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What is an Air Fryer Oven?

A collage of air fryer ovens.

I’m not going to lie — before I got my air fryer, I didn’t understand what all the hype was about. The way people talk about air fryers, it almost seems like they have a cult following.

I voiced this to a friend, who, like me, is a working parent with young kids. I was shocked to hear her gush, “I love my air fryer! I use it every day.”

Well, I was sold. I’ve had an air fryer oven for more than two years now, and while I don’t use it every day, I do use it several times a week. It’s a godsend in the summer when it’s too hot to use the stove, and it’s a cinch for defrosting frozen items, reheating leftovers, and throwing together a hands-off dinner.

Here is everything you need to know about air fryers before you decide whether you want to get one!

What is an Air Fryer Oven? 

Cooking chicken breast in air fryer.

An air fryer oven is a small countertop device used to cook a variety of food. In essence, it is a miniature convection oven. Much like a slow cooker, you can program it ahead of time and then leave it to do its work. It will shut off when it is finished. 

At their start, air fryers were widely promoted as a healthier way to cook foods that were traditionally deep-fried, such as French fries, chicken, mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers, and more. While air fryers are absolutely a great choice for this, they have become increasingly popular thanks to their versatility. Take a quick look online and you will see air fryer recipes for everything from homemade granola to pizza, chicken parmesan, stir fry, and cake. 

Air fryers also take a lot of the time and effort out of cooking because you can program them ahead of time and count on the machine to turn off when it is done cooking. Because of the unique forced air cooking method, it will also cook food much more quickly than a traditional oven! 

How do They Work? 

Air fryers work through a method of forced air and heat. The internal parts include a basket, where the food is placed. The basket allows air to flow around the food, unlike it a traditional oven, where it is blocked by a pan or sheet tray. 

So in the strictest sense, air fryers don’t actually fry the food — even though they feature a fryer-style basket. But because of their method of quick air circulation over and around the food, it allows it to get extra crispy, making it a great dupe for true fried food. 

You will still need to use a few teaspoons of oil while cooking, but usually only a couple of teaspoons. This is a big contrast to traditionally fried foods, which are much higher in unhealthy fats!

How to Use an Air Fryer?

Cooking veggies in air fryer.

Using an air fryer oven might take a small amount of trial and error, but for the most part, it’s incredibly easy! To start, you will need to put the food in the air fryer basket. Depending on what it is, you might need to spray the basket with oil. Some people also like to put down a sheet of tin foil to make it easier to clean up, but this isn’t strictly necessary. 

Don’t worry about anything dripping down underneath the fryer basket — all the parts of an air fryer can be wiped out, and most of them can be washed by hand. Regardless, there should be a plate at the bottom to catch anything that drips out of the basket. 

Once you have everything in place, program the cooking time and temperature with the control buttons. This is the part of using an air fryer that has a bit of a learning curve! However, most people get the hang of it after a few uses and find it easy and intuitive afterward.

Depending on what you are cooking, you may need to stop the air fryer halfway through cooking to shake the basket. This helps redistribute the food so that it can all be exposed to the hot air that is circulating through the machine. Some air fryer models even alert you to when it is time to shake the basket! 

Once the food is done cooking, the air fryer will alert you by beeping. Then it will turn off on its own. You never have to worry about burning your food by forgetting about it and walking away!

What Can You Use Them For? 

French fries cooked in air fryer.

Despite their name, air fryers can cook many different foods — not just fried items! In essence, these are just small, more efficient ovens. More recently-made air fryers usually have a wide variety of settings, including ones for reheating, defrosting, air frying, roasting, baking, and broiling. Some even have a dehydrator function! 

Here are a few other things that you can use your air fryer for:

  • Roasted vegetables — broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, potatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and onions
  • Proteins — roast chicken, burgers, steak, meatballs, fried chicken, tofu, meatballs, pork chops
  • Baked goods — cookies, cake, brownies
  • Fried foods — jalapeno poppers, French fries, mozzarella sticks, crispy fried onions, fish and chips, calamari, shrimp, chicken wings, onion rings
  • Snack foods — granola, fried pickles, tortilla chips, samosas, roasted nuts
  • Frozen items — egg rolls, pizza rolls, premade French fries

Pros and Cons of Air Fryer Ovens 

Man cooking fried chicken in air fryer.

Air fryer ovens can be a hugely convenient and versatile thing to have in your kitchen! But like any other kitchen gadget, they have both benefits and drawbacks. Here are a few pros and cons of air fryer ovens that you might want to consider before making a purchase.

Pros of Air Fryers 

  • Efficiency — Air fryers cook food in a fraction of the time it takes to cook in a traditional oven. 
  • Versatility — They can cook many types of food, including entrees.
  • Health — Frying food in an air fryer is significantly lower in fat and calories than traditional deep frying.
  • Easy to clean — You can wash or wipe the components with regular soap and water.
  • Convenience — You can simply program your air fryer and then go about your business until the timer goes off. 
  • Safety — Food cooked in an air fryer is safe to eat; the contained interior keeps you safe from hot oil and metal components.

Cons of Air Fryers

  • Learning curve — It may take some time to learn how the settings work.
  • Smaller portions — Affordable air fryers are sometimes on the smaller side and are significantly smaller than regular ovens. This can mean they are too small for larger families. 
  • Space — Air fryers take up counter space.
  • Expense — Some air fryer models can be pricey, especially if you need a larger model. 


Is an Air Fryer Healthy? 

You can cook a wide variety of foods in an air fryer, so how healthy it is depends mostly on what you’re making! When it comes to fried food, however, an air fryer can be a significantly healthier choice. Some estimates say that air frying a food has between 30 and 40 percent of the calories that deep frying does.

It is also much lower in fat. While it is always better to make healthy choices, an air fryer can be a great choice for those who want to indulge occasionally without the bad effects on their health. 

Does an Air Fryer Save Time? 

Air fryers cut cooking times significantly because of their efficient cooking method using forced air and their smaller size. This can be incredibly convenient when you want to get dinner on the table. Over time, you may also notice a difference in your energy bills (though this depends on how often you use your air fryer). 

How Much Does an Air Fryer Cost?

Air fryers vary significantly in cost. The price depends not just on the brand that you choose, but also the size and control menu. More elaborate air fryers with more settings and a large basket size are likely to cost you more, while a smaller model with a simpler setup won’t be as hard on your wallet.

The cheapest models usually have a two-quart capacity and will start at about $50. In general, you can expect to pay between $70 and $200 for an air fryer.