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The air fryer has developed a huge fan base in recent years, and there are a lot of reasons to love it — from crispy fries and wings to beautifully roasted chicken and vegetables. It seems like an all-in-one kitchen workhouse, and yet slim enough to fit in the corner of most counters.
But for all of the air fryer’s seemingly limitless benefits, it is a machine with a pretty specific technology that some people don’t really understand, and for that reason, there’s a lot of myths about how it works, why it’s a good kitchen asset, and what it can do for you once you bring it into your home.
The reality is that not knowing how to use the appliance is standing in the way of you using it to its fullest capabilities, and there’s so much untapped potential in air fryers. And yes, those capabilities go way beyond just golden, crispy “fried” foods!
It’s easy to compare or confuse an air fryer with a deep fryer, but these two appliances couldn’t be more different. An air fryer is not a deep fryer, but all that talk about wings and fries has led to some confusion, which means some people might be using it wrong.
“A deep fryer cooks food by transferring heat from hot or boiling oil directly to the food being cooked. An air fryer cooks food by rapidly circulating hot air around the food being cooked,” Jessica Randhawa, the head chef, recipe creator, photographer, and writer behind The Forked Spoon, told Mashed.
Randhawa explained that this transfer of heat via extreme air circulation allows for cooking items, such as a chicken breast, without adding oil directly on the chicken. This makes for a significantly less fatty/oily meal when compared to the oil-saturated chicken breast pulled out from a deep fryer’s oil bath. In summary: “An air fryer is nothing like a deep fryer from a cooking perspective and allows for much healthier and less oily meals,” Randhawa said.
You don’t need oil
Air fryers have become famous for being a healthy alternative to deep fryers or skillet frying because you can use very little oil. However, an issue has risen out of that. One myth that home cooks need to stop believing about air fryers is that you can cook without any oil at all. You need to use at least some oil to achieve that crispy, golden brown food you are going for.
That is, of course, unless the food already has built-in fat. “If the food you’re cooking naturally has a lot of fat in it already, like skin-on chicken, go ahead and skip the oil, but for everything else, either spray or brush the foods with a little bit of oil,” Emily Paster, author of “Epic Fryer Cookbook,” told Mashed.
According to Paster, that oil used will preferably not be extra virgin olive oil, but a neutral cooking oil with a high smoke point.
Air fryers do have health benefits, but there is a misconception that everything they cook is healthy because they add a crispy texture to foods without needing to fry them in oil. “Because an air fryer is definitely a healthier option than deep frying, it has become synonymous in some circles with healthier eating,” chef and nutritionist, Serena Poon, told Mashed.
In reality, it depends. Cooking foods in the air fryer in lieu of deep frying, is without a doubt, healthier because you will cut back on calories and processing. However, air frying food that is less-than-healthy to begin with is not going to make it a healthy meal. “Air fried processed meat is still processed meat, air fried refined grains are still refined grains,” Poon said. These foods can lead to inflammation regardless of how they are cooked — and honestly, heat can make things worse. “Air fryers achieve this elusive crispiness by cooking food at a high heat,” Poon explained.
Certain water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C, lose their potency when cooked at high heat. So even cooking fresh vegetables in the air fryer isn’t necessarily the healthiest option. “Air fryers can be a fun addition to your kitchen, it’s simply important that people don’t automatically tie their air fryer with healthful eating. The base ingredients of your meal are always the most important and there are many healthy ways to cook your food, including roasting, grilling, and baking,” Poon said.
The air fryer is a set it and forget it tool
Household appliances like slow cookers are loved because users can dump their ingredients and go about their day. But there is a misconception that air fryers are also a set it and forget it type of advice, but that’s not entirely true. “Foods can overcook quickly in the fast-moving air and high heat of the air fryer, so check on your food regularly,” Emily Paster told Mashed.
For some dishes, the air fryer can be very hands-off. “I like to make French toast in my air fryer, for example, and it is a lot more hands-off than making French toast on the stovetop,” Paster said. However, for anything else, you may want to take a peek inside every once in a while to see how it’s doing. In fact, that’ll be a good opportunity to move them around a bit or shake the basket if needed.
Air fryers are a fad
One of the biggest myths circulating lately is that air fryers are a fad. “The fact is that while the term ‘air fryer’ is modern marketing, the actual technology for these super-effective high airflow convection ovens has been around for decades,” Jessica Randhawa told Mashed. Before the air fryer, a brand named Nesco/American Harvest produced and marketed a version of their Jetstream Oven for several decades, which had a very similar cult-like following, according to Randhawa.
The accolades about the Jet Stream will sound rather familiar to air fryer fans. “I remember my mother raving about her Jetstream oven in the ’90s for all sorts of different foods and recipes, and there was very identical hype around that machine,” Randhawa said. “I have very fond memories of her pulling out the expandable rings for Thanksgiving turkey every year!”
So while the term “air fryer” might come and go like the Jetstream oven did after many decades of dominance, the underlying high airflow convection oven cooking technology and style will likely remain popular for many more decades to come.
You must preheat your air fryer
When people buy an air fryer, they may assume that they must preheat the air fryer before cooking their food because that is how they cook with the oven. This is actually not true, and rarely necessary.
“The cooking space inside of the air fryer is much smaller and it gets hot much quicker compared to a cold oven,” Samantha Milner, a kitchen gadgets expert and food blogger at RecipeThis.com, told Mashed. You only need to preheat an air fryer if you are cooking food that must be incredibly hot prior to air frying, for example, frying a steak and wanting a good sear (per The Recipe Critic).
Another reason why you shouldn’t preheat, according to Milner, is that an air fryer gets hot fast and using a preheat can overcook your food. Golden, crispy food is awesome, but rubbery overcooked proteins are a lot less appealing.
Air fryers are just for “junk” food
Air fryer commercials often are filled with images of foods like chicken wings, fries, or mozzarella sticks. And, yes, this device does a great job with classic comfort foods that are best when hot and crispy.
Air fryers can quickly make very healthy recipes. For example: “Vegetable side dishes like air fryer brussels sprouts and air fryer green beans can make a meal much more healthy and in as little as 13 minutes for those green beans,” Jessica Randhawa explained. “Those air fryer vegetables go great with simple, healthy air fryer chicken breast, which has very little oil sprayed in the air fryer basket, and no oil or butter rubbed on the meat,” Randhawa said. Don’t let the “fry” in air fryer fool you, as air fryers can make delicious family meals healthier and faster than other cooking methods.
You can cook so many healthy, whole foods, from salmon to Brussels sprouts, in your air fryer. You don’t even need breading! “Just toss or brush with a little bit of oil and lean meats and fish come out moist and tender while vegetables become crispy, caramelized, and downright irresistible,” Emily Paster added. The air fryer actually makes healthy foods taste better!
Air fryers are hard to use
It’s easy to expect any form of trendy technology to be hard to use. Whether it’s the recipe learning curve or too many buttons and settings to get a handle of, new appliances can be intimidating.
But that is not the case with air fryers. They are actually are easy to use right out of the box. It becomes very apparent as soon as it is set up that it is basically just a plug-in countertop oven. “The air fryer heats up quicker than your regular oven and it has a strong fan to move air around, which is why it cooks food so quickly,” Paster told Mashed. But at the end of the day, treat it like a small, powerful oven and you will figure it out pretty quickly.
Air fryers are easy appliances to use with almost no learning curve, especially when compared to more complex kitchen appliances like the Instant Pot. “My air fryer is up and running in about 30 seconds, and 15 seconds of that time is what it takes me to move it from my pantry to the kitchen counter,” Randhawa said. Once it’s plugged in, it is as simple as an oven to use, and it has a much faster warm-up time. “I find the air fryer to be both exceptionally easy to operate and a truly quick-cooking appliance,” Randhawa explained.
Air fryers are very simple machines; set the temp and time, and you’re good to go.
Air fryers are best for single or small households
There’s a common belief that air fryers are only really good for a single person or small household, since it’s a small appliance. But it’s all how you use it.
It all depends on the size of air fryer you have. If you have a small one, it’s going to do a lot less for you, or a lot less at a time, than a larger or family-sized model. “The small size of some air fryers is their biggest drawback,” Paster said. “It does mean that you sometimes end up cooking food in batches, but even so, it can still be quicker than using your regular oven, especially if you factor in the time it takes to preheat the oven.”
If you regularly cook for more than two people, spring for the biggest air fryer you can afford. But if not, there’s nothing wrong with starting small and just cooking in batches when bigger meals come up!
All air fryers are the same
A common myth about air fryers is that they’re all the same. But not all air fryers are created equally! They’re very different and can vary in sizes, controls, and even settings. “For the home cook, this means that when you find an air fryer recipe online, things might not work exactly how they do in the recipe,” Christine Pittman, cookbook author and founder of COOKtheSTORY, told Mashed.
Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t make the recipe you’ve found, but it does mean that there might be some trial and error. “That’s where the fun and experimentation come in, play around and get to know your air fryer and you’ll get a better grasp on how to make things based on your specific air fryer,” Pittman said.
When you do choose an air fryer, the more expensive options are not necessarily the best options. “Given their size and multiple functionalities, there’s a common misconception that good-quality air fryers are on the pricier end of countertop appliances,” recipe developer and cookbook author, Kelly Senyei told us. Not the case! “My sturdy air fryer cost less than $100 and is a total workhorse in the kitchen,” Senyei said. While prices for the gadget vary, there’s no need to spend a small fortune on one that’s durable and dependable.