How Does an Air Fryer Work?
You may own one, if not you probably want one. Either way, it’s good to know about your air fryer and how they work. The satiable taste and crunch of air fried foods is undeniable. Between healthier alternatives of deep-fried classics like fried chicken or fish and chips, to the sweetness of desserts like cookies and cake, it’s not surprising why air fryers are appearing in many homes’ kitchens.
What is an air fryer and how does it work? It’s like a mini convection oven but different. Although air fryers can cook a variety of foods in an assortment of ways, they’re predominantly known for how close they get to replicating deep fried foods like fried chicken and French fries but use air instead of oil to cook it. Hence the name “air fryer”.
Over the last decade, the air fryer has been a top selling countertop kitchen appliance. With reduced cooking times whether you’re cooking frozen food or a whole chicken, this kitchen gadget will rival any toaster oven and even a conventional oven in many ways. Plus it’s a much healthier option needing less oil or only a tiny amount of oil.
The components of an air fryer
How do you work an air fryer? Let’s look at its different parts for insight.
- Inner Basket – This is where the food goes. Usually with holes to allow air flow and is sometimes replaceable with other cooking trays (depending on the machine).
- Outer Basket – This is a solid, leak proof tray to catch all juices, liquids, and fats that drip from the inner basket. (The inner and outer baskets are usually dishwasher safe too!)
- Heating Element System – The part of the machine that produces the hot air needed to cook food, usually in the upper rear of the machine.
- Fan – A crucial component to air frying. This is what circulates the heat produced by the system into the cooking chamber. This also allows for a rapid preheat and reach high temperatures fast.
- Controls – Typically a control function via an LED display with buttons, but many air fryers use knobs and regular buttons too.
- Alternative cooking parts – Many air fryers will come with alternative parts that replaces the inner basket for other forms cooking such as a pan for baking pizza or cookies, a rotisserie for chicken, even a BBQ rack with skewers.
How do air fryers work?
How does the air fryer work? The fan creates heated air by suctioning heat from the heating system and blowing it into the cooking chamber. The fan keeps that heated air circulated perfectly for a precisely even temperature. The food in the cooking chamber is in a basket with holes that allow that circulating heated air to evenly surround the food for a flawless cook. This is why it is not necessary to flip food when cooking in an air fryer. Any extra juices or fats fall into the outer basket which allows for a quick and easy cleanup.
Air fryers also can work like many other small appliances you’re used to. Some of the bigger air fryers will even combo other cooking features like toasting or servicing as an instant pot. The most popular combination you will find is the air fryer toaster oven combo.
Air frying vs deep frying
The convenience of an air fryer and the healthy alternative to deep frying are what makes air fryers iconic. Air fryers will give your food a crispy exterior with a juicy tender inside just as a deep fryer would. The difference is the unhealthy aspects of deep-fried foods.
The first distinction between the two is that you don’t need oil to air fry food, but you need oil to deep fry. How does an air fryer work without oil? The answer is in the heating. Deep fryers rely on the oils smoke point to raise the temperature to a certain level and will then cause a molecular reaction to the food giving it that nice crunchy texture. Air fryers don’t depend on oil to heat, rather it is the circulated air combined with the size of chamber and crisper basket that cooks the food, giving it a nicely crispy shell and tender core just like you get with deep fryers. Essentially, this means your cutting away 60-80% of calories when using an air fryer vs a deep fryer.
There is another significantly unhealthy element when consuming deep fried foods too often. Most oils used by restaurants for their deep fryers are cheaper oils and often reused for an entire week. Without going into the science too deeply, the NIH and FDA explain how air fryers reduce the amount of acrylamide, a known carcinogenic found in deep fried foods, by up to 90%. That is magnificent if you like fried foods but enjoy living healthy.
All in all, air fryers will satisfy the craving for your favorite fried foods as you can now get the amazing benefits of tasty air fried foods without the need for a messy, expensive, and unhealthy deep fryers.
What can you make in an air fryer?
You can virtually cook anything in an air fryer that you could in an oven. There are thousands of air fryer recipes available for just about every type of dish and food. With all that can be cooked in an air fryer, the question should be, what can’t you make in an air fryer? The answer to that is heavy liquids and sauces. This is the only thing you should avoid using in your air fryer as too much liquid can cause burning or can get into the components and damage the machine.
If you choose to add oil, only use a little oil. The best and healthiest cooking oils to use are olive, coconut, and avocado oil. These are healthy and provide good nutrients as well as offering a good smoking point. Oils are not necessary with an air fryer but the hot oil can add a little extra crunchiness if you desire.
Making your favorite foods in an air fryer is simple, doesn’t require much preparation, and tastes delicious. Here are some of my best food choices for cooking in an air fryer.
Frozen foods are the easiest, only requiring space the food inside the basket and turn on the machine with the correct temperature and timer settings and you’re done.
- Chicken tenders, chicken Nuggets, pizza rolls, bagel bites, mozzarella sticks, frozen onion rings, fish sticks, tater tots, taquitos, and egg rolls – These go to frozen foods needs no preparation, from the freezer to the air fryer, to your plate in 10 to 20 minutes
- Frozen French fries – needs no preparation, you can add a small spray of oil if you choose
- Frozen Veggies - you will get perfectly cooked veggies every time
- Sweet potato fries – needs no preparation, these tend to get soggy or burnt in an oven, cooking them in an air fryer is way better
- Hot Pockets – forget the microwave, these are amazing from the air fryer
Meats, Fish and Poultry
It may surprise you how well an air fryer will cook your chicken, fish, and steak. Air fryer will get you that golden crusty seared shell without overcooking, leaving the inside juicy and tender that will melt in your mouth. You should prepare steaks, chicken, and fish in an air fryer as you would any other time, the difference is, you don’t need to monitor it or flip it over while its cooking. For delicate dishes like fish that can fall apart easily, I recommend cooking on top of a small piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper inside of the basket. This will help you retrieve the food intact without falling apart, while keeping some of the extra juices close by for added flavor. You should make sure not to block any of the basket holes with the foil or paper or will restrict the air flow which is needed to cook the food evenly.
- Chicken – season as desired, cook as intended, there are many air fryer recipes to cook chicken, whether its baked or fried, the results are delicious.
- Chicken breast – enjoy this healthy white meat in all the classic method
- Chicken wings – from BBQ to fried, a fan favorite for many occasions
- Chicken thighs – I will usually cook these with the legs fried
- Chicken drumsticks – no commentary necessary for these delectable chicken legs
- Salmon – season as desired, can add small amount of sauce for marinade
- Tilapia – this is a fragile fish, use foil or parchment paper
- Tuna – make it as a steak or craft into tuna patties
- Scallops – quick and easy cooking with the perfect texture
- Shrimp – easy to cook in 15 minutes
- Hot dogs – these will taste more like they were grilled than the rubbery texture hot dogs can get from an oven
- Corn dogs – these require a bit of preparation but are fun and delicious
- Steak – season and marinate as desired, steak is easy to make in an air fryer and wont require much attention while cooking
- Burgers – fresh or frozen, air fryers cook burgers to perfection
- Meatballs – there are several juicy meatball recipes that will knock taste buds into next week
- Pork chops – air fryers can make any type of mouthwatering chops easily
- Tofu – make sure to marinate and season these prior to cooking, the longer the better
Air fryers can cook your vegetables easily, and conveniently without sacrificing texture or moisture. No longer will you need to pull out extra cookware just to make sides for your main course.
- Asparagus, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, zucchini, okra and pickles are all very easy to make using an air fryer and can even be prepared for frying or use tempura
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes are simple to make in any style from baked potatoes, to roasted potatoes, to chips and fries
Breakfast & Baking
Not only can you make every meal of the day in an air fryer, but you can bake amazing, tasty treats too.
- Eggs – fry your eggs with ease, or make hard boiled eggs, it doesn’t matter what you choose, the air fryer will get the job done
- Sausages – makes them effortlessly and to perfection
- Bacon – slightly easier than in a pan, but because of the fat and liquid retention of the bacon, I would flip these midway and still set on a plate lined with paper towel to absorb unwanted grease
- Hash browns – frozen or from scratch
- Cake & cookies – from cinnamon buns and biscuits to lava cake and cookies, you will be shocked how well they turn out
With the advancement of many innovative technologies, the best air fryers have combo cooking methods so your food cooks exactly as you like it. Home cooks won’t need to clutter counter space with a bunch of small appliances that only cook one thing. The air fryer is the perfect countertop appliance for home chefs.