Move Over, Toaster
Move over toaster, stand mixer, toaster oven, crock pot, coffee maker, blender, and beverage carbonator.
Now I may need to make room for an air fryer in my kitchen, as this newer appliance is much discussed. As someone who cooks dinner for family six nights a week, and enjoys it, I see one giant challenge:
Because of minimal kitchen counter space, I am leery of small kitchen appliances.
Most of the ones I have are packed away on the highest shelf in my pantry and rarely used. So why do I have them – or the desire to add to this collection of never-see-the-light-of-day tools? In my experience everything can be done on the stove top or oven.
But people who have air fryers cannot stop saying good things, so I thought I would find out what benefits they offer.
Possibly Saving Time
An air fryer is similar to a convection oven, in that it uses a fan to circulate hot air, so it reduces cooking times. A 6-pound chicken in an air fryer will take 60-75 minutes, while roasting in a 425 degree F oven will take closer to 90 minutes. However, I don’t see how a 6-pound chicken is going to fit in the 2-5 quart basket of the standard air fryer.
Another example would be bacon. It takes 5-6 minutes in the air fryer according to many manufacturers' websites, versus 20-30 minutes in the oven. But it really comes down to how much you need. An entire pound of bacon can be cooked at once on a sheet pan in the oven so a total cook time of 25 minutes. Most air fryers will only fit 4-6 strips of bacon at a time so you will easily spend more than 25 minutes to cook an entire pound, when you consider panning, loading, unloading and other steps.
Possibly Avoiding Adding Heat to Home
I cannot argue that running the oven for hours on end does heat your house; which is actually a perk on these minus-20 winter days. But that perks is not as appealing in the middle of summer. An air fryer will not heat your home as dramatically as an oven. But they do make a significant amount of noise while running, because of their air-circulating fans.
Possibly Easier to Clean Up
I don’t think anyone can argue that the oven wins in this category. A sheet pan is pretty quick and easy to clean, and if you are anything like me on the very rare occasions you clean the actual oven (typically after my Thanksgiving fruit pie has bubbled over) it is with the self-clean feature. An air fryer on the other hand has to be cleaned between each use. Although some have dishwasher-safe baskets, for those that require or choose handwashing, you now have to deal with a small basket full of holes (to allow for air circulation) and crevasses.
Possibly Delicious Crispy Texture
At Avera Heart Hospital, I have many clients who say “But I use an air fryer!” and I typically respond by saying, “Yes, but are you using PRE-FRIED frozen products?”
If you are replacing a deep-fat frying appliance with an air fryer then, yes, you are reducing fat by a significant amount. But if you are reheating your bagged frozen fries in an air fryer instead of the oven, you may not have improved health quality at all.
When reading recipes for many air fryers, the manufacturer websites allude to “healthier options” such as chicken, vegetables and homemade fries. Yet they still call for oil, similar to the amounts used when roasting in the oven. So again the overall “health quality impact" is limited.
My tip: Use the roasting rack from the bottom of your oven. Set that on your pan and your food on it – it’ll allow your conventional oven to crisp a little better.
For me, instead of investing $50 to $200 for an air fryer that would only get used a little and only make our family of four’s food tiny bit crisper, I’ll stick with the oven. But if you’re cooking for just one or two people, want meals ready a little quicker and want to avoid a deep-fat frying mess – this new gadget might just be the perfect appliance for you.
Lauren Cornay, RD, LN, is a registered dietitian at Avera Heart Hospital. Get more insight on nutrition and health.