As the temperature outside increases, our desire to heat up kitchens with oven cooking decreases. An air fryer may just be the answer to cooking in the heat of the summer. This trendy small appliance has been touted as a healthier option to deep-fat frying, but let’s take a different look at the little contraption.
How an Air Fryer Works
Air fryers don’t actually fry your food. The appliance is more like a counter-top mini convection oven than a fryer. Your food is placed in a basket or on a tray and the appliance cooks the food by blowing hot air around it. This convection effect browns and crisps the food as it cooks.
While air fryers are more convenient than your range oven or even a traditional fryer, their relatively small capacity may be the one downfall for a larger family. You may be relegated to cooking small batches of food at a time for the best results. That said, several fryers on the market now hold larger amounts; a 6-quart basket air fryer will handle enough for four servings of most foods.
There are a few distinctions in types of air fryers. The first to become popular included a basket with the unit’s heat source coming from the top of the appliance. Air fryer ovens include racks like a toaster oven and heat either comes from the back or top of the unit. These typically have a larger capacity and are good for big families. An air fryer toaster oven looks and acts like a toaster oven but has an air fry function on the appliance. Which one you select is largely a matter of personal preference and capacity.
What to Cook in Your Air Fryer
One thing an air fryer does exceedingly well is reheating fried food to its original crispy crunchy state. For most of us, that alone isn’t enough to justify owning one, however. Air fryers are great for frozen french fries, tots, and chicken nuggets, but many fresh foods can be successfully cooked in air fryers, too.
Foods that cook with dry heat - roasting and baking - are the best to replicate in your air fryer. Chicken, fish, beef, and many vegetables are ideal for air fryers. Vegetables that you generally roast or grill like Brussels sprouts, asparagus, or squash do well in an air fryer. Potatoes are another vegetable that can be cooked in a variety of ways in your air fryer from whole to cubed.
Chicken wings, albeit in small batches, are delicious when cooked in an air fryer then tossed in your favorite sauce. If you like hot dogs from the grill with casing that snap, try them in your air fryer, too (390°F for about 5 minutes).
Air Fryer Mistakes to Avoid
Use very little oil on the food you cook in your air fryer. A light toss of root vegetables in olive oil and seasoning is all you need to produce a delicious and crispy side dish. Fatty foods like chicken with the skin on really don’t need additional oil. Using cooking spray on the interior of the fry basket or on the racks is unnecessary and will damage the non-stick coating on these pieces.
Leave enough room in the basket or on the tray for air to circulate. A basket stuffed full of fries will result in a less than optimal final product. You may need to shake or flip food during the cooking process, but try not to be excessive in doing so. A peek at the half-way mark should be sufficient.
Using an air fryer isn’t quite as convenient as other appliances like your slow cooker. You have to keep an eye - and a nose - on the appliance while using it. The shorter cooking times can easily result in burned food if the temperature is too high or the cook time is too long.
All in all, this little machine that is full of hot air can be a summer-time kitchen savior. You can still have roasted vegetables, snappy hot dogs and a multitude of other foods without working in a kitchen that feels super heated from larger appliances.