The Best Air Fryers, According to the EatingWell Test Kitchen
The craze around air fryers just won't quit—and there are many reasons why. Air fryers use a minimal amount of oil to achieve hot, crispy and delicious food, from chicken to onion rings and so much more, making them healthier alternatives to their deep-fried counterparts. It seems like there's an air-fry function in just about every modern-day appliance—toasters, multifunction countertop cookers and even standard ovens.
We dug deep into what this appliance can do (and cannot do!). Here's everything you need to know to get the most from your air fryer.
How Do Air Fryers Work?
Essentially a mini convection oven, an air fryer has a heating element along with a fan that circulates the hot air around your food. The food goes into the air-fryer basket or on the tray that is placed inside the appliance. Because the basket or tray are suspended and accessible to heat from all sides, this results in a crispy texture similar to deep frying. And because the appliance is relatively small, it doesn't take long to preheat or to cook food.
About the Oil
Most air fryers don't require oil to work, but using cooking spray or tossing your food with a teaspoon or two of oil before air-frying will improve the texture and flavor. If you use more than a tablespoon, however, you risk drips that can smoke. Here's what you need to know about using oil with your air fryer.
- A neutral-tasting oil with a high smoke point, such as vegetable, grapeseed or canola oil, is best. Beware of extra-virgin olive oil. Its low smoke point and an air fryer's high temps can spell trouble. If using EVOO, make sure your air fryer's temperature isn't much above 350°F.
- Coat or spray low-fat foods like lean meats (such as skinless chicken), potatoes and vegetables with cooking spray or oil right before cooking.
- For foods coated with flour, breadcrumbs or other dry coating, coat with cooking spray or mist with oil immediately before cooking.
- Some recipes call for lightly coating the basket to keep food from sticking, but cooking spray could damage a fryer's nonstick surface over time. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.
- Naturally fatty foods, such as red meat or skin-on poultry, likely don't need additional oil. Let the recipe be your guide.
There's a clear winner when it comes to deep-frying and air-frying (hint: it's air-frying!). Air-frying significantly decreases the amount of oil absorbed by foods, reducing calories (a teaspoon of oil has 40) and saturated fat, and thus potentially contributing to decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
The little bit of oil you do add when air-frying helps brown and caramelize everything for extra-crispy and delicious results. In addition, using less oil helps minimize the inflammatory compounds that can be produced when cooking oil is heated. Fewer inflammatory compounds in the food we eat may translate to a reduced risk of some chronic diseases.
Choosing an Air Fryer
There are so many different models out there that it can be overwhelming to choose. Keep these points in mind when shopping:
- Size: "When buying an air fryer, the biggest factor to consider is size. Make sure the basket is large enough for your serving needs, whether you're cooking dinner for one or a family of four," says Alex Loh, EatingWell's associate food editor. "Air fryers can also take up lots of counter space, so consider buying one that's multifunctional to make the most of precious storage."
- Features and Price: There isn't much difference among air fryers in terms of how well they cook. But the options and features do differ (and can bump up the price). Less-expensive models often have dials for temperature and cooking time. Higher-end models have digital displays and presets that allow you to choose precise temps and times.
- Space: If you don't have much space, a countertop toaster oven with an air-fry setting is a good option. If portability is a priority, look for a model that's lighter and easier to transport.
To help you find the best air fryer, we tested five different air fryers as we developed a batch of 30 air-fryer recipes. Spacious design, multipurpose functions and simplicity for the standard household were all considered, so here are our three favorites that are worth the cabinet space. And once you choose your favorite, start making our Healthy Air-Fryer Recipes, ranging from Air-Fryer Crab Rangoon to Air-Fryer Buffalo Wings!