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How Does An Air Fryer Work?

Whenever my family ask for chips, chicken nuggets or wings, I turn to my trusty air fryer to grant their wish. 

And I don’t feel guilty either.  An air fryer lets me ‘fry’ food quickly, and do so without using too much oil.  

Honestly, I think it’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to fried food. 

how does an air fryer work?

What exactly IS an air fryer?

First of all, an air fryer isn’t really a fryer – or a deep fryer – as we know it.  It’s essentially an oven, like a smaller version of a countertop convection oven. 

It works by circulating hot electric air around food at high speed, distributing heat evenly.  But unlike a traditional oven, an air fryer uses the convection method to cook food faster, using a high-powered fan. 

That fan is located above the cooking chamber, where a small opening lets in air.  At the back of the chamber is an exhaust that releases excess heat.  

Inside the chamber is a drawer that can be pulled out, and a mesh metal basket inside of it that can be removed.  Underneath it is a drip tray. 

When frying, you put your ingredients into the basket, along with a few tablespoons of oil* – just 20% to 30% the amount normally used in standard deep fryers.  As the food cooks, excess grease drips from the basket into the pan underneath.  

*side note – you don’t always need to add oil and if you are following a diet plan you can use the low calorie oil substitute. 

What Can Air Fryers Cook?

Air fryers can roast, grill, bake, and reheat, too.  You can make burgers, fajitas, fish fillet, mozzarella sticks, vegetables, cookies, bacon, cakes, lamb chops and so much more.

Related – Air Fryer RecipesAir Fryer AccessoriesThe Best Air Fryers To Buy In 2020

Main Air Fryer Features

Like traditional ovens, most air fryers have time and temperature controls.  With settings as high as 230 degrees Celsius (depending on the model), they allow food to achieve caramelisation and a Maillard reaction – producing that crispy, golden brown outer layer that everyone loves on their fried and baked goods.

High-end models come with built-in agitators that shake the basket constantly, allowing for even distribution of oil and uniform cooking throughout.  But for standard units, shaking and turning of food need to be done manually and periodically.

There are even bigger, multi-functional models that provide special accessories like a rotisserie, a grilling tray, a pizza pan, and a baking barrel for precision roasting and baking.

Air Fryer Benefits

Here are the benefits you can expect air fryers to bring cooks and culinary enthusiasts like us.

Greater variety.  Because an air fryer is a cross between a traditional oven and conventional fryer, it lets you whip up dishes that both of those appliances can.  You can whip up anything from sausages to spring rolls, croissants to quiches.

Faster frying.  Compared with traditional ovens, air fryers take about 30% less time to cook food.  They get hot very fast and their fans keep hot air whirring around all the time.  Their chambers are also small and compact, allowing for faster cooking. 

Less fattening.  Since air fryers use only a fraction of the amount of oil used in a traditional pan or deep fryer, health publications like Healthline.com have gone so far as saying that air-fried foods are lower in fat, calories, and acrylamide than deep-fried foods, making them the healthier option.

Quick cleaning.  They’re simply less messy and far easier to clean.  Sometimes the drawer and rack can just be wiped off with a dry sponge or paper towel.  (Metal scrubbers should never be used.)  If they’ve gotten too greasy and goopy, it’s best to hand-wash them.  But most models come with dishwasher-safe parts.

Some Quick Air Fryer Tips

Thinking of purchasing an air fryer?  Here are a few things to consider before and after you’ve acquired one.

Size

Dough in air fryer

Standard basket-type air fryers are small – about the size of a coffee-maker – so the amount of food you can cook in them is limited.  They’re sufficient for one or two people, but if you have a large family, you’d have to be prepared to cook in batches.

Or else consider buying a bigger model.  Large, hybrid ones combine a fryer with a toaster oven.  Those types are bulky but they will save you counter space in the long run because they’ll end up replacing your existing toaster.

Temperature

Most air fryers have pre-set time and temperature settings for different dishes.  Nearly all will recommend a reduced temperature.  As a general rule, baking temperature is lowered by 25 degrees Fahrenheit (around 15 degrees Celsius) and the cooking time reduced by 20% to 40%, depending on the kind and amount of food you’re cooking. 

For example, if the recipe calls for a baking temperature of 350F (176C), set your air fryer to 325F (160C).

Quantities

chicken nuggets in the air fryer

Do not overcrowd the frying basket.  It cannot hold as many layers of chips like a deep fryer does.  If you fill it to the brim, the fries won’t cook evenly and turn crispy enough.  Cook only one layer at a time.

Batter

If you’re frying meat that’s been dipped in moist batter, coat and press the pieces in breadcrumbs (or flour) first to ensure adhesion.  Otherwise, the batter could be blown off by the intensity of the fan.  For wet, marinated meat, it would be a good idea to pat-dry first.

Cleaning

Clean your air fryer after every use.  Leaving crumbs, drippings and other residues in the basket and on the drip pan can cause them to smoke the next time you use the fryer.

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