fryers employ convection to rapidly and efficiently cook crisp foods. A heating element within the air fryer super-heats the air, producing natural convection currents. A fan within the appliance aids in air movement, circulating it even more rapidly. Perforations or holes in the cooking basket allow the hot air to flow freely around the food. This air movement increases heat transfer from the air to the food. Thus, your dinner gets done faster.

Do Air Fryers Work?

We’ve already discussed how air fryers work. Now, you want to know, do they work, that is, do they work as shown on television commercials? Can they prepare crispy, amazing foods as advertised? Are air fryers worth the hype?

When used as designed and with quality recipes, air fryers do work. You can make crispy French fries, juicy roasted poultry, air fried veggies, and more. You may wish to consult our air fryer cooking charts to learn the best temperature at which to cook your favorite foods, and for how long.

Does an Air Fryer Cook Foods Faster?

The short answer is yes, an air fryer cooks most dishes faster than would a conventional oven. In fact, many recipes take 20 to 50 percent less time in an air fryer. Why?

Air fryers utilize fan-assisted convection currents to increase heat transfer to the food being cooked. That means that heat from the air enters the food more rapidly than it would in a conventional oven. The appliance is also designed to minimize outside heat loss, making it very efficient.

Is an Air Fryer the Same as a Convection Oven?

While air fryers and convection ovens both employ the science of convection, they have distinct differences in function and design. Both appliances may reduce cooking times due to fan-circulated, heated air.

Countertop convection ovens are generally larger than air fryers. They are designed for larger batch cooking, while air fryers typically handle two to six servings at a time. Air fryers are easier to clean due to dishwasher safe parts, and are very versatile when used with accessories.

See our comparison of an Air Fryer vs. Convection Oven for more information.

Does an Air Fryer Use Radiation?

No. Unlike microwave ovens, which use a form of electromagnetic radiation called microwaves to excite water molecules, thus heating the food due to friction, air fryers do not use any form of radiation. Instead, air fryers employ a heating element similar to that found on any oven, toaster, or stovetop. The heating element works by converting an electrical current into heat.

Air Fryer Price Ranges

Air fryers are available to fit nearly every budget. Small air fryers typically range in price from $59.00 to $129.00 – sometimes even less. Large air fryers typically cost between $89.00 and $299.00.

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Last updated on 2018-11-13 

What Can an Air Fryer be Used For?

This single device has the potential to replace up to seven other kitchen appliances.

1. Conventional Ovens

Air fryers can cook almost anything that can be prepared in a conventional oven, whether wall mounted or as part of a cooktop stove. The air fryer is faster, uses less electricity, and won’t heat up your kitchen in summer.

2. Toaster Ovens

Many people opt to use countertop toaster ovens rather than conventional ovens in order to save energy. That counter space can easily be used by the more versatile air fryer.

3. Toasters

Bread, bagels, and other items can be toasted in the air fryer in under a minute. An added advantage is that toppings, such as butter or cheese, can be added before toasting, melting to perfection. You can’t do that with a standard toaster.

4. Convection Ovens

Some wall mounted, cooktop, or even toaster ovens come with a convection feature – that is, they have an internal fan that blows around the heated air. Why? Airflow results in more even cooking and browning and many foods cook more quickly.

Professional chefs, especially bakers, have lauded this type of oven for years. The air fryer is a convection oven, complete with all the benefits. It’s just small enough to fit on your kitchen counter, and its round shape adds to its efficiency.

5. Deep Fryers

Whether used on a stovetop or as a stand-alone appliance, deep fryers allow for crispy fried foods. The major drawback, however, is the messy grease and potential effects on health. The air fryer imitates the results of deep frying while avoiding the deep fryer’s negative traits. Air frying usually requires only about a tablespoon of oil.

6. Microwave Oven

Cooking or reheating in the microwave may leave you with food that is warm but rubbery, limp, and soggy. If the results are unappealing, why do we do it? The answer is convenience. Microwaves get the job done fast. So so air fryers, without compromising food texture.

7. Electric Grills and Griddles

Designed for cooking while reducing fat, electric grills surged in popularity during the 1990s and 2000s. But, your air fryer does the same thing.

The Different Types of Air Fryer Machines

  • Basket style – uses a fully enclosed food basket along with accessories, such as skewers, wire racks, and baking pans.
  • Oven style – a small convection oven that fits on the countertop.
  • Paddle style – utilizes a revolving paddle that turns or stirs the food while it cooks.
  • Infrared halogen style – uses a halogen light bulb to heat food, similar to childhood “oven” cooking toys; typically designed as a lidded glass bowl.
  • Multi cookers – multi-function appliances that embrace several cooking styles, such as pressure cooking, air frying, and rice making, rather than a dedicated use.

What Brand of Air Fryer is Good?

Philips released the consumer basket air fryer in 2010. It is still considered one of the best air fryers on the market.

NuWave, GoWise USA, and Cooks Essential each produce affordable air fryers with a variety of options, including digital or manual controls.

T-fal released the first ever consumer air fryer – a paddle style model – in 2006.

Tristar is the original  “As seen on TV” air fryer, the producers of the Power Air Fryer XL & Power AirFryer Oven.

Air Fryer Pros & Cons

What Are the Advantages of Using an Air Fryer?

  1. Most conventional ovens require between 5 and 15 minutes to adequately preheat. An air fryer, however, takes only 2 minutes.
  2. Because hot air is circulated, food cooks quickly and more evenly. Reduced cooking times – usually a reduction of about 20 percent compared to oven cooking – result in less water loss, so foods remain juicy and moist on the inside.
  3. Reduced cooking and preheating times will help you to juggle your busy schedule. This also results in energy savings when compared to longer cook times in a conventional oven.
  4. The contained cooking space of the air fryer eliminates the splatters so common with oven roasting, open container baking, sauteing, and frying, making clean up a breeze.
  5. Air fryers are beneficial to those seeking to limit the consumption of fats. Little or no oil is required as compared to deep frying, stove top sauteing, or even baking in a greased dish – usually about one tablespoon. Simply toss or mist foods with oil prior to cooking. Because food is suspended in a perforated metal basket, grease from the food itself also drains away, similar to grilling.
  6. Air fryers are safer than deep frying because they are not as likely to experience oil fires, and the tiny amount of oil eliminates the risk of burns from toppled containers of hot oil. The outside of the air fryer is designed to remain safe to the touch; most traditional cooking methods can’t guarantee that.
  7. If you’re looking to replace a conventional oven, the air fryer is definitely the better option in terms of cost. At many retailers, such as Lowe’s, wall-mount ovens and cooktop/oven combos start at about $500.00, with advanced models ranging into the thousands. Air fryers, on the other hand, cost between $60 and $300.

Drawbacks & Cooking Limitations

A major drawback for some is the amount of counter space that the air fryer requires. Most are approximately 15 inches in diameter, a rather large footprint for a countertop appliance.

On the other side of the coin, the small size of the air fryer precludes cooking very large items, such as whole turkeys. If you want to use your air fryer, you’ll have to opt for turkey breasts instead of the whole bird this Thanksgiving.

What is an Air Fryer Used For?

  • French fries, tater tots, onion rings, and homemade potato chips
  • Baked potatoes
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Corn on the cob
  • Single serve pizza
  • Empanadas
  • Egg rolls, spring rolls, and crab rangoon
  • Donut holes
  • Chicken
  • Hamburgers
  • Bacon
  • Fish
  • Steak

Steak? Yes, you read that right. You can cook juicy, tender steaks in an air fryer. Pizza? Well, a whole frozen pizza won’t fit, but you can reheat leftovers like a champ, or make your own small, single serving pizzas using pita or naan bread.

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As you can see, the possibilities are almost endless. If you can cook it at home, you’ll most likely be able to cook it in your air fryer.

Many air fryers can even accommodate the size of a whole chicken. For chickens that are five pounds and up, you’ll need at least a 5.8 quart or larger air fryer.

Why Buy an Air Fryer?

Consider the following reasons why an air fryer might be right for you:

Healthy Cooking

Everyone loves the taste of deep-fried foods, but many people must avoid these for health reasons. If you’re looking to lower cholesterol or lose weight, your doctor may thank you for using an air fryer. Air fryers use around 75 percent less oil than deep fryers, providing a healthy alternative without sacrificing flavor.

Speed of Cooking

The air fryer’s small convection oven preheats and cooks more quickly than a conventional oven. You’ll have tasty meals in haste, with less wait!

Green Cooking

Have you “gone green?” Cooking with an air fryer can help. Most air fryers are energy efficient, and shorter cook times translate to less overall power usage.

Simple and Easy

Air fryers utilize simple controls, typically two knobs for cook time and temperature, or an easy to read digital display. You simply toss the food in oil (if desired), place it in the basket, and the air fryer does the rest.

Clean Up Is a Breeze

The baskets and pans of most air fryers are dishwasher safe for easy cleanup. Also, the enclosed nature of the air fryer prevents the splatters and spills associated with deep frying and pan frying.

Safe

Lacking the large oil vats of traditional deep fryers, air fryers eliminate the risk of serious burns from spilled oil. Also, air fryers are designed so that the exterior does not become dangerously hot to the touch.