As someone who loves cooking but works long hours, bringing health-conscious and flavorful meals to the table on a daily basis can be, frankly, exhausting. And that's exactly why I'm intrigued by air fryers, the speedy, seemingly magic gadgets that promise to help you get crisp, crunchy food on the table without using a ton of oil.
Approved by cooking experts, air fryers can be healthier than traditional deep frying. They use less oil, which means less fat seeps into your food. But if you're only cooking the same super-processed meals like chicken fingers and fries in your new gadget, odds are much isn't going to change much about your diet. So what should you actually be making in your air fryer? We did the research and tested some recipes to find out.
What's the difference between frying, air frying, and baking?
Before you start air frying, it’s important to know your appliance and understand what sets it apart from other cooking methods. Hot-fat cooking, or deep frying, submerges foods in oil at a high temperature until the food surface turns golden brown. The intense flavor and crispy texture of these fried foods are a result of something called the Maillard reaction, which occurs when sugars react with amino acids.
Typically, the deep-frying method cooks food quickly, and the high rate of heat conduction in oil ensures all sides of the food are evenly cooked. However, these perfectly browned and crispy treats come at a cost. Research has shown browning in foods creates acrylamide, a product of Maillard reaction that may cause cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Air frying is much more like convection baking than frying. Like baking, it's an indirect cooking method—which is why it takes twice as much time to bake potatoes that it does to boil them.
Convection ovens solve this problem of inefficient heat transfer in baking by adding a fan that blows air rapidly around the oven. Air fryers work in a similar way, using a fan to aid in efficient heat transfer, thereby creating foods that taste deep-fried using primarily hot air.
Move over, French fries—vegetables are your air fryer's new best friend
Here's a thought—why not try crisping up vegetables in your air fryer? The gadget's high temperatures and convection technology can bring out the best in your veggies, crisping up the outsides while keeping the insides tender and fresh.
From working side-by-side with chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants, I learned the key to a successful meal is understanding the temperature required for each ingredient. With vegetables, for example, I’m a strong advocate of roasting them at different temperatures to avoid over-browning.
It requires a little bit more time, but the outcome is totally worth the effort. Tender vegetables, such as broccoli, bell peppers, and asparagus, require under 10 minutes of cook time. For firm vegetables, like beets and squash, more cook time is needed. In general, shaking or stirring the vegetables throughout cooking can ensure a better and more evenly-cooked result.
|Name||Type of oil||Temperature (°F)||Time|
|Brussels sprouts||Olive oil||425||15|
|Sweet potatoes||Coconut oil||430||15|
|Okra||Canola or coconut oil||360||6|
Want to start cooking veggies in your air fryer? Here are three simple recipes I developed in our kitchen at Reviewed that will get you started.
Total time: 21 min
Prep time: 15 min
Cook Time: 6 min
- 6 oz. okra
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup cornmeal
- ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Canola or coconut oil spray
- Preheat the air fryer to 360°F.
- Rinse the okra. Trim the heads, then chop them into ¼ inch thick pieces. Season with salt and pepper then set aside.
- Whisk the egg in a small bowl then set aside.
- Toss the okra in cornmeal, then egg, then the breadcrumbs.
- Spray the frying basket with canola or coconut oil.
- Lay the breaded okra flat in the frying basket, and fry for 6 minutes.
Total time: 15 min
Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 9 - 10 min
- 1 can chickpeas
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- Preheat the air fryer to 390°F.
- In a bowl, stir together chickpeas and other ingredients.
- Lay the chickpeas flat in the frying basket.
- Air fry for 8 to 10 minutes, until the chickpeas look golden.
Air-fried kale chips
Total time: 11 min
Prep time: 3 min
Cook time: 8 min
- Fresh kale, chopped
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
- Preheat the air fryer to 375°F.
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl.
- Lay the kale leaves flat in the frying basket
- Air fry for 8 minutes until kale leaves turn crispy
A few tips to keep in mind while you "fry"
- Preheat the air fryer before cooking. Since an air fryer is basically a compact convection oven, the preheating stage can help prevent food from over-cooking. In general, preheat at 375°F for three to five minutes, depending on the size of the fryer.
- Use baking powder if you are making wings. By coating the chicken wings in baking powder, the peptide bond in chicken skin will break down due to an increase in the pH level. This will allow the chicken skin to become crispy and brown.
- Lay all food as flat as possible. An overly-crowded frying basket can lead to unevenly fried foods and unwanted burns. To avoid this, make sure you divide the food and cook only small batches at a time. This is especially important if you’re heating frozen fries—the water can make them soggy!
- As we mentioned before, the frying of starchy food items will produce acrylamide. One common way to decrease the starch content is to blanch ingredients before cooking.
Eating "better" can mean a lot of things
Yes, air-fried foods are, in many ways, "healthier" than their deep-fried counterparts. But it's less about how you're preparing foods and more about what you're actually eating.
In terms of fat content, deep-fried frozen fries contain 17 grams of fat per serving, whereas air-fried ones contain an average of 5 grams of fat per serving. But when it comes to calorie count, a small serving of deep-fried French fries and its air-fried counterpart both have almost 230 calories. Therefore, it’s safe to say that air frying can decrease fat intake, but just switching to air-fried chicken, fries, and other highly-processed foods won't dramatically change your diet. Exploring fresh, vegetable-based recipes with your air fryer can really help you get the most out of it.
For most people trying to eat well, variety and balance is key. While an air fryer won't transform the way you eat, it can play a positive role in helping you adopt a healthier, fiber-rich that still has lots of flavor and crunch.