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A Case for Buying an Air Fryer (and What You Need To Make the Most of It)

Written by a former air-frying skeptic.

Published June 29, 2022.

If you’re like me, you approach the purchase of any new kitchen appliance with a heavy amount of skepticism. And for good reason! Kitchen space in most homes is at a premium, so if you’re considering adding to your collection, you want to be sure it’s worthwhile.

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My skepticism was tested a few months ago as we began work on Air Fryer Perfection, our cookbook devoted to air frying. If you haven’t noticed, air fryers have taken over store shelves and TV commercials, with a seemingly endless stream of new models. I suppose their rise is understandable given their promise of convenient, healthier foods, but I still wasn’t convinced this was an appliance that I should take seriously. (By the way, despite the clever name, an air fryer is not a fryer at all. It’s more like a mini convection oven that cooks food placed in a basket by circulating hot air around it with a fan. Just saying.)

Turns out I was pleasantly surprised. The more our team tested, the more we found ourselves liking the air fryer. Rosy steaks, juicy chicken, and vibrant vegetables all emerged from the basket and were quickly devoured. Each successful recipe inevitably ended with “I can’t believe we made that in an air fryer!” The best part was the ease: There was no splattering, and the device could mostly be left alone. In fact, I went from air fryer skeptic to air fryer advocate, even hosting a Facebook Live all about air frying with my books team colleague Steph Pixley.

75 Air Fryer Recipes

Air Fryer Perfection

This is the air fryer book for real cooks. We show you how to cook the foods you love—from simple sides to full meals—more conveniently, while delivering fantastic flavor.  

The air fryer isn’t magic, though. Getting great results involves more than simply closing the basket and turning it on. Like all equipment, it benefits from a few essential techniques and kitchen tools. For example, we found it essential to avoid overfilling the air fryer. Air fryers work by circulating hot air around food, but if the food was packed too tightly it steamed instead of browned.

To encourage browning even more, we also found helpful to pat the food dry and then toss it with a little bit of oil. A dry surface browns more quickly than a wet one, since moisture on the surface will steam. A high-quality paper towel such as our winning paper towels by Bounty was great for this task. And while cooking without any oil may sound appealing, it is important for promoting browning and can help food crisp up. In many recipes we found that adding even a small amount of oil gave great results.

Rotating our ingredients partway through cooking was also key to uniform cooking. We liked our top-rated 12-inch tongs by OXO Good Grips for this purpose because their scalloped pincers offered a precise grip in the tight spaces of the basket. We also got more even browning when we tossed vegetables halfway through cooking them. For smaller cuts, such as fries, tossing them in a separate bowl proved to be more efficient; it also allowed us to add seasonings such as grated cheese partway through cooking. You should have a sturdy kitchen-bowl set no matter what type of cooking you are doing; consider the 6-Piece Nesting Prep Bowl Set by Anchor Hocking if you are in the market.

ATK's Favorite

Instant Vortex Plus 6-Quart Air Fryer

Our new favorite air fryer can fit enough food for four people, has an easy-to-use basket that slides into the appliance like a drawer, and features intuitive digital controls.  
Buy on Amazon
ATK's Best Buy

GoWISE USA 3.7-Quart 7-in-1 Air Fryer

Once we got the hang of this fryer's buttons, we found that it cooked foods quickly and crisply, and its display was bright, large, and easy to read.  
Buy on Amazon

So while it took me months of tasting the best food an air fryer can make to come around to this countertop cooker, many home cooks are already massive fans. If you’re looking to see what all the fuss is about, ask yourself how often you plan to use it. Our winning model—the Instant Vortex Plus 6-Quart Air Fryer—costs about $130, but we never had an issue with its functionality through the hundreds of tests we performed. That sort of reliability, in my mind, is well worth the investment. If you are intrigued by cooking in an air fryer, but hesitant to spend over $100, our Best Buy model by GoWise USA retails for around $65. While this air fryer’s digital controls weren’t quite as intuitive as those of our favorite model, it was still easy to set the time and temperature once we got the hang of the multiple buttons. And most importantly, it cooked quickly and reliably.

If there's one thing we learned after testing 14 popular air fryers and developing the recipes in Air Fryer Perfection, it's that the air fryer you use really makes a difference. So don't let a subpar model get in the way of what might be your favorite new small appliance.

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