Air Fryer 101
Is an air fryer really worth it, do I really need another kitchen appliance? Or, if I’ve bought one, how do I use it?
It’s no secret that I am an air fryer loving fiend, it’s the only kitchen appliance besides the toaster that has won a permanent spot on my kitchen counter. Why? Let me dive a little into what I have learned from using this appliance on the daily.
What Kind of Air Fryer Do I Have?
I love doing my Black Friday shopping at Kohl’s, due to the stackable coupons, Kohl’s cash, and that their deals start the Sunday before Black Friday (I am NOT going to a store on Thanksgiving!). So, my first airfryer I bought in 2017 and I just bought the biggest air fryer I could find from Kohl’s – which was this 6qt NuWave ItDigital. It costs $139ish new, it was on sale for $99, plus 15% off, plus $15 back in Kohl’s cash. So, in the end I was out about $70 for it. It lasted for 3 years of hard use – we are talking 5-8 times a day we used it and even took it on trips. If you are in the market for a deep basket style airfryer, it is a great one with a large basket!
Finally, in Nov 2020 it died and I was in the market for a new airfryer and decided to try out the more wide flat lay basket airfryers. I ended up getting this airfryer toaster oven from Cuisinart. Though it is wider and takes up more counter space, we could ditch the toaster to compensate. When I asked about this model, 43 people via DMd me to tell me how much they loved it. That plus the thousands of positive reviews for it I read had me sold! It’s wider and runs hotter than my other one, but so far I love it! I just adjust recipes down by 50 degrees (so a recipe cooking at 350 I cook at 300).
Often I get asked if a 6qt is big enough for my family of 7, and it is. 6 qt is the same size as my family-sized crock pot. BUT, things will cook faster in a single layer, so sometimes I do cook two batches. I have loved it – easy to use thanks to lots of buttons and presets. Air fryers are pretty easy to clean – just dump the leftover oil and crumbs in the trash (once cooled) and then fill the tray, with the basket still in it, with hot soapy water. Spray down and wipe clean after soaking for a few hours or overnight. I do not clean it after every use, you decide if that works for you or not.
Air Fryer vs. Oven vs. Pan Frying
First, let’s compare it to the traditional methods of cooking – oven roasting and pan-frying. Is the air fryer really better for everything – or are there times traditional methods are better??
For chicken, air frying gets the job done faster, but keep in mind that it will be a “dry” fry. Meaning, this will not produce a juicy KFC type nugget. It will be crispy, but dry on the outside still For some chicken recipes, like one of our favorites – the Paleo Chick Fil A chicken recipe from Steph Gaudreau, we prefer the juiciness of pan-frying. But for my 5 ingredient Whole30 Chicken Strips recipe, which I normally cook in the oven, I prefer to do it in the air fryer for a crispier result. Summary: if it’s a chicken recipe you normally cook in the oven, it will do GREAT in the air fryer. Those chicken recipes you are used to pan-frying will still get it cooked, and it’s less messy than a pan of oil, but they won’t be as juicy of a fry.
Another one that I prefer pan-fried is tostones. They will get “cooked” in an airfryer, but the same thing happens as with the chicken – it will be dry and not quite the same. I always do my tostones fried in a pan. BUT, I do enjoy the cooked ones pulled out of the freezer and “recrispified” in the airfryer.
For potatoes – both homemade fries and pre-packaged frozen ones, the air fryer was the winner, hands down. The oven took longer and wasn’t as crispy. Literally my kids insisted I stick the oven ones into the air fryer to get them air fryer crispy result in half the time.
Another experiment: kale chips. Air fryer ALL THE WAY people! My oven attempts were total failures…but air fryer again took a fraction of the time and I’ve never gone wrong with. The simple air fryer kale chip recipe I use is here.
Other veggies – tossed with olive oil (regular or garlic) and then seasoned (my preferred seasoning? Trader Joe’s garlic salt grinder and 21 Seasoning Salute or Everything But the Bagel) – air fryer wins every time. It’s what I use the air fryer for the most.
Not an air fryer win: things that are goopy (think fritters) – no matter how much I spray the basket, they still stick and just make a hot mess. Also not an air fryer win: plantain chips. I really wanted this one to work. But I tried twice and though they cooked, they cooked stuck to each other. I prefer oven roasting for those to be able to do a high volume of them in a single layer.
Summer-time bonus – this will NOT heat up your whole house and is a great one to use more during those hot summer months!
Air Fryer vs. Instant Pot
Handy kitchen gadgets can lessen your time in the kitchen, which can be a game-changer in making clean eating maintainable. Several of you have asked about the Instapot and Air fryer – which one should you get and what do I use them for?
The Instapot is a fabulous time saver – many quote around 70% less cooking time. I use mine usually instead of a crockpot because I can start it at 5 and still serve dinner by 6. Awesome for a faster version of the crockpot – think soft tender meats, soft potatoes, etc. New ones also have cool features for everything from making yogurt to hard-boiled eggs. I got the 6qt and it has been big enough for my family. The main downsides to the Instapot, in my opinion, is how long it takes to just warm up and start cooking (to build up that pressure) and, because of that, you can’t easily interrupt the cooking to check on the food. But I love that I can do in it in 1 hour what takes 6-7 hours in my crockpot.
The air fryer is awesome for making crispy things – vegetables (zucchini, potatoes, broccoli, green beans) and meat (I’ve done homemade chicken strips, sausage). I love that you can interrupt and check on/stir the food. I love that you don’t have to wait for it to heat up like the Instant Pot or oven. I love the reheat function to get things back to crispy (that’s a leftover game changer!). I love that I can make perfect kale chips in 15 minutes. I use it almost daily, whereas the instapot I use about once a week.
What do you use your air fryer for??
I tracked it one week and it was NO JOKE that I use this thing on the daily. Here is what that looked like:
- Made sweet potato toast, used the air fryer to make the roasted “toast”
- Made roasted asparagus bites by chopping up asparagus, tossing in garlic olive oil (could use regular) and seasonings. 350 for 15 minutes, stir twice.
- Recrispified leftover 5-ingredient chicken for lunch (350 degrees, like 5 minutes) –
- Recrispified zucchini fritters from the freezer, 350 for 10 minutes
- Made crispy broccoli (ridiculously good) – steamed in microwave first to save time on this dense veggie, then tossed in olive oil and seasonings. Air fried at 350 for 15 minutes.
- Reheated sweet potato toast, at 350 for 5 minutes to recrispify.
Again, my #1 use for my air fryer is making crispy veggies. Sounds like not a big deal. But, I have won people over (including my children) to brussel sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, etc. – veggies they thought they didn’t like by making them in my air fryer as described above. No joke. Use #2 – reheating things back to crispy. I am a foodie and I don’t enjoy soggy leftovers. This will get it back to crispy in under 5 minutes. I also love that my children can use this easily without having to turn on the stove or the oven (i.e. things that can burn the house down). They use it to heat up leftovers, cook a hot dog, or even cook a piece of bacon.
Have Air Fryer, Will Travel?
Think outside the normal travel box with me for a minute. What if you are staying at a hotel without an oven or microwave but would like to be able to bring your own food? Well, the air fryer is like a dandy compact, portable food cooker. I have brought it on 6-7 trips and it has helped our family eat whole foods and save money. Once I brought an uncooked batch of my 5 ingredient chicken strips and cooked those in the hotel room, followed by a bag of clean-ish frozen fries. Dinner LOOKED like a McDonald’s meal – chicken strips and fries, but was all food I made myself and with none of the unpronounceable ingredients. I then roasted a big batch of veggies for myself and husband. Heck, I even used it to cook a gluten-free, dairy-free pizza for my kids at a hotel in Tahoe that I bought locally but, again, had no oven in my hotel room to cook it. The next morning, I used it to roast some sausage for my kids so they would have some protein to go with their granola.
Some of you will think this is a bit absurd, and that’s cool. Others of you will think this is BRILLIANT and will be saving room in your car for your air fryer your next trip #canicome.
Air Fryer Recipes
Click here to see my complete section of airfryer recipes, which I’m continuing to add to, or see below for some of my most popular ones (the ones below are all Whole30/Paleo):
- 5 ingredient Whole30 Chicken Strips
- Air Fryer Kale Chips
- Zucchini Wedges with Chipotle Sauce
- Avocado Fries
- Pesto Bacon Chicken
- Chicken Apple Sausage
Yes, there is a reason the air fryer has become my new KBFF (kitchen bff!). For visual examples of much of the described above, including a tour of my air fryer, see my Instagram Story Air Fryer Highlights.