Air fryers have surged in popularity in recent years, and it’s easy to see why.
They’re versatile, easy to use, and promise deep-fried flavor without the oil.
But, like any product, they have downsides. They’re bulky, difficult to clean, and have limited cooking capacity.
In this article, you’ll get a comprehensive list of the pros and cons of air fryers.
I’ll explain each advantage and disadvantage in detail, so you can decide whether an air fryer is right for your kitchen.
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How Air Fryers Work
Before I get into the pros and cons of air fryers, it’s important to understand the basics of how they work.
Simply put, air fryers don’t actually fry food.
Actual frying involves immersing food in hot oil. The hot oil dehydrates the surface of the ingredients, and the Maillard reaction makes the food crispy and delicious.
Instead, air fryers mimic the effect of frying by blowing hot air on and around food.
Air fryer’s heating element is often an electric coil — much like the ones you’ll find on some electric stoves.
A fan sits just above the coil and blows air down onto the food. The hot air surrounds the food, making it crispy and golden.
If the process of cooking food by blowing hot air around an enclosed chamber sounds familiar, that’s because convection ovens work the same way.
In essence, air fryers are countertop convection ovens.
Why are air fryers so popular? Are they really a must-have kitchen appliance like the people endorsing them say?
Here are the top 10 benefits of air fryers, based on my personal experience testing several models and consumer feedback.
If you like crispy food but don’t want to be bothered with oil frying, air fryers deliver.
The convection-style heating surrounds food in a perforated basket or on a rack, increasing its contact with super-hot air on all sides.
As you can see below, air fryers are perfect for French fries, fish sticks, onion rings, and other traditional fried foods.
While you can get similar results from a standard convection oven, food won’t be as crisp because the sheet pan prevents the air from surrounding all sides evenly.
Also, perforated air fryer baskets allow oils to drip onto the pan, so the food absorbs less fat and becomes drier and crispier.
To prove this point, I cooked chicken wings from the same package using the same seasoning three different ways:
- Air fryer chicken wings
- Convection oven (directly on a sheet pan)
- Convection oven (on an oven rack so air could surround the wings)
Here’s a picture of the wings I cooked in the air fryer. As you can see, they came out crispy and golden brown with an even crust on all parts of the wing. They tasted similar to fried chicken wings you’d get at a restaurant.
Below is a picture of the wings cooked directly on a sheet pan in the convection oven. These wings were more charred on the parts of the skin touching the pan. Although they were delicious, some parts were crispier than others.
Lastly, here’s a picture of the chicken wings I cooked in the convection oven on a roasting rack.
The rack allowed air to circulate around the wings (similar to the effect inside the air fryer). Despite that, the skin was still more crispy in some areas than others.
There are two explanations for this result. First, the pan beneath the rack blocked some of the airflow. Second, the oven’s chamber is larger, so the hot air doesn’t circulate the wings as evenly or intensely as the air fryer.
It’s worth noting that Some convection ovens are adopting the air fry terminology, such as the Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro. Even a few conventional ovens, like the Frigidaire Gallery electric range, feature air fry settings.
You can cook delicious meals in an air fryer with little to no oil.
Even if you decide to use a little bit of oil, the amount you consume is negligible because it drips off the food while it cooks, collecting in the bottom of the basket. As a result, you’ll consume fewer calories from oil.
Plus, you get the added benefit of dodging carcinogens that deep-dried foods are linked to — specifically, acrylamide. The compound, which forms when high carbohydrate foods such as potatoes are deep-fried, is referred to as a probable human carcinogen by the Agency for Research on Cancer.
While research is ongoing, it’s believed that air fryers may help lower acrylamide levels that oil-based high-heat cooking can produce.
Compared to conventional ovens or toaster ovens, an air fryer preheats and cooks food in a fraction of the time.
Most air fryers can preheat to 400°F in five minutes or less. Gas ovens take up to 13 minutes to reach that same temperature, while electric ovens take between 17 and 19 minutes to hit 400°F.
Of course, preheating times may vary by model. Yet, most ovens don’t heat up as fast as an air fryer.
Air fryers not only preheat faster, but they also cook faster. That’s because the chamber in an air fryer is much smaller than a large oven, so the heating is more concentrated.
As a rule of thumb, you can convert most oven recipes to air fryer recipes by reducing the temperature by 25°F and cooking time by 20%. That said, you’ll need to reduce the temperature and cook time even more with some recipes.
Since it’s not an exact science, only use this rule of thumb if you can’t find a specific air fryer version of the recipe.
Traditional frying requires quite a bit of cleanup. You have to wash away oil splatter from surfaces surrounding your frying element or frying pan. Also, you must clean the fryer and properly dispose of the oil.
With little to no oil, splatter in an air fryer is minimal. Plus, you don’t need to dispose of leftover oil. Some air fryer baskets are made with PTFE non-stick coating or a ceramic non-stick coating to aid in easier cleanup.
How to clean an air fryer:
- Fill a sink with hot water and dish soap.
- Remove the basket and air fryer pan insert.
- Soak them in soapy water for at least 10 minutes to dislodge oil and food scraps.
- After soaking, use a non-abrasive sponge or cloth to wash the basket and air fryer pan and allow it to air dry.
- Use a damp, non-abrasive cloth to wipe down the inside part that holds the pan and the outside of the air fryer.
- Use a soft, dry cloth to wipe the heating element of the air fryer if any food is stuck. Avoid steel-bristle brushes or anything abrasive.
- When all parts are fully dry, put the basket and air fryer pan back into place.
Even if your air fryer parts are dishwasher safe, I recommend hand washing for greater longevity.
An air fryer is a plug-and-play appliance. Some use a manual dial for temperature control, while others provide digital displays.
For the most part, all you need to know are the temperatures and cook times for what you intend to create.
Most air fryers come with guides or recipe books to help you get started. You’ll get the best results when referring to your specific model’s instruction manual.
I’ve noticed the cook times, and temperatures within many recipes online are wrong, likely since each air fryer model is different. So, you may need to experiment to get a feel for yours. I burnt a few meals in the process of testing several air fryers.
When using your air fryer, always:
- Use it on a level, heat-safe surface, away from other appliances.
- Keep it away from water to avoid electrical shock.
- Preheat it for five minutes before adding food.
- Use a spray bottle to disperse your oil for a more even coating and cooking.
- Leave space around food for even cooking, or cook in a single layer.
- Shake the basket a few times throughout the cooking process, or turn foods over to ensure equal exposure to the heated air.
- Clean your air fryer after each use.
These tips will add to the longevity of your air fryer and improve the cooking experience.
Traditional frying uses several cups of oil and poses a risk of injury if the hot oil pops and gets on your clothes or skin. Since the use of oil is minimal with air frying and the cooking occurs in an enclosed chamber, it’s a safer option than traditional frying.
However, keep in mind that the contents inside the air fryer still get hot. Be careful to use oven mitts or heat-safe gloves when opening an air fryer during the cooking process.
Also, sometimes the basket can get jammed. Be careful not to pull the fryer off your counter when you’re trying to remove the basket.
Reheating crispy foods is another handy feature of an air fryer. Foods like french fries, fried chicken, small pizza slices, and battered fish can get soggy when reheated in a microwave. An air fryer reactivates the oils in these foods and helps restore crispness.
Even steak and glazed fish reheat well in an air fryer, giving you a broiler effect without turning on the oven.
Just be sure not to overcook the foods, or they’ll dry out or burn. It is best to preheat the air fryer, start with a few minutes, and constantly check the food as you reheat it.
After a while, you’ll know exactly how long it takes to reheat your favorite foods using your air fryer.
You can cook so many different foods in an air fryer: meats, seafood, and vegetables are just the beginning.
Add accessories designed to fit air fryers like cake pans, racks, pizza pans, and silicone mats to make various recipes from deep-dish pizza to a mini pound cake.
With an air fryer, you can make appetizers, side dishes, main courses, and desserts.
Here are a few examples of what you can cook in an air fryer:
- Toasted, prepared ravioli
- Roasted pumpkin seeds
- Egg rolls
- French fries
- Frozen, breaded, or battered foods
- Lava cakes
- Homemade chips
- Hard-cooked eggs
- Brussels sprouts
- Turkey bacon
- Chicken breasts or parts
Some foods aren’t well-suited for air frying, like anything with a wet batter. Lightweight food like greens or spinach as the forced air will blow them around inside the machine (more on this when I cover the cons of air fryers).
When using a traditional deep fryer, some cooks reuse the oil a few times before discarding it. But that oil can give off an odor from repeated use.
Air fryers don’t recycle oil, so all you will smell is the food. If you keep the appliance clean, you won’t experience lingering food odors.
As with any kitchen appliance, air fryers come with several cons, and they’re not for everyone.
In this section, you’ll get a complete breakdown of the downsides of air fryers.
Cooking with an air fryer doesn’t always equate to a healthy meal. Using oil and a breading or coating to air fry chicken or fish is not as healthy as steaming, grilling, or broiling those foods.
There is also cookware (like 360 Cookware) that uses vapor cooking to provide healthy, nutrient-rich meals.
It all boils down to how you use the air fryer and what food you create. French fries, onion rings, and chicken nuggets are a less healthy choice than air frying marinated chicken breasts or lightly seasoned Brussels sprouts.
Air fryers, even small 4-quart models, can take up significant counter space. They tend to be tall and may not always fit neatly under cabinets on your countertop.
If you decide to leave it out on your countertop, keep in mind that the air fryer must have ample space around it when it is in use. An enclosed space could cause it to overheat, and flammable items nearby could potentially start a fire.
The back and top of the unit can get extremely hot, so never operate it under cabinets or against a wall in your kitchen.
Most air fryers have a vent in the back, so make sure the unit is pulled at least a foot away from the wall when in use. Hot air blowing directly against the wall or electrical outlet is extremely dangerous.
Check out the dimensions of some popular air fryer models to get an idea of their footprint:
|Air Fryer||Dimensions (L x W x H)|
|PowerXL 5-Quart||15 x 12 x 13 inches|
|Ninja 4-Quart||8.5 x 12.1 x 11 inches|
|Ninja 5.5-Quart||14 x 11 x 14.75 inches|
|Instant Vortex 6-Quart||14.9 X 11.8 X 13 inches|
|Instant Pot Duo 8-Quart||14.76 x 13.58 x 15.28 inches|
|Instant Vortex 10-Quart||13.23 x 13.23 x 14.37 inches|
The bulky design may also make storing an air fryer challenging. If you don’t have a pantry or enough room in cabinets to store it away, you might have to leave it on your counter. That means you’ll have to move it around when you are cleaning up or preparing a meal which could quickly get tedious.
If you have a large family or are preparing a meal for a dinner party, the limited cooking capacity will slow down your progress. You’ll have to consider cooking in rounds, but you might also have to clean the air fryer as you go, depending on what you are making.
For example, if you are making chicken wings with a teriyaki glaze, at some point, you will need to clean the basket and air fry pan, or the glaze will get smoky and burn.
The basket of this 5-quart PowerXL air fryer has a 9-inch diameter, which is about the size of a 10-inch frying pan (the cooking surface is smaller than the pan’s advertised size).
You can stack foods like French fries and chicken nuggets, but you can’t stack most meat and vegetables, which limits the cooking capacity.
The following table shows popular air fryer capacities and how many servings you can expect per air frying session. The servings are based on main dish items like herbed chicken breast, not side dishes or appetizers.
|Air Fryer Capacity||Servings|
While you cook just about anything on a stove or in an oven, the air fryer has limitations.
Here is a brief list of foods you should never cook in an air fryer and why:
- Wet-battered foods: The forced air will blow the batter off and cause a mess.
- Whole chickens and roasts: Large items like whole chickens and bone-in roasts tend to cook unevenly.
- Pork bacon: Like wet-battered foods, the bacon grease will fly around the interior. It can burn on the heating element and cause a big mess.
- Cheese: Because the heating element is so close, it will melt quickly and liquefy instead of making a crispy exterior like an oven can produce.
- Raw grains: Raw rice, farro, and other grains (pasta, too) do not cook evenly; they are better suited to stovetop cooking or appliances like rice cookers or Instant Pots.
- Leafy greens: They are lightweight and will fly around the air fryer. As a result, you’ll get uneven cooking.
- Broccoli: It dries out and tastes like cardboard.
- Toast: It blows around and spreads crumbs all over the inside.
- Popcorn: Air fryers don’t get hot enough to pop the kernels.
As you learn to use your air fryer, you’ll find that some foods require cooking by trial and error. There aren’t always guides on how to cook traditional recipes in an air fryer.
Expect to throw away some burnt, overcooked, or dried-out foods.
While air fryers are easier to clean than deep fryers, they take longer to clean than a pan in the oven.
An air fryer requires you to clean the air fryer basket, pan, heating element, and exterior. It takes several steps (as mentioned earlier). With oven cooking, you only have to wash the pan and maybe a lid.
Since air fryers use forced air, they can be loud. In fact, some can reach up to 65 decibels. To put that in perspective, the sound from an average vacuum cleaner or handheld hairdryer is about 70 decibels.
To find a quieter air fryer, be sure to read reviews, check product specifications, or contact customer service to learn about decibel ratings.
Since air fryers are smaller than ovens and heat up faster, most people believe they save energy (and money).
While that can be true, consider this.
Air fryers continuously heat and circulate air until the food is ready. The heating element and fan expend energy throughout the entire cooking process.
In contrast, convection ovens limit the power flow and go into maintenance mode when the desired temperature is reached. When the thermometer detects the temperature is dropping, the heat and fan turn on.
That said, air fryers don’t use much energy compared to other appliances in your home, especially since they’re only on for short periods each day.
Most models use between 1.4 kWh and 1.7 kWh per hour of use. Depending on electricity prices in your area, air fryers cost between 18 and 25 cents per hour to run.
The point is, don’t buy an air fryer because you think it’ll save energy and money. Energy usage varies by model, but you won’t see a significant change in your electricity bill in most cases (despite what air fryer manufacturers claim in their advertising).
Basic air fryers can cost as low as $50, but some are well over $1,000. On average, they range from $75 to $150. In short, most models are an investment if you are on a tight budget.
To see actual prices of popular air fryer models, please refer to the following chart:
Now that you know the pros and cons of air fryers, it’s time to decide whether it’s an appliance you want in your kitchen.
The upsides are plenty.
An air fryer is easy to use, cooks and heats fast, and can mimic crispy food without using a deep fryer. Plus, they are easier to clean than deep fryers and safer to use.
You can reheat crispy foods quickly and make healthier meals using less oil. And since there is no need to recycle oil (like with a deep fryer), you won’t experience lingering odors when you cook.
Yet, there are downsides to consider.
Just because you use an air fryer, it does not mean the meal is automatically healthy. Besides this, you are limited to what you can cook. Cooking times and temperatures can vary, so you’ll have to endure a learning curve and might waste a lot of food before you get the hang of it.
It takes more time to clean an air fryer than cooking in an oven.
Finally, air fryers can be expensive, bulky, difficult to store, noisy, and they offer limited cooking capacity.
Bottom line — air fryers have been trending for years, but they are only worth the buzz if they fit your lifestyle. If you have a large family, it’ll take too long to make a meal to satisfy a crowd. But for couples or people looking for ways to cook quick meals with less oil, it could be the perfect kitchen upgrade.
My advice? Air fryers are not necessary for most kitchens. Instead, consider a convection toaster (like this one on Amazon). You get all the benefits of an air fryer, but there’s no limit to the foods you can cook, it cooks more food at once, and it’s easier to clean.
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