Taking a look at the science behind the miraculous, low-fat frying machine.
Credit: Courtesy of Bed, Bath, and Beyond

Imagine we live in a world where fried food was crispy and delightful, but wasn’t loaded with added fat... Well ladies and gents, if that’s the world you wish to live in, I’d say it’s time to hop on the air fryer bandwagon. The air fryer is a kitchen appliance that promises to slash the fat in many dishes that you would typically pan fry or deep fry. In other words, you can achieve an impressive batch of “fried” chicken and French fries without cups of cooking oil when you cook them in an air fryer. I’ve even heard that air fried bacon will change your life. And buddy, I’m here for anything that makes bacon easier to cook and tastier to eat.

Air Fryer Basics

So what’s the secret to this appliance’s magic? When you break it down, an air fryer is essentially a miniature convection oven that evenly circulates hot air around your food. Air fryers contain a fan that rapidly moves the heated air around, helping your food to crisp up without much additional oil. It also has the ability to reach very high temperatures (with some models getting up to 430F°) enhancing its ability to quickly cook foods. The device is ideal for anyone keeping a close eye on their fat consumption, as you only need a thin coat of oil on the food or on the cookware surface to prevent sticking and achieve a golden, crispy crunch. Not only does it fry, but the air fryer can also mimic other cooking functions such as baking, grilling and roasting.

Keep in mind that an air fryer is ideal for making foods in small quantities simply because the appliance does not have the physical capacity to hold a lot of food at one time. Most models can hold a from 3.5 quarts to 5.5 quarts in their fry baskets. The fry basket is the main accessory that comes with an air fryer, but some models can include other elements such as a baking pan or roasting rack. Being that the air fryer is similar to a convection oven (but way smaller), it can save you time (and electricity) over heating up your standard oven. It cooks food freakishly fast and the clean up fuss-free.

What Can You Cook in an Air Fryer?

For starters, let's talk about "frying" with your air fryer. It’s best used on items that are typically breaded and fried. One of the first thing that comes to mind... fried chicken. Yep, you can make a wonderfully crunchy batch of faux fried chicken, or crumb-coated fried green tomatoes or fried pickles. You can also make cornmeal-crusted catfish fillet, panko-crusted shrimp, and crab cakes that come out super crispy, but still remain moist on the inside... and without a drop of grease insight. So just remember, a good rule of thumb is that any type of “crusted” food (i.e. one that uses some sort of breading to achieve a crisp coating) are fitting candidates for the air fryer.

However, the same rule does not apply for foods that are battered and fried. Since you are cooking with dry heat in an air fryer, it cannot solidify and crisp the wet batter in the way that hot oil does on contact. Attempting to "fry" any battered foods—such as corn dogs, beer battered fish, or anything tempura—will leave you with a gloppy mess as the batter drips to the bottom of your air fryer.

You can also prepare foods that you would normally roast in the oven in the air fryer. Roasting a small batch of vegetables like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, or Brussels sprouts is a great task for this appliance. Simply toss them in oil (and season) as you would when preparing them for the oven. Fingers foods, such as bacon-wrapped dates and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, are easily made in small batches using an air fryer, which is ideal when you're serving just a few (say, you have a couple of friends over for a small dinner party and want to start with an elegant app). You can even use it for preparing frozen foods, such as a bag of French fries or broccoli, to crisp perfection. Naturally fattier cuts of meats like chicken wings or a small chuck roast can cook in their own fats leaving their drippings at the bottom of the fry basket. I think a pork or beef tenderloin would finish beautifully in the air fryer.

For the models the that include a baking pan/tray, you can utilize the air fryer to make a few baked goods and dishes that you would typically bake in a casserole dish. A quick scroll through Pinterest will lead you to all the sweet goodies that are possible in the air fryer. Instead of cranking up your oven, use the handy countertop appliance to bake various cakes, cheesecakes, breads, cookies, doughnuts, and even classic apple pie. While you’re at it, take a second to roast a handful of pecans or walnuts right in your air fryer to top your freshly air fried “baked" goods. The baking pan/tray can also be used to build a mini lasagna, baked ziti, or a creamy gratin. Point being, you really have space to get creative, so don't be afraid to experiment and have a little air fried fun.