If you've heard a friend rave about her air fryer or seen Instagram snaps of impossibly crispy-looking fries made with only a spritz of oil, you may have wondered if you should get one too. But does it really work—or will it end up gathering dust like some other big-ticket kitchen purchases? (Hello, food dehydrator!)
First off, what exactly is an air fryer? An air fryer is essentially a small convection oven. It quickly circulates air around food and cooks faster than a standard oven. It also gives you crispy, crunchy results for foods like French fries and chicken tenders without a lot of oil.
"When you brush or spray the exterior of food with oil, the powerful fan circulates the tiny droplets of oil which mimics, in some ways, the effects of deep-frying," explains Emily Paster, author of the Epic Air Fryer Cookbook. An air fryer can also bake desserts and roast vegetables—and it reheats leftovers without turning them limp and soggy like a microwave, she says.
More air fryer perks: It preheats in just a couple minutes (much quicker than a regular oven), and some models don't need preheating at all. That's a huge timesaver on a busy weeknight. Plus, you'll avoid heating up your whole kitchen, handy for warm weather months. And it's portable, so easy to take to a beach house or vacation rental, notes Paster.
I was skeptical, so Philips sent me their XXL Airfryer to try—and I surprised myself by liking it! I thought it would be one more appliance I didn't use very much, but I was impressed. Though I'd heard it makes great finger foods like chicken wings and pizza bites, I wanted to see if it was helpful for healthy family meals. I made breaded pork chops that were crunchy outside and juicy inside, the crispiest tofu we've had, and Brussels sprouts that were easier and faster than roasted. In a handful of minutes, I cooked moist chicken breasts to slice up for lunch boxes—something I could've done on the stove, but it was awfully nice to push a button and walk away. It also made quick work of homemade French fries (much faster than baked) and little apple hand pies I made with puff pastry that my kids gobbled up.
- RELATED: How to Cope When Kids Get Choosy
Yes, there are drawbacks. It's a bit noisy. And it's big. Size is actually the most important factor to consider when choosing an air fryer, says Paster. To get good results, you can't overcrowd the cooking basket, which means you may have to cook food in multiple batches if you have a smaller model. Her recommendation: Go for a bigger model (5 quarts or larger) if you're cooking for three people or more. I opted to keep my air fryer stationed on the kitchen island rather than haul it in and out of a cupboard. Of course, a bigger model is also more expensive.
You also need to have realistic expectation. Though the air fryer does give a nice crispiness, foods don't look or taste deep-fried. It also doesn't magically make store-bought foods (like frozen nuggets and jalapeno poppers) healthier.
The Bottom Line
"If you're a fan of fried foods and trying to cut back on calories and fat, the air fryer can help," says dietitian Dana White, author of the Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook. "But people need to realize that making premade frozen nuggets in the air fryer won't save you anything nutritionally. There's nothing wrong with the occasional nugget for busy parents who need to get dinner on the table, and they come out great in the air fryer, but they're no healthier than the oven when you go this route."
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a Contributing Editor for Parents magazine and a registered dietitian who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition, a "no-judgement zone" all about feeding a family. She is the author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids and Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.