How Does an Air Fryer Work? (With Video)

Are you skeptical about Air Fryers? — What is it? How does an air fryer work? Is it healthy? 

(Don’t worry, you’re not alone.)

In this article, we’ll clear your doubts. Better yet? We’ll shed light on the good, the bad, and the ugly of Air Fryers.

So, if you don’t want to miss out on the hype and unearth the mysteries of an Air Fryer, keep reading.

Let’s dive right in! 

how does an air fryer work
Chicken wings in the air fryer

What is an Air Fryer?

An Air Fryer is a mini convection oven that uses hot air to cook food quickly. With little to no oil, it can easily make fried foods such as fries, chicken, fish, pork, etc. Generally, there are 4 types of Air Fryers: basket-drawer, toaster ovens, indoor grills, and pressure cookers.

In a nutshell: 

It’s a miniaturized convection oven combined with the convenience of a deep fryer basket.

Here’s the deal:

The concept of air frying has been around for a long time (according to NewAir). However, it was not until 2010 that Philips introduced the first Air Fryer

In fact, modern air fryers only reached their peak popularity last January 2021. It’s better to be late than never. I think the airfryer will stay an integral appliance in our kitchens.

Air Fryer Google Trends 1
Source: Google Trends

This article isn’t about the Air Fryer’s history, so let’s continue…

How does an Air Fryer work?

An Air Fryer works by circulating hot air in a closed environment — it’s convection. First, the heating element, usually on top, heats the air to approximately 350ºF – 400ºF (176ºC – 204ºC). Meanwhile, the robust fan rapidly blows the heated air around the basket to cook food evenly, resulting in a crunchy goodness similar to a deep-fried version. 

The cooking process starts with dehydrating the outermost layer, giving your food crispy quality. Simultaneously, a maillard reaction occurs (among other things), igniting the mouthwatering aromas and explosive flavors we all love! 

Furthermore, the outer basket (or drip tray) catches excess fat from food. The powerful fan also aids with this part, making it more efficient than a regular convection oven. 

KCSCookingSystems has a handy animation on how Air Frying Machines work:

Just so you know, some of the statements mentioned in the video have some limitations:

“Even when it’s piled up…” 

You can certainly stack up fries (not too much). However, that statement doesn’t apply to denser food like beef, chicken, etc. To get the best results, lay these types of food flat, DO NOT stack them; otherwise, they won’t cook evenly.

More importantly, there should be space between food to ensure that the hot air will still circulate underneath.

“Eliminates the need to turn the food during the cooking process…”

That statement needs to be more accurate based on hundreds of recipes I cooked in the air fryer. So far, I’ve only seen one air fryer that can skip the need to turn. Think about it, other than the hot air, there’s still thermal radiation from the heating element. In short, the fries on top (or near the heating element) will cook faster. 

Hence, it’s highly recommended to flip or shake your food halfway.

Here’s more:

By definition, air frying isn’t frying. The most accurate term is convection baking. An Air Fryer is a convection oven with a catchy name. Kudos to the genius mind who came up with the title!

You can also watch MinuteFood’s more scientific answer to how does an air fryer work:

Are Air-Fried Foods Healthy?

Air Fryers are healthy since they use less oil than deep fryers. Thus, air-fried foods will have fewer calories (~75% lower as brands claim) which can help with a weight loss journey. Enjoy the all-time favorite fried foods minus the guilt.

But wait, let me tell you something crucial

It doesn’t mean all the food from an Air Frying Machine is healthy. Other factors also play a role, such as preparation and the recipe or food itself.

In short, Air Fryers are NOT a magical device that instantly makes your food “healthy.” 

Still, an Air Fryer that produces lower-calorie foods than a deep fryer is a significant win! 

How to use an Air Fryer?

  1. First and foremost, read the manual.

It may seem rudimentary, but I bet only some read the manual (guilty here). Doing so lets you quickly learn how to seamlessly operate the machine, especially if it has features you’ve never encountered.

  1. Is it your first time using it? Clean everything thoroughly. 

You must also run the cooking cycle (max temperature for ~20 minutes) once or twice. This’ll remove any plastic-y smell, albeit it primarily depends on the air fryer’s quality. 

For instance, the smell of some air fryers lingered even after following all the instructions. It’s likely due to poor-quality materials, so you should be wary of the suspiciously cheap ones.

  1. Try recipes made for your air fryer.

Since most of us learn by doing, this is a vital step. By trying specific recipes tailored to your air fryer model, you’ll quickly learn the ins and outs of your device.

Luckily, if you bought your machine from a reputable brand, they always include a recipe book. 

An oversimplified process for using an Air Fryer:

  1. Place the ingredients in the basket;
  2. Set the time and temperature (or use an automatic program if your air fryer has one);
  3. Start the cooking process;
  4. Shake or flip halfway through;
  5. Wait for it to finish cooking; and
  6. Serve and enjoy!

You can also try our FREE air fryer recipes.

Important: ONLY use silicone or plastic utensils with your air fryer. Using metal ones will undoubtedly damage the non-stick coating of the air fryer basket. 

  1. Have fun with your new air fryer!

Cook different air fryer recipes as your heart desires.

What can you cook in an Air Fryer?

You can cook almost anything in an Air Fryer — and that’s not even an exaggeration. 

The only thing you can’t place in an Air Fryer is liquid recipes like soup. Although it’s possible with select variants such as a toaster oven or pressure cooker airfryer. 

Here are just some examples of what you can cook in the air fryer:

Air fried Korean chicken wings served with celery sticks, a bowl of rice and kimchi.
Korean Fried Chicken Wings
Parmesan Brussels Sprouts Air Fryer recipe served in a grey bowl.
Parmesan Brussels Sprouts
Air fried Spam Musubi served on a black slate
Spam Musubi
4 layers of air fryer s'mores
S’mores
Roasting bacon wrapped asparagus in air fryer
Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus
Air fryer lemon butter salmon served with lemon slices on top and roasted asparagus on the side
Lemon Butter Salmon

In fact, it can also reheat and dehydrate. As you must know, reheating fried foods in an Air Fryer is superior to a microwave. By doing so, your food still retains that lovely, crispy texture.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

These are the pros and cons of an air fryer.

Pros

  • More budget-friendly*
  • Convenient
  • A healthier alternative to deep frying
  • Faster cooking (or quick to no preheating) versus a regular oven
  • If you get a compact air fryer, it’s more space-saving than countertop ovens
  • Saves more energy than a full-sized oven
  • Won’t heat up your kitchen
  • Less mess and easier to clean
  • Multifunctional
  • An excellent option for reheating fried foods
  • Safer (no splattering hot oil)

Cons

  • Some are expensive*
  • Still tastes different from a deep-fried version
  • Slower than a deep fryer
  • If you don’t plan on replacing a device, an extra appliance means more space
  • Can be loud

*Just to clarify a contradiction:

The budget-friendly advantage refers to using oil compared to deep frying and less energy consumption than the full-sized oven. On the other hand, some are expensive applies to the price of the Air Fryer’s cost itself.

Should you get an Air Fryer?

Given that most of the claims are true, consider adding an Air Fryer to your kitchen lineup. The benefits far outweigh the disadvantages; you can never lose with that in mind.

Hence, air fryers should be a staple device in the kitchen, and they’re 100% worth it.

Think about it, leftover foods are inevitable. While microwaves can reheat leftovers, crispy ones always turn out soggy. With an air fryer, you can enjoy crunchy leftovers as if they’re fresh! 

Who wouldn’t want that?

With all that being said…

Here are the best air fryers you MUST consider:

PictureAir Fryer NameLink
Instant Vortex Plus Air Fryer Instant Vortex PlusClick here to get on Amazon →
Ninja AF101 Air Fryer Ninja AF101Click here to get on Amazon →
Cosori DualBlaze Air Fryer Cosori Dual-Blaze Air FryerClick here to get on Amazon →
Shortlist of the best air fryers

FAQs

What is the disadvantage of an air fryer?

The main disadvantage of an air fryer is its inferior taste compared to deep-fried foods. While it is a viable option for healthy cooking, it uses a distinct cooking technique, leading to disparate outcomes. Of course, air-fried foods still taste good, just different. Check the cons for more disadvantages.

What is the most popular thing to make in an air fryer?

The most popular thing to make in an air fryer is french fries. Frozen fries, to be more specific. It makes sense, too, since it uses less oil than deep frying. Not to mention, it’s faster than cooking fries in the oven.

What is the best first thing to cook in an air fryer?

The best first thing to cook in an air fryer is chicken wings. You’ll immediately notice how convenient air fryers are by cooking chicken wings first. That’s compared to baking or deep frying chicken wings. Other recipes to cook first would be bacon, burger, fries, and salmon.

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