Kitchen & Cooking

How does an air fryer work?

Oil-free frying, explained.

How does an air fryer work? Credit: Philips

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It's the eternal struggle: You want to trim the fat in your diet, but fries and bacon are just too good to pass up. The solution? You can either swear off your guilty pleasures entirely (in which case, we wish you the best of luck), or you can find a slightly more healthy option. The latter is where air fryers come in, and the reason they've been so popular in recent years.

Just imagine: A world where you can cook delicious, crispy french fries, fried chicken, and bacon at home, without needing a deep fryer. And forget struggling to get good results in a frying pan. This compact appliance has the heft of one much larger, and it gets the job done without taking up much kitchen real estate. We've reviewed all the best selling air fryers and have our recommendations, but people still have lots of questions.

What is an air fryer?

Air fryers are essentially compact convection ovens that live on your counter. They "fry" food with air, not oil, which is incredibly appealing to those of us looking for healthier alternatives to our favorite fried foods or anyone who's still struggling to master traditional frying techniques.

Since you’re using air instead of oil, the end result contains less fat than it would when cooked in a conventional deep fryer.

How does it work?

The convection fan circulates hot air through the fryer and heats food quickly, producing the crispy edges you love—without the oily hands you hate. Air fryers can reach high temperatures in a relatively short amount of time, making them a great option for weeknight meals. Plus, because they don’t require the use of large pots of oil, cleanup is a breeze.

Does an air fryer eliminate the oil entirely from the cooking process? Not for every recipe, but it does use significantly less than the alternative. For recipes that do call for oil, you’ll typically be using tablespoons instead of cups to achieve that perfect fry.

What foods can you make in an air fryer?

It depends on how creative you can get! Meats, vegetables, and even baked goods can work in your air fryer.

Some popular options include:

  • Vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, squash—essentially anything you would roast on a baking sheet
  • Meat dishes, such as breaded chicken, battered chicken, bacon, burgers and hot dogs
  • Frozen foods like chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks, onion rings and french fries
  • Baked goods such as donuts, fritters and funnel cake

Tips for using your air fryer

Krups Air Fryer
Credit: Krups

It takes a bit of practice to get great results in an air fryer.

Since air fryers are a relatively new appliance, many models simply aren't up to par in terms of performance. As such, you'll want to be sure you invest in a high-quality model to get the best results. Our guide to the Best Air Fryers will help you find a product that will fit your needs and perform well, no matter what you're cooking.

Additionally, here are some tips to lessen the learning curve with your air fryer.

1. Preheat before cooking

Your air fryer needs time to come to temperature before you use it, just like your oven or skillet. Even if your appliance says it doesn't need to preheat, you'll probably get better results if you let it warm up first. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long to preheat an air fryer—typically one to three minutes, as opposed to the eight or more needed when deep frying.

2. Don’t overcrowd it!

Just like conventional frying, overloading your air fryer will not produce the best results. Adding too much food to the air fryer may make your meal soggy or unevenly cooked. It may also increase the time needed for your food to fully cook.

3. Flip while frying

You may be frying with air, but you shouldn’t toss out everything you know about frying. You'll still need to bread items properly before dropping them in, and don’t forget to flip your food halfway through.

Further, don’t feel shy about peeking at your progress during the fry—this will help you get the results you're looking for, especially the first few times you use the appliance.

4. Clean well after use

Don’t skip this step! Food particles can get lodged in the nooks and crannies of your air fryer, building up over time and causing issues down the line. We recommend cleaning your appliance after each use. Allow the fryer to cool down after you use it, then follow the instructions from the manufacturer to clean it properly.