Over the last few years, air fryers have become the new must-have gadgets. These bot-like devices claim to save the average person time and money in the kitchen, but do they live up to the hype? Lynda Nash weighs the pros and cons.
According to the Spectator, air fryer sales increased by 3,000% between 2021 and ‘22. Leatherhead Food Research found that 30% of UK households own an air fryer, while 22% of those who didn’t in 2022 planned to buy one in 2023.
I am an accidental convert, having been given one by my father. We now have air frying (aka heating up frozen food) down to a fine art, only using the ‘old’ oven for roasting or baking. Some people are more adventurous than us: one friend swears by air fryer ‘roasted’ vegetables. Another puts eggs on the bottom and bacon on the top, but she has an air fryer with a split-level tray.
Indeed, there is a style of fryer to suit all needs: some come with a single basket, some have two, others have a viewing window, and the more expensive varieties are self-shaking. £29 buys you a two-litre fryer but if it’s bells and whistles you want, the more complicated versions range from £150-£250. Most of the larger machines (the top size is 18 litres) have inbuilt toasters and are more like ovens, which kind of misses the point.
In an air fryer you can, reportedly, rustle up anything from apple pie to ziti, but to cook more than frozen chips requires effort that many people may not be willing to give.
Still, there are plenty of positives for your health and your pocket:
- Cooking in an air fryer is much healthier than a deep-fat fryer and slightly healthier than a conventional oven.
- The controls are simple – just two heat settings and a timer.
- An air fryer is easier to clean than an oven, though you’d be advised to do so after each use.
- Air fryers heat up instantly, thus saving money and the planet.
My fryer is a Tower 4.3 litre: a “family size air fryer with rapid air circulation and 60-minute timer”. While it can cater for four people in our house, it’s a push to fit in fish and chips for one. This brings me to the negatives.
An air fryer is hardly the Tardis. Unless you’re a family with small appetites, you’ll end up preparing a meal in batches and reheating in the microwave. This is a point in favour of traditional ovens, which are more spacious. Air fryers are hardly indestructible, either, and the timer knob is typically the first thing to break. Ours did last month, and as Tower don’t issue replacements, we now turn the dial with a butter knife.
After hearing how much use his fryer was getting at our house, my father decided he wanted another one. I bought him a cheap supermarket own brand, which he used for a few months… until it caught fire. While warnings have been issued by several companies and some machines recalled, this hasn’t dampened their appeal. My father is now on his third fryer and just last week his timer knob cracked. He now turns the dial with pliers.
If it’s true that most gadgets end up gathering dust in a cupboard, then air fryers are the exception. I had no intention of buying one – now I wouldn’t part with mine.
Air fryer tips:
- Don’t overfill the fryer or food will take longer to cook.
- Heat up leftovers such as potatoes and other vegetables – much quicker than in a microwave, and crispier.
- Remove leftover food from beneath the basket before it becomes a fire hazard.
- Obey the safety expert’s ‘five-inch rule’ and keep your fryer away from walls and windowsills. Fryers need room to breathe, and tend to scorch anything close by.
words LYNDA NASH