If you’re wondering, “What is an air fryer?”, we’ve got the answer on what they are and how they work. Plus, check out our top picks for the best air fryers along with healthy air-fryer recipes to try.
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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 all the fat and all those extra calories.

This countertop kitchen appliance and its pledge to make crispy, close-to-fried perfection sounds promising. Some can be small–taking up about the same amount of counter space as toaster ovens. But, how does an air fryer work, what foods can you cook in it, do you need to use oil and does it live up to the hype? Read on to find out if an air fryer is right for your kitchen.

How does an air fryer work?

An air fryer uses a heating element along with a fan circulating hot air above and around your food to convert tiny amounts of moisture into mist. The food goes into an air fryer basket and then it's placed inside the appliance. 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. As a bonus, cooking in an air fryer can save you time and it makes cleanup easy.

Air-Fryer Popcorn Shrimp

Pictured Recipe: Air-Fryer Popcorn Shrimp

Is air-fried food healthy?

Most brands don't require oil for the machine to work, though using cooking spray or tossing your food with a teaspoon or two of oil before putting the food in the basket will improve the texture and flavor of air-fried eats. While it's possible to enjoy air-fried food with no oil, the beauty of this appliance is that it only needs such a small amount.

There are only 40 calories per teaspoon of oil (120 calories per tablespoon). The little bit of oil you do add helps brown and caramelize everything for extra crispy and delicious results. And compared to the amount of oil in deep-fried foods, the amount you'll use in the air fryer is practically nothing, resulting in fewer calories and saturated fat than your typical fried food.

What can you cook in an air fryer?

You can cook just about anything you would prepare in an oven or deep fryer in an air fryer (which is a lot!).

French fries, chicken wings, or air-fried chicken nuggets and tenders are a possibility, as are air-fried chicken breasts and thighs. These countertop appliances aren't just one-trick ponies to replicate crispy traditionally-fried foods; you can also use them to roast or bake without turning on your oven. You can use one to easily cook fish fillets, like salmon, in mere minutes!

Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets

Pictured Recipe: Air-Fryer Chicken Nuggets

Make crispy air-fryer french fries with white potatoes or sweet potatoes. Whip up homemade air-fryer veggie chips from beets or potatoes—or go the sweet route and make apple chips. Even vegetables, like these air-fryer Brussels sprouts, can get the crispy, high-heat treatment with delicious results.

It can tackle dessert, too: think fried hand pies and petite doughnut holes.

What is the best air fryer to buy?

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.

Best All Around Air Fryer: Gourmia GAF520 Electric Air Fryer ($140)

gormia air fryer

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.

Best Air Fryer for French Fries: Philips Viva Collection Air Fryer ($140)

philips air fryer

Try the Philips Viva Collection Air Fryer ($140). 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.

Is an air fryer worth it?

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.