Since I first heard about air fryers, I've frequently wondered if I should get one for myself. Like many, I'm a fan of fried food, and I'm always looking for fun and useful kitchen tools to add to my collection. But as often as I've thought about investing in an air fryer, I've also questioned whether it's worth purchasing at all. After all, I've never personally tried food from an air fryer, so I have no way of knowing whether or not it actually makes uncanny "fried" food, or if that's all just a bunch of hype.
I could definitely see an air fryer being a worthwhile purchase if the claims were in fact true. Making authentic fried food at home is virtually impossible without a deep-fryer, a piece of machinery that's hard to set up, harder to clean, and a massive space hog. Not to mention, just one deep-frying session can leave your place smelling and feeling as greasy as fast food kitchen—I'm speaking from experience.
So instead of continuing to wonder, I asked experts with prior air fryer-cooking experience for their honest opinion of the tool. I also asked a registered dietitian if the air-fried food is as healthy as it claims to be. Whatever your reservations may be, their answers may be just the convincing you needed.
First of all, an air fryer is an appliance that uses hot air and a bit of oil to "fry" food.
"At the most basic level, an air fryer is just an extremely efficient countertop convection oven," Mike Le, co-creator of I Am a Food Blog, tells SELF. Unlike a conventional oven—which is heated by a stationary source that's usually at the bottom of the oven—convection ovens use fans to circulate hot air all around so that food cooks more evenly. So an air fryer is basically a mini version of a convection oven that he explains "can heat up in minutes and blasts more direct air than a regular convection oven could ever do."
With a fraction of the oil, cooking experts say it can "fry" certain foods as well as a deep-fryer. Convection ovens are the only other device with similar capabilities.
With hot air, an air-fryer doesn't need to rely on a lot of oil to make food taste fried, and Le, who has a number of air fryer recipes on his blog, says that's true for the most part. "We’ve loved everything we’ve fried so far for the same reasons," he says, "all the nooks and crannies get super crispy and delicious."
Heidi Larsen, creator of Foodie Crush agrees that air-fried food is as tasty as it's advertised to be. "The air fryer quickly cooks the food and does so quite evenly, so chicken and other proteins come out juicy on the inside while crisp out," she tells SELF.
And dietitians say it can be a lower-fat alternative to fried foods, if that's something you're looking for, but it's not necessarily as "healthy" as it's touted to be.
Maxine Yeung, M.S., R.D., tells SELF that air-fried food definitely has a lower fat content than actual fried food, which is great if that's something you're interested in, but that doesn't mean the food it makes is healthier per se. She says that it comes down to how you prepare your food before you put it in the air fryer and what you serve it with. For example, if you air-fry chicken with a thick, bread-y coating or pair it with a bunch of sugary dipping sauces, your meal your meal will have a different nutrition content than if you ate that chicken with, say, a bunch of roasted vegetables.
In any case, Yeung recommends it as an exciting tool for adventurous cooks.
And kitchen professionals think that it can be a worthwhile purchase, too.
"An air fryer is fun!" says Le, "in the same way that you experiment when you first get a deep fryer, we find ourselves asking, 'can this be air-fried?" He also likes it because it's a lot more economical than deep-frying, which requires a lot of (expensive) oil.
There are a couple things you'll want to take into consideration, like an air fryer's high price.
Air fryers range in price anywhere from $ 60 to $ 300, which can feel like a lot if you're not super into fried food (or even if you are TBH). But you don't need to spend a lot for one that works well. Larsen uses a NuWave Air Fryer, which she says works great and will only put you back about $ 100—compared to full-size convection ovens, which can cost up to thousands of dollars, that's a steal.
And its large size—if you don't have a lot of free counter space, you might want to skip this one.
If you barely have enough counter space for a slow-cooker, an air fryer might not be the best fit for you at the moment. But if you have plenty of room, and you don't want to invest in a convection oven, it will open up a world of cooking possibilities for you.
It's not as easy to set up as other appliances.
Using an air fryer isn't as intuitive as something like a slow-cooker, which is why Yeung says you might want to avoid it if you don't enjoy complicated recipes. "[Using] an air fryer isn't as simple as dipping food into a vat of oil and waiting a few minutes," she explains.
But what it lacks in simplicity it makes up for in efficiency.
"I love how fast it comes to temp and the lack of cleanup," says Le. He also likes that the temperature and timer functions are similar to an Instant Pot set-up, in that you can easily set them and forget them.
If you have decided to invest in an air fryer, there are a couple of things you should never try to cook in it.
"Anything very wet or battered will probably just stay very wet," says Le. "Anything that needs that instant hit of heat to work (like donuts) will probably not work at all."
Every other food is fair game, but these are the ones that experts have found turn out the best.
"We love air frying tofu, broccoli, and Taiwanese chicken nuggets," says Le, "[and] we've even air-fried bread to make croutons."
So, should you get one?
If you love making fried food without also making a huge mess, and you have a decent amount of space in your kitchen, the answer is yes. If you're lukewarm on fried food or your kitchen is tiny, skip it for now.
Try these amazing recipes if or when you add an air fryer to your kitchen.
Crispy Parmesan Buttermilk Chicken Tenders
Parmesan and chicken tenders are pretty much my dream come true. Get the recipe here.
Perfectly roasted broccoli that you didn't even have to turn the oven on for. Get the recipe here.
Air Fryer Tofu
Get super crispy tofu, without the hassle of using a deep-fryer.