Maintaining a healthy diet isn’t easy if you also enjoy snack foods. And it’s unfortunate that most of our favourite foods also happen to be unhealthy choices. Think hot chips and other fried treats, which are generally high in saturated fats. So wouldn’t it be great if there was a way of cooking our most-loved foods without having to worry about all that grease and oil?
Step forward, the humble air fryer. It’s not a miracle appliance that suddenly makes all those fatty foods good for you. But it will help you eat healthier versions of your favourite guilty pleasures.
Guide to Air Fryers: How they Work and the Best Models. In this article, we cover:
- What is an air fryer?
- How do air fryers work?
- The difference between air fryers and ovens
- Air fryers vs ovens: the cost difference
- Air fryers vs ovens: which is healthier?
- What you can cook in an air fryer
- Popular air fryers on the market
What is an air fryer?
An air fryer is a benchtop kitchen appliance that cooks food by circulating hot air around it, much like a fan oven. It usually looks like a large rice cooker, or a mini oven, if it’s an air-fryer oven. You pop your food on a removable tray and slot it inside the fryer to cook.
One of the main benefits of an air fryer is that it uses significantly less oil than a deep-fat fryer (about 70%-80% less), giving you healthier and less greasy food. According to celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay: “The air fryer doesn’t quite replace that deep-fried taste, but with just a tablespoon of oil, chips (and other foods) come out crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. They’re healthier and taste great.”
How do air fryers work?
The basic principle of air fryers is that they use circulating hot air to heat your food. They use rapid air technology to cook any type of food that you would otherwise cook in deep fat, such as chips and chicken. The rapid air technology circulates the air to temperatures up to 200C. And the cooking chamber (where you store the food) keeps the food close to the heating elements, allowing food to cook faster.
Above the cooking chamber is an exhaust fan. This helps provide the necessary airflow to ensure that every part of the food heats to the same temperature, and that it goes nice, crispy and brown. An internal cooling system prevents super-heated hot air from being vented into your kitchen!
What’s the difference between air fryers and ovens?
Air fryers and convection ovens (or ovens with a convection setting) essentially work the same way. Both use powerful fans to circulate hot air to heat your food. Except, the countertop alternative is designed to circulate hot air more quickly. Its smaller size also means it can cook food more quickly.
The two appliances are designed to be multi-functional. So, generally, you should be able to roast, grill, bake and toast meals in both. If you’re willing to spend more, for an oven with greater features, some ovens and fryers feature rotisseries and/or the ability to dehydrate food.
The reason why we’re comparing air fryers to convection ovens is because they both cook in the same way, using a fan and an exhaust system to maintain a consistent, direct heat around food. This is unlike a conventional oven, which due to its heating elements, has hotter and cooler areas within the same oven space.
What’s the cost difference?
Air fryers are significantly cheaper than ovens, which is unsurprising given they are much smaller and can hold less food. Their capacity is usually between 1.2l and 12l, and they cost between $80-$500. This compares to a standard oven of around 80L that retails between $750-$2300.
Air fryers vs ovens: which is healthier?
Both air fryers and ovens can cook without oil. A big reason why the air fryer has been dubbed a healthier way of cooking is because, in some instances, it doesn’t require oil at all, which isn’t always the case when using a frying pan.
But, obviously, there are certain types of food like frozen fish, or chips, that don’t need any oil when cooked using either an air fryer or an oven. Both of these appliances also have grilling as a basic feature, offering another way to avoid excess grease.
What you can cook in an air fryer
Pretty much any frozen food that you would put in an oven can be cooked in the hot air of an air fryer. The most common one is chips – this is what a lot of people basically assume they are made for. But you can also do snacks such as chicken nuggets and frozen battered fish fillets. Cooking times vary depending on the food, but they tend to take approx 10 minutes. In some cases, food can be cooked in as little as six minutes, with appropriate pre-heating! This is very impressive, and much faster than a full-size oven.
Some air fryers come with accessories, such as a baking cage or grill pan, which enable you to prepare meat in your air fryer. A whole roast chicken can be done in about 30 minutes, while roast pork chops and BBQ ribs can be ready in as little as 10 minutes. Other popular meats that can be cooked in an air fryer include burger patties, steaks and lamb chops.
You can also roast vegetables in an air fryer, if they are the kind you would normally bake or grill, such as capsicum and cauliflower. Some models come with a round ceramic bowl with a stirring paddle, which allows you to fry green vegetables just like you would in a wok. Other veggies you can cook in an air fryer include kumara, corn, zucchini, kale and asparagus.
You can put non-stick baking trays in your air fryer, which can be very useful for baking small items, like cupcakes, bread, muffins and lasagnas. You can also cook anything in an air fryer that comes with a liquid or sauce, such as a casserole or curry. Muffins and cupcakes can be made in as little as 10 minutes. If you plan on doing baking with your air fryer, then be sure to buy one that comes with a baking dish.
If you’re a nut kind of person, then you’ll be glad to know that roasting peanuts, almonds and any other type of nut can be done very easily with your air fryer. Peanuts and almonds can be done in 10 minutes, whereas walnuts will be ready to go in less than 8 minutes.
Popular air fryers on the market
- Unique design for delicious, low-fat cooking results
- Manually adjustable time and temperature control
- Easy to clean and creates less smell than normal fryers
- Unique tilt cooking position – tumbles food for even cooking without crushing
- Duraceramic coated pan for faster cooking and cleaning
- Air fryer or grill settings: fry, bake, grill and roast
- Dual heat source cooking – convection and radiated heat
- LCD screen – set cooking time
Find the best power deal in NZ
Thinking about your power use as you plug in a new appliance for the kitchen? Air fryers can make a big difference to your power bill, by reducing the need to turn on your main oven for long periods.
But to really save on your electricity usage, it pays to compare power companies. You could save more than you think. A good place to start is Canstar’s most recent review of electricity providers, which you can find here, as it lists all the big players. And for more information, check out our story: Simple Guide to Finding the Cheapest Power Deals.
Canstar Blue’s latest review of NZ power companies compares them on customer satisfaction. The table below is an abridged version of our full results, available here.
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Canstar Blue NZ Research finalised in April 2021, published in June 2021.
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