Last Updated on August 4, 2021
Chances are pretty good you have heard of the new popular countertop appliance called the air fryer. It’s easy to fill your kitchen countertop with various cooking appliances, which could lead to a messy kitchen. However, an air fryer should be something you’d want to make room for.
You may own an air fryer already, but how does an air fryer work? What is going on inside an air fryer that allows it to cook crispy and delicious fried food? And, what makes them different from a deep fryer or an oven?
This article explores the answers to these questions and more so you can either make the most of your appliance or decide whether you want one for your home.
Air Fryer Basics Explained
Before we go into the specifics of how air fryers work, let’s take a look at the basics to understand this excellent appliance fully.
What Is an Air Fryer?
An air fryer is a medium-sized countertop kitchen appliance used to cook food. They are generally the size of a large coffee maker but with a bulkier design. Air fryers produce crispy foods like chicken, french fries, chicken wings, and other deep-fried foods without submerging the recipe or food in oil like you have to with deep fryers. It results in recipes that contain less fat and are better for your health.
Inside of an air fryer is a pull-out pan with a basket for holding your food. The basket is slightly elevated to allow heat and air to reach all parts of your food while it cooks.
Most air fryers allow you to manipulate both the temperature at which your foods are being cooked and the cooking time with a digital display. It makes using an air fryer easy and user-friendly. They also heat up quite fast.
How Does an Air Fryer Cook Food?
How does an air fryer work when it comes to cooking food? Like a convection oven, air fryers contain a heating element inside accompanied by a fan to blow hot air around the food in the basket. As the heat builds inside the air fryer food compartment, the fan circulates the hot air around the interior. This leads to a faster cook time and a crispy finished food product, similar to what you would expect from a deep fryer without actually frying the food.
The heating element inside an air fryer is very much like the ones found in traditional ovens. However, without the addition of a fan, ovens take longer to cook food and do not cook food as evenly as an air fryer.
Unlike a traditional convection oven, air fryers are often more compact, and the cooking process does vary slightly, but for the most part, convection cooking is almost the same. The crispy recipes they produce make them very similar to fried food, just without additional oil.
Do Air Fryers Require Oil?
An air fryer is often seen as a healthy alternative to deep-frying food because it requires significantly less oil and still makes crispy food. There are even many air fryer recipes that do not require any oil at all. However, a tiny bit of oil can go a long way for some food like vegetables and fish, which tend to dry out faster than other food.
Applying a thin coating of oil can help the food cook more evenly, taste better, and result in a crispier finish. For the most part, spraying your food should be more than sufficient to crisp and brown your food evenly and efficiently.
Do You Need to Preheat an Air Fryer Before Cooking?
Many air fryers have a preheat setting that lasts for about five minutes. While this can be helpful and much faster than an oven, it is considered unnecessary.
Due to the restricted size of the appliance, air fryers tend to heat up rapidly enough that you can skip the preheat portion of the cooking process without seeing a noticeable difference in the finished recipe. If you are short on time, cooking in an air fryer pretty convenient.
Why Are Air Fryers so Popular?
Air fryers are becoming more popular and are considered an essential appliance in many homes. So why are air fryers and air-fried food so popular? What are the benefits of cooking with an air fryer?
- Almost everyone loves the taste of deep-fried food, but regularly eating it isn’t good for your health. One of the main benefits of air-fried foods is that they taste eerily similar to deep-fried foods but are a much healthier alternative. They use less oil which means less fat and a more nutritious recipe in the end.
- When you cook in an air fryer, your food is cooked very fast. As mentioned, if you do not have a lot of time, you can depend on your air fryer to cook in a fraction of the time it takes for your oven or hob to complete the task.
- With an air fryer, you can choose the settings and leave it to cook your food with minimal interaction. Aside from needing to flip or shake the food in the basket halfway through the cooking process, you won’t have to do much else.
Cooking With an Air Fryer
Now that you have a pretty good idea of what an air fryer is let’s focus on the cooking process.
What Foods Can an Air Fryer Cook?
Air fryers are pretty versatile when it comes to preparing different types of food. They are not limited to the food you would traditionally put in a deep fryer like french fries. Instead, you can cook frozen food, fresh food, and a variety of lean meats like fish, chicken, turkey, and beef as well.
Some of the best air fryer recipes include:
- Chicken nuggets
- Crispy Brussel sprouts
- Fried chicken
- Roasted vegetables
- Grilled cheese sandwiches
- Homemade or frozen french fries
The possibilities are nearly limitless when it comes to air frying food for you and your family, so feel free to add this to the list of benefits as well.
What Foods Are Not Good In an Air Fryer?
There are a couple of things that don’t cook or crisp up as well when it comes to air frying. Wet batters and extra saucy food tend to spread inside the air fryer’s basket and leak down to the pan below. Aside from the mess created in the interior space, the food cooks less evenly and does not brown thoroughly.
If you try air frying food with a batter or a lot of sauce, we recommend placing a piece of parchment paper or aluminium foil beneath the food. This is to keep the batter concentrated around and on the food in the basket. We also recommend using drier batters like panko.
How to Cook Food Using an Air Fryer
Using an air fryer to cook food is not rocket science. Follow the steps below, and you will be cooking delicious and crispy food in no time!
Step 1: Put Your Food Inside the Basket
Depending on the size of your air fryer, the basket can hold between two to ten quarts. You will need to add about one or two teaspoons of oil to make the food tastier and crispier in some cases.
Step 2: Set the Temperature and Time
Typically, the cooking time of an air fryer is between 5 and 25 minutes at a temperature ranging from 350 degrees to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjust the temperature and time according to the type of food you are cooking. Always refer to the instructions from the recipe to make sure you are cooking the food the right way.
Step 3: Let Your Air Fryer Do the Cooking
Now that you are all set, you can now let the air fryer do its job. However, there are some cases that you will need to flip the food when you are already halfway through the cooking time. This is to make sure that the food is cooked evenly.
Step 4: Clean Your Air Fryer
After using your air fryer, always remember to clean it each time after use. This ensures that your air fryer will function optimally for a more extended time.
Pro Tips to Help You Make the Most Of Your Air Fryer
Now that you understand how an air fryer works compared to an oven or deep frying, there are a few more things to know that will help you use an air fryer as best as possible.
- Never skip the shake or flip step of the cooking process. Even though the hot air circulates the basket and food inside, it will not brown on both sides if you do not flip the food.
- You can quickly adapt any recipe you have to suit an air fryer. Subtract 25 degrees from the average cook temperature and subtract 20% of the cooking time, and you should be all set.
- Restrain from putting too much oil on the food as it will cause it to cook unevenly and make it take longer to cook. Adding excess oil also makes the food less healthy. Remember, dry food is better, even when it comes to things like french fries.
- You may not need to add any oil to frozen food. They already contain a bit of moisture from the freezing process.
- Try not to overcook vegetables. They tend to dry out quickly and can become tough and dehydrated.
- Always clean the basket and interior pan of your air fryer after every single use. It may be tempting to use it a couple of times before cleaning it. However, this leads to a build-up of grease, leading to smoke and a less efficient cooking process.
- Many air fryers have a dishwasher-safe basket and pan to make cleaning as easy as possible.
- Do not overcrowd the basket. Instead, opt to do several smaller batches when necessary.
Air Frying in Your Home
How does an air fryer work? As we have learned, air fryers work very similarly to convection ovens. They use heat and circulating hot air to make crispy foods like fries, meats, and vegetables. Now that you know all about air fryers and how they work, you can experiment with many recipes.
Will you be adding this appliance to your home? If you already own one, how will you use it to make better recipes for yourself or your family in the future? Let us know what you think in the comments below.