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Do you want to make healthier versions of fries, mozzarella sticks, chicken wings and more of your favorite indulgences?
It may sound too good to be true, but that's exactly what air fryer lovers say their favorite gadget can do. The appliance has been showing up on kitchen countertops across the board, providing a quick way to make crispy, satisfying fried food without all the fatty oils.
But according to Urvashi Pitre, author of "Air Fryer Revolution," you could be missing out if you only think of it as a way to make fried chicken and tater tots. She uses hers to char vegetables, cook steak, "hard-boil" eggs and so much more. We broke down everything you need to know about the handy gadget, plus some bestsellers to consider.
How do air fryers work?
Air fryers use convection heat technology to cook food, says Meredith Laurence, chef and author of "Air Fry Everything." Each one has a fan directly in front of the heater that will blow the hot air onto and around the food for a speedy and efficient cooking process that won't dry out what's inside. "You end up with crispy, brown exteriors and juicy, tender interiors," she says.
Are air fryers healthier?
Air fryers tend to be healthier than conventional fried food because they use less oil, says Frances Largeman-Roth, a registered dietitian and TODAY contributor. But while it may be healthier, not everything you prepare in the gadget is going to be healthy. Many of the recipes still suggest adding oil after air frying, so you may not save a significant number of calories during your meal, she says.
Since it's so easy to use, it may help people get more creative with their "fried" options, thinking outside of the typical french fries and chicken wings. When used to fry vegetables like Brussels sprouts, zucchini and carrots, it could help you up your daily veggie intake. "[It] makes veggies crisp, making them much more enjoyable for folks — adults and kids alike," Roth says. "Whatever we can do to make vegetables more craveable is a huge plus in my book."
What to look for in an air fryer
When it comes to choosing the perfect air fryer for your kitchen, there are a few things to consider:
- Price: They can range from under $100 to up to $500. The more expensive options come with more features like grilling or pressure cooking, so you may end up saving on other kitchen appliances in the long run.
- Style: The two most common types of air fryers are the oven- or basket-style, Laurence says. The oven tends to take up more counter space, but has more features and can handle larger amounts of food. The basket drawer-style allows you to shake the food to redistribute it rather than turn it over, but it usually has fewer functions. Looks matter too, Laurence adds, so you want to make sure you grab a color and style that matches your aesthetic.
- Size: While the size of air fryer you choose will depend on how much counter space you have, it's also important to consider how many people you'll be cooking for. Stacking food in the fryer can lead to uneven cooking, Pitre says, so you want everything in an even layer, just like when you're using a conventional oven. If you're cooking for multiple people, you want something with a larger surface area (AKA one of the square or rectangular options).
- Cleaning: Hate doing dishes? Go with one of the smaller basket options, Pitre suggests, as there are fewer parts to wash and they are super simple to clean. "I fill it with hot, soapy water, put it in the sink, then walk away and go eat dinner or have a glass of wine," she says. "20 minutes later, I come back and everything comes straight off."
Best air fryers 2020
This petite fryer is perfect for snacks or individual portions. Plus, the sleek design and bright color options will look great on any countertop.
With an adjustable temperature dial and a 60-minute timer, you can cook a variety of food in this popular option. It's small so it won't take up too much space on your counter. It will also easily fit in a cupboard for storage.
This air fryer has more than 30,000 five-star reviews on Amazon and it's easy to see why. Preset options will help you cook steak, chicken, seafood, frozen food, vegetables and more with the push of a button. Plus, the Wi-Fi-enabled gadget can be controlled and monitored with an app (or even Alexa!).
This pick is already the most affordable on the list, but thanks to sales at multiple retailers, you can get it for an even lower price right now. The touch screen menu is user-friendly and the fryer comes with a book of 50 recipes for you to try!
While this one may take up more counter space than others, you can use it as an air fryer, toaster and oven all in one. The larger surface area will also ensure your food cooks more evenly if you're making multiple portions.
Another all-in-one option, this fryer has a dozen cooking presets so you can fry, bake, grill, simmer, sous vide and so much more. Use it as a grill, slow cooker or air fryer to prepare all your favorite foods, from stews to steaks.
This easy-to-use gadget features seven preset cooking options. It's a full quart larger than Ninja's other popular fryer, so you'll be able to make more at once.
Instant Pot isn't just known for their pressure and slow cookers. This air fryer from the company allows you to put two trays in at once, so you can make enough for the whole family. Everything included with the appliance is dishwasher-safe for easier cleaning.
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