It’s a cruel fact of life: fried food is so good for your tastebuds (and nucleus accumbens), and so not-great for pretty much all the rest of you. Sure, you can bake things instead of frying them, but it’s just not the same. Enter: the air fryer. Is it worth getting one? That depends—but Prime Day sales could certainly be one motivating factor.
After being inundated with slow cooker and Instant Pot content from every corner of the internet, you may have kitchen gadget fatigue by now, but allegedly, this other wunder-appliance can turn out all the crispy, crunchy fried foods you love with way less fat. (Despite its many virtues and seemingly miraculous culinary capabilities, the Instant Pot only very recently got a crisping function, in the form of an air fryer lid attachment; the Duo Crisp is currently on sale for $99 at Walmart. There’s also now a stand-alone Instant Pot air fryer too.)
Instant Pot Vortex Plus 7-in-1 Air Fryer Oven, $119 from Walmart
This 7-quart model from the makers of the Instant Pot even includes a rotisserie function for perfect chicken.
How Does an Air Fryer Work? (And What Makes Air Fried Food Better for You?)
The air fryer works by circulating super hot air around foods with just a thin coat of oil (some recipes add no oil at all), so you’re looking at at least around 70 to 80 percent less fat than traditional deep frying would use.
It’s also much less terrifying than a pot of viciously bubbling oil that can spatter and burn, and fairly easily catch fire, and there’s no need to wrangle with disposing a quart of smelly used cooking grease once you’re finished.
Related Reading on CNET: The Best Air Fryer Available in 2020
Naturally, air fryers can handle healthier versions of all the usual suspects, from chicken nuggets and egg rolls to potato chips and french fries, whether freshly made or frozen. But wait—as with any other infomercial-worthy product, there’s more!
Does an Air Fryer Cook Food Faster?
A bit, yes. The air fryer, like the Instant Pot, does also make quick(er) work of cooking in general. That’s thanks to the fact that air fryers reach high temperatures in mere minutes (unlike many ovens that can take 10-15 minutes just to preheat), and then that hot air is circulated for faster cooking all around. Since almost everyone is pressed for time these days, shaving even just a few extra minutes off of the dreaded waiting-for-dinner limbo is a bonus.
Related Reading: This Mealthy CrispLid Turns Your Instant Pot Into an Air Fryer
What Else Can You Make in an Air Fryer?
You can use an air fryer to make a range of other non-fried foods, like pizza, bacon, roasted garlic, toasted nuts, Brussels sprouts, and even cakes. Why would you do that, you may ask? Well, why not? It could be a boon to those with tiny kitchens and those with no stoves at all, and potentially a good summer option for anyone, since it wouldn’t heat the whole room like a traditional oven. Plus, if you commit to buying an appliance, the ideal aim is to use it as often as possible in order to feel you’ve gotten your money’s worth.
In fact, the first two things I made in mine were toasted marshmallows and ersatz doughnuts. Crispy tofu and crisped-up Trader Joe’s appetizers came later. All were delicious.
Dash Deluxe Electric 6-Quart Air Fryer, $99.99 from Amazon
If you prize aesthetics as well as performance, this adorable aqua air fryer has solid ratings and a mid-century vibe.
Related Reading: 21 Air Fryer Recipes You Never Saw Coming
How Much Does an Air Fryer Cost?
Prices vary widely, but expect to spend at least $60; one top-rated model on Amazon is currently $85.99, but similar models run closer to $100—and some, like the Ninja Foodi Multi Cooker, hover around or even top $200 (but to be fair, it does have more functions than plain old air fryers). Right now, you can find some good Prime Day deals on air fryers, including at Best Buy.
Bella Pro Series 4.2-Quart Air Fryer, $30 (originally $60) from Best Buy
This mid-size model is on sale for a great price right now.
Pay attention to size, too; the standard seems to be around 3.5 to 3.7 quart capacity across brands, but you can find “XL” versions that go up to 5.3 and 5.8 quarts, and even really large 16-quart models. I have a 6-quart model and personally wouldn’t want it to be any smaller, but am usually cooking for two to three people, so YMMV.
So, Should You Get an Air Fryer?
Bottom line: Is it worth it? As with many things, you truly have to try it yourself before you can say.
If you already have a convection oven, there’s no need to bother, since air fryers are really just mini versions of them (though sometimes you might prefer to use a smaller appliance for mini meals and snacks).
Otherwise, some potential drawbacks to consider would be the extra counter and cabinet space the appliance takes up (ours is larger than I was imagining when I ordered it and we store it on a shelf in the garage when not in use); the reality that most models can’t cook a large amount of food at one time; and the fact that they can produce uneven results, depending on what brand and size you purchase.
And even some avowed air fryer fans admit that the taste and texture of air-fried foods aren’t exactly like what you’d get with eight inches of oil and a metal basket—yet many are willing to make that small compromise for the benefits of relatively healthier eating and easier, less-messy cooking.
Presto Fry Daddy Electric Deep Fryer, $33.94 from Amazon
When the ultimate crunch is more important than health-consciousness, only true deep-frying will do.
You still can’t live on air-fried chicken alone (at least probably not for very long). But you can enjoy all your favorites a little more frequently and with fewer potential consequences—health and safety-wise—if you embrace the power of air frying.
I don’t regret buying mine (especially since it was on sale), and I’ve been pleased with the results (especially the lack of preheating required), but also don’t feel like I couldn’t live without it.
If you already have an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker, you can also buy a Mealthy CrispLid that will essentially turn it into an air fryer when you want to use that function. Read our executive editor’s Mealthy review for more info.
Air Fryer Recipes
Still on the fence? Check out some what it can do and see if that’ll sway you.
The Complete Air Fryer Cookbook” promises everything from mixed berry muffins to spicy beef stir-fry, and “Air Fry Everything: Foolproof Recipes for Fried Favorites and Easy Fresh Ideas” covers egg rolls, doughnut holes, and coconut shrimp, just for starters.“
Related Reading: 7 Air Fryer Cookbooks (Including Options for Vegans and Keto Eaters)
Here’s a handful of home-cooked examples of its abilities to ogle—and maybe try for yourself soon:
The air fryer promises to make crispy chicken wings easy and healthy, and you can coat them with all kinds of flavors, but this spicy-sweet honey-Sriracha sauce is especially appealing. Get the Air Fryer Sriracha-Honey Chicken Wings recipe.
You can make both this juicy steak and oil-free fries to go with it in the air fryer, though not at the same time (and not if you’re keto). Sub in air fryer sweet potato fries on the side if you prefer. Get the Air Fryer Coffee and Chili Rubbed Rib-Eye Steak and French Fries recipe.
Bring the state fair into your home kitchen and make fried pickles! (You can also make more universally appealing and reasonably healthy potato chips in the air fryer if you like.) These are coated in dill-parmesan breadcrumbs, so they’re really rather fancy, as frickles go. Get the Air Fryer Parmesan Dill Fried Pickle Chips recipe.
Yes, it does seafood too—beautiful air fryer fish and chips for sure, but you can think even further outside the Gorton’s box and make shrimp scampi, in only 8 minutes. Add some mashed cauliflower if you’re keeping keto, or serve it over pasta if not. Get the Keto Air Fryer Shrimp Scampi recipe.
Honestly, these could be reason alone to buy an air fryer: squiggles of crisp cinnamon-sugar-dusted dough, with an orange-accented dark chocolate dipping sauce to make you swoon. Get the Air Fried Churros with Chocolate Sauce recipe.
Want to make mini molten chocolate cakes without heating up your kitchen, and in only 20 minutes? With an air fryer, you can do it any time! Get the Air Fryer Air Baked Molten Chocolate Cake recipe.
Header image courtesy of Dash / Amazon