Labour-saving cooking devices have been a constant on the market for the past 50 years. The microwave became a must-have household item in 1967, growing in popularity over the decades. The first household food processor, the Cuisinart, was introduced in the early seventies.
Since then we have been flooded with gadgets: slow cookers, Instapots, sous vide machines, ice cream makers and the air fryer. All designed to make life easier in the kitchen.
I am not much of a device user – a good chef’s knife and a hand blender see me through most cooking situations. But I became interested in the air fryer because it touted lower calorie meals with that crisp, deep-fried taste, a quick cooking time, no mess and easy cleanup.
I watched Gordon Ramsay demonstrate the air fryer in New York and was quite taken with the results, or maybe it was his charm. Either way, I got one.
Here is the first problem: storage. The air fryer is like a bulbous convection oven. It is big and heavy. You must move more important countertop appliances, such as your kettle, to make room, or have basement storage, which makes it less convenient.
The interior space is too small to do a lot of cooking at once. It does not fit a chicken unless it’s under 3 pounds. It makes dynamite chicken thighs, but only four at a time. It successfully cooks fingerling potatoes, cut up sweet potatoes and other vegetables, albeit in small quantities. It also does a good job with pastry, browning it well, but a six-inch tart is the biggest you can fit. And then there is the fan noise. It can drown out all conversation.
I decided to test chicken thighs in the oven and in the air fryer. I brushed them with some herbs and oil and put four in the air fryer and eight on a rack over a baking sheet (similar to the air fryer setup) on the convection setting of my oven. The air fryer takes no time to heat up, a positive, so my thighs were ready a good 20 minutes before the ones in the oven. Both sets of thighs were crisp and juicy, but I was able to double the quantity in the oven.
In my second test, with French fries, there was little difference in the results, but I could do more in the oven and listen to the radio at the same time.
If you are cooking for one or maybe two, an air fryer could take the place of an oven for a lot of your needs. For a larger family, stick to the oven.