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What is an air fryer? Here’s how it cooks your food

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You probably have heard about an air fryer and make food crispy and crunchy without excess fat. In this article, we cover what air fryers are and how they work.

Let’s dive right in.

What are air fryers, and how do they work?

An air fryer is a small kitchen oven with a metal basket that cooks food at a given temperature for a certain amount of time. The cooking process involves a heating element at the top of the unit that radiates heat while a fan (also located at the top) circulates hot air at high speed around the compact chamber.

Basket-type air fryers have a ventilated removable basket to hold the food. A paddle-type air fryer has a basket and a rotating paddle. The paddle rotates the food, ensuring it is evenly cooked. In some models, the paddle is removable, leaving more room in the basket. A rotisserie spit is included with some units.

Air fryers are easy to use. Some models and recipes require preheating while others do not. Once the unit is turned on and preheated (if necessary), set the time and temperature, and place the food and basket or tray in the air fryer. To find out if your model should be preheated, check the user manual, and this information should be included. 

The cooking process starts as hot air rapidly circulates through and around the food. Air fryers are designed to be air-tight and compact, so the air stays in the chamber.

The food is evenly cooked food and crispy on the outside, and moist and tender. Less oil is needed than if a deep fryer were used. 

Air-fried foods absorb less oil than deep-fried foods. A study published in 2017 in the European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology found air-fried potatoes contained, on average, 70 percent less oil than deep-fried potatoes. The oils used were sunflower, soybean, canola, and olive.

Types of Air Fryers

There are a lot of air fryers on the market. The two main types of air fryers, basket and paddle, are discussed in this article.

Basket-Type Air Fryer

Baskets used to cook food in air fryers are metal with ventilation so the air can get through the food. Some models have a basket with a handle making it easy to toss the food when cooking. While meats and vegetables can be cooked in baskets, anything with liquid cannot.  

To make sure the food is cooked evenly, it’s usually necessary to shake and stir the food at least once during the cooking process.

Most models have a heating element at the top of the unit. However, some units use a halogen bulb/lamp as a heat source. You’ll want to find out if the bulb or lamp is replaceable and factor that into your decision as to whether it is cost-effective to purchase that particular air fryer.

Paddle-Type Air Fryer

A paddle-type air fryer has a rotating paddle inside the basket that rotates when cooking. When the paddle moves, the food is turned, so you don’t have to toss or shake your dish during the cooking process.  

One downside is they are more expensive than basket air fryers. Another is the coating of battered and coated foods can come off during cooking. This can be resolved if a tray comes with the unit or is purchased for the air fryer. The T-fal FZ700251 Actifry Oil Less Air Fryer is a paddle-type air fryer; a tray can be purchased separately for use in this unit. If you want to use the tray, remove the paddle and place the tray in the basket.

Some models are designed so the paddle can be removed, which makes it possible to cook various types of meals. Chicken breasts, for example, should be made without the paddle, while chicken drumsticks can be made with the paddle attachment.

Be sure to consider what foods you want to cook before deciding which type of air fryer to buy. For example, some models won’t have enough room to cook a whole chicken, while others are large enough to accommodate a three-pound chicken.

Some units are designed to hold a tray and a basket. Having both accessories are convenient since food can be cooked in the basket and the wire tray simultaneously. Chicken nuggets, breaded snacks are examples of foods that can be used on the tray.

What foods can be cooked in an air fryer?

Although an air fryer cannot cook all types of food, many are well-suited to air frying, such as chicken, pork chops, hot dogs, and vegetables.

Frozen foods such as hot pockets, tater tots, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, chicken nuggets can be made using an air fryer. They turn out crispy and taste delicious without being deep-fried. Some air fryer models have a preset for chicken, steak, seafood, most vegetables, desserts, and frozen foods.

Air fryers are popular for cooking French fries from scratch or heating frozen fries. Homemade fries turn out hot and crunchy, and it only takes 15 minutes or so to cook them.

Wet batters, cheese, fresh greens such as spinach and kale should not be used in an air fryer as they will create a mess.

The best oils to use when air frying has a high smoke point. Some oils to consider are vegetable, canola, and peanut. Avocado and olive oil can also be used if the temperature is 375°C or below.

Final Thoughts

Air frying is a cooking method with a heating element and uses a fan to circulate hot air inside the chamber. If you are interested in a cooking appliance that can produce crispy foods with less oil and fat than deep-frying, an air fryer is a good option.

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