How Does An Air Fryer Work? Air Fryer Explained 

 Last Update April 22, 2024

By Jenny Zhang

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Kitchen trends come and go, but every now and then, a new appliance emerges that captures the imagination of home cooks everywhere. Just a few years back, the Instant Pot was the talk of the town. Nowadays, air fryers have taken center stage! Perhaps you've heard the buzz, seen them recommended on cooking websites, or noticed them listed as a cooking option on your go-to frozen snacks.

But how does an air fryer work? And most importantly, are they worth the investment, the kitchen real estate, and the hype? If you're looking for an "Air Fryer 101" to explain the ins and outs of this latest countertop appliance along with its pros and cons, read on!

How Do Air Fryers Work?

At its core, an air fryer and air fryer oven operates using rapid air technology known as the Maillard reaction. It has a heating element located above the food and a powerful fan that cooks by circulating hot air around the food at high speed. This setup creates a convection effect that cooks the food evenly and quickly, producing a crispy outer layer.

The Maillard reaction is a chemical process that occurs when protein-rich foods are exposed to heat. It creates the deliciously savory flavor and golden-brown color that we associate with perfectly cooked food.

Food in an air fryer is placed in a perforated basket, which allows the hot air to circulate freely, cooking the food evenly and producing a crispy layer similar to deep-frying but with much less oil. The Maillard reaction, a chemical process that occurs when proteins and sugars in food react to heat, helps to achieve the golden-brown color and savory flavor associated with frying.

Overcrowding the basket, rack, or plate of the air fryer should be avoided, as it can negatively impact the cooking process. If the air isn't allowed to circulate freely around the food, you'll wind up with food that never crisped up on the outside, allowing interior moisture to escape. In other words - dry food with a mushy exterior!

Air Frying Vs. Roasting

air fryer vs roasting

Roasting also uses hot air to cook food, typically at lower temperatures and over longer periods. This method is great for cooking through large cuts of meat or vegetables evenly. However, air frying accelerates this process, offering quicker cooking times and a crispier exterior, making it more suitable for smaller items or when a crunchy texture is desired.

Air Frying Vs. Grilling

air frying vs grilling

Grilling exposes food directly to heat, creating a distinct flavor and charred texture. While it can be a healthier cooking method by allowing fat to drip away, it doesn't always offer the same crispy texture as frying. Air Frying can achieve a similar level of browning and crispiness but without the charred flavor that comes from direct flame.

Air Fryer Vs. Deep Frying

air frying vs deep frying

Deep Frying involves submerging food in hot oil, which cooks the food quickly and creates a crispy exterior. However, this method can significantly increase the fat content of the food. Air Frying mimics the texture and taste of deep frying but with much less oil, resulting in lower fat and calorie content in the final dish.

What Are The Advantages Of Using An Air Fryer?

Healthier Options

Lobster tails in air fryer basket

Air fryers allow you to indulge in crispy fries and other deep-fried favorites with less oil than traditional deep-frying methods. This translates to several health benefits, including reduced fat intake, fewer calories, and lower levels of harmful acrylamide. With an air fryer, you can savor the crispy texture and delightful flavors of your preferred fried foods without compromising on a healthy and well-balanced diet.

Versatile Cooking Appliance

Air fryer as a multifaceted kitchen appliance

The best air fryers can cook various foods, including chicken wings, chicken nuggets, frozen french fries, vegetables, frozen foods, and even desserts. You can use an air fryer for fried foods, roasted vegetables, and heating up leftovers. Air fryers have greater versatility than a typical convection oven!

Faster And Quicker

Woman putting leftover chicken wings into an air fryer basket

Whether it is to cook a meal or reheat food, using an air fryer is quicker than heating up an entire oven or frying pan! Using an air fryer is a big perk for busy families on the go.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Using An Air Fryer?

Take Up Your Counter Space

Air fryer on a kitchen counter

The biggest disadvantage of air fryers is that they're yet another appliance. We all have limited counter space and storage space, so you'll need to ask yourself whether you'll use your air fryer enough to warrant it taking up a spot.

The capacity of air fryers is restricted or limited. Unless you have a particularly large model (some can cook whole chickens!), You'll likely use your air fryer to cook one or two food portions at a time.

No Battered Foods

Inability of an air fryer to cook wet battered food

There are some typical fried foods that you simply can't cook in an air fryer. Foods dipped in liquid batters, such as onion rings or fried fish, can not be used in air fryer baskets as the air fryer baskets are perforated to allow hot air to circulate.

Crispy But Not The Deep Fryer Kind

Leftover chicken pieces in an air fryer basket

Air fryer food is crisp enough that it can be just as satisfying as traditional deep-fried, but it may not be as crunchy or evenly golden brown.

Are Air Fryers Healthy?

Yes... and no.

Since air-fried foods aren't cooked in hot oil like deep frying, and the cooking method requires very little oil to no oil at all, they have significantly fewer calories. Compared to deep-fried foods, air fryer recipes offer a much healthier option.

Home cooks will also find that they'll use less oil when using air frying vegetables compared to using an oven to roast them. This reduces the fat and calorie content.

However, air-fried food is still not as healthy as some of the other cooking methods. Mozzarella sticks and chicken wings will never be "healthy," even if you air fry them.

Jenny passionately advocates a holistic and natural approach to health and well-being. She has a Bachelor of Science degree and years of working in food sciences, specializing in organic & natural products. She is committed to helping others embrace a balanced, natural lifestyle that fosters well-being. Jenny believes that a harmonious balance between nutrition, fitness, and mindfulness is the key to unlocking the full potential of one’s well-being.