Pictured recipe: Almond-Crusted Chicken Strips
What is an air fryer anyway? An air fryer is a mini convection oven, in essence. Its promise: to match the taste and texture of your favorite deep-fried foods—minus the vat of fat and all those extra calories.
Air fryers have a relatively large footprint for a one-purpose appliance, and prices range from $75 to more than $300. If this countertop kitchen appliance and its promise for crispy, close-to-fried perfection sounds like a lot of hot air, know that it's technically very hot air. Read on to find out if it's right for your kitchen.
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Pictured recipe: Oven-Baked Curly Fries
An air fryer uses superheated airflow above and around your food to convert tiny amounts of moisture into mist. The extra-hot cooking chamber lets dry heat penetrate the food from the outside in, yielding the familiar crispy texture food gets with a bath in the deep fryer. Most air fryer brands don't require oil for the machine to work, though a couple of teaspoons will improve the texture and flavor of air-fried eats.
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Pictured recipe: Avocado Fries with Sriracha Aioli
You can cook just about anything you would prepare in an oven or deep fryer in an air fryer. Air-fried chicken nuggets and tenders are a possibility, as are air-fried chicken breasts and thighs. Turn frozen potatoes and snacks into air-fried treats quickly. Even vegetables can get the crispy, high-heat treatment with delicious results. The air fryer can tackle dessert, too: think fried hand pies and petite doughnut holes.
Air fryers aren't just one-trick ponies; you can also use them to roast or bake without turning on your oven. Use an air fryer to easily cook fish fillets, like salmon, in mere minutes!
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Pictured recipe: Crispy Ranch Drumsticks
We put five machines through their paces, and two came out on top. Both Gourmia and Philips brands cooked golden fries (fresh and frozen) and a pound of cornmeal-crusted chicken drumsticks to our ideal level of crispness. They cooked these foods as well as a standard oven, but in half the overall time. Plus, both brands surprised us by cooking an 8-ounce salmon fillet perfectly.
Try the Gourmia GAF520 Electric Air Fryer ($140). Lightweight and sleek, the Gourmia provided the best, most consistent texture and flavor in the least amount of time. A digital touch screen with various presets from frozen foods to baked goods keeps cooking times and temps easy to read.
Try the Philips Viva Collection Air Fryer ($200). The first fryer to hit the market, the Philips was our winner in the homemade french fry category. It also has a larger capacity than the other brands we tested. Another bonus: the basket and removable base are dishwasher-safe.
An air fryer is not unlike a more efficient, higher-output Easy-Bake Oven for adults: quick, compact and enjoyable once you actually read the directions. If you're looking for a low-fuss cooking device that gets things crispy with less fat, cooks foods fast and lets you leave your oven off, an air fryer is a good option.