Air fryers are the hot new appliance. Maybe you’re considering getting one. Or, perhaps you, like me, already have one but haven’t quite figured out what to do with it. Joining me this week to share the mysteries of air frying is Liz Shaw. Lis is a registered dietitian and she’s just written the Air Fryer Cookbook for Dummies—a follow up to her wildly popular Instant Pot Cookbook for Dummies.
Q. Air fryers have grown in popularity, but a lot of people aren’t quite sure what they are. Can you explain what an air fryer is and how it works?
A. Have you ever seen one of those money machines, where someone steps inside a cylinder, closes the door, and air starts flowing up from the bottom with money flying through the air? An air fryer is kind of like one of those money machines. When you put your food into the air fryer and close it, hot air circulates around the food and begins to cook it. The temperature of the air fryer and the type of food you’re cooking will help determine the amount of time you need to cook your recipe.
Q. So, an air fryer just uses hot air to cook food. That explains the “air” part. But why do they call it a”fryer”?
A. Essentially because the way the hot air circulates around the food imparts that same crispy, crunchy flavor of a deep-fried food–but with minimal oil.
Q. Can you break down for us the different types of appliances that fall into this category?
A. There are three main models of air fryers
- Paddle type: Typically, a self-turning fryer that has a paddle or cylinder basket inside to help cook the food and turn it evenly throughout. It does not necessarily use any more oil; you just need to evenly coat the food as you would with any other model
- Basket type: A drop-in basket that traditionally calls for multiple shakes within the cooking cycle. This type of air fryer requires a little more attention during the cooking process, but it’s also a lot less expensive than the other varieties.
- Countertop oven: This model resembles a toaster oven and has multiple uses, like a toaster oven or mini pizza oven too! Depending on the make and model, they’re fairly inexpensive and they usually allow for a greater volume of food to be cooked at one time than the basket types do.
Q. What kinds of things can you make with an air fryer? What are they really good for?
A. You can truly make SO MANY THINGS in the air fryer! From ribs and fish to muffins and cookies, to zucchini fritters and roasted bell peppers, to avocado fries and french fries, there are endless possibilities to what you can make in the air fryer.
Q. Anything they’re really terrible for?
A. I do not recommend making hot dips like a cheese dip in the air fryer. They are fine to reheat but do not allow for even cooking without constantly stirring the cheese while it cooks. Save that for your Instant Pot!
Q. Being able to make French fries or chips with so much less oil is obviously an advantage in terms of calories. I get why you might want this instead of, say, a deep fryer. But a lot of the things I’ve seen people using it for (roasted vegetables, vegetable chips, oven-baked corn chips) seem like they could be made in a regular oven. What’s the advantage of using an air fryer instead?
A. Correct, most standard ovens can produce similar quality items if you prepare them on the right baking sheets or pans that allow for proper aeration. However, they also take a significantly longer time to come to temperature and cook the food because of how large they are. An air fryer is compact, even some of the larger ones, meaning it’ll cook your food a lot quicker without heating up your entire house! This is a big win if you live in a small apartment or a hot climate and your house gets warm in the summer months.
Q. Are there any disadvantages?
A. Air fryers take up valuable counter space. So, if you’re already tight on it, you may not find yourself using it as much as you’d like if it’s hidden in the cabinet. Depending on the model you have as well as the size (in addition to how many people you are cooking for), you may find yourself spending longer than anticipated shaking the basket to cook through the entire batch of potatoes or peppers you are trying to make for dinner. For some, this is understandably frustrating. I recommend strategizing on nights when you have a larger dinner party and cook the items that don’t require as many batches in the air fryer or prepare items that cook quicker in the air fryer (like meatballs, zucchini tots, or pretzel bites.)
Q. I’ve talked on the show before about acrylamide. This is a potentially harmful compound that can be created when roasting or frying starchy foods (like potatoes). Would using an air fryer to make fries or chips result in less (or more) acrylamide than frying or roasting?
A. I understand the concern and fear many have when they hear the word acrylamide. However, rest assured, I’ve got some good news for you when it comes to air frying your food! Research has shown that air frying foods may result in a 75-90% reduction in the production of acrylamide compound in comparison to deep-fat frying. While this study did use a variety of “pre-soaking solutions” including things like citric acid and sodium chloride, the results showed the items in the air fryer didn’t necessarily need a special pre-treatment solution. While there’s definitely need for further research here, it’s promising to see these initial results.
Q. How can home cooks minimize acrylamide formation?
A. Generally speaking, my advice before air frying your starchy vegetables (think potatoes, squash, beets, and other root vegetables) is to soak them for a minimum of 30 minutes (but the longer, the better) in filtered water before preparing them for your recipe. This helps reduce the percent of acrylamide formed by anywhere from 23 to 38%. This is as long as you aren’t frying them to a crisp (keep them golden brown!). Keep an eye on your air fried foods and pull them out before they get too dark!
Q. You developed a ton of recipes for your new book. Are there any general techniques or best practices that you came up with for getting good results?
A. Cook in small batches! Overcrowding the basket results in a very uneven product that isn’t the best quality. Take the time and I promise it’ll make you appreciate the finished product and savor each bite!
Q. What can we learn from the recipes that DIDN’T make it into the book?
A. As far as the recipes that didn’t make it, these were often related to the uneven cooking distribution. For instance, I attempted to cook rice in the air fryer as a base for the Fried Rice recipe we have, but it wouldn’t cook evenly through to get a similar quality as that of a stove-top or Instant Pot. Thus, I modified the recipe to start with pre-cooked rice instead.
Q. Can regular recipes be adapted or is it best to stick with recipes that have specifically been developed or tested in an air fryer–or even for your particular model?
A. I highly encourage people to experiment and test out their favorite recipes and make them their own in the air fryer! However, I would remind users since it’s a more compact space, time will need to be adjusted as well as temperature, especially for baked goods. For instance, if you have a bread that bakes at 375 degrees F in the oven for 50 minutes, you will need to bring down the temperature to 330 degrees and monitor the cooking time, likely adjusting to 30 to 35 minutes. Just because the top is brown does not mean the inside is cooked in the air fryer!
Q. If we’re thinking of investing in an air fryer, what should we look for?
A. Look for a brand that has great reviews and is BPA free. The model and size type depend on your cooking preference, but if you have a larger family, I recommend buying the larger options to decrease the number of batches you will need to make to feed everyone!
Another thing to be mindful of is the number of “add ons” air fryer brands have. You can use many of your Instant Pot accessories or silicone muffin liners in the air fryer, but often many brands have additional bonuses, like baking dishes or metal skewers, when you purchase their product.
Liz’s new book Air Fryer for Dummies comes out this month and you can order your copy and find out about Liz’s other books at shawsimpleswaps.com.