Are Air Fryers a Gimmick?

These days, there’s no shortage of kitchen appliances for your home. Air fryers are the latest appliance to arrive on the scene and are touted as a “healthy” way to make fried food. They are becoming more and more popular – but are they really worth the hype? Are air fryers a gimmick? If you’ve caught yourself wondering this very thing, you’re not alone.

One challenge I have had since we moved to Lewes, Delaware, is adjusting to a new food routine. Back in Los Angeles, California, I had my favorite restaurants and stores. They are all different here. So, I thought I could start cooking more at home –I usually order takeout from my favorites restaurants for dinners.

I keep hearing about air fryers, so I thought they might work for me. This is a good moment to find out whether air fryers are a gimmick.

What Is an Air Fryer?

An air fryer is meant to fit on your countertop and is essentially a convection oven but smaller. Just like the name implies, an air fryer can fry foods but without the use of oil, sort of –more on that below. Instead, an air fryer uses hot air to cook food. Inside the oven is a fan that circulates hot air to keep the temperature consistent throughout the cooking process, making cooking faster.

So, why are we talking about air fryers? How popular are air fryers anyhow? According to NPD, as of July 2020, a whopping 37% of homes have air fryers.

Below is a quick overview of what air fryers are by Consumer Reports. It also quickly goes over what to look for when buying an air fryer.

How Do You Use an Air Fryer?

An air fryer is relatively simple to use, which is the main reason why some people love them so much —convenience. To cook food, all you need to do is place whatever it is you are cooking into the basket it comes with. Next up, be sure to set the time and the temperature for the food. You may have to flip the food at some point or another, but for the most part, you should be able to let it cook until it’s done.

Of course, each air fryer model has a specific instruction manual you should follow. And because they are all over, many websites and YouTube channels are exclusively dedicated to these ever-so-popular appliances. You’ll find tips and tricks on using them and the best ways to cook just about everything with them.

How Healthy Is Air Fried Food?

At the end of the day, fried food is fried food, and it will never be completely healthy. But because using an air fryer means cutting back on oil, food made in an air fryer is technically healthier than if you were to deep fry it in a traditional fryer.

However, many people may believe that they are eating healthy food because it is healthier than “deep fry.” It’s a little bit like smokers switching to e-cigarettes. Just because it may be less harmful, it doesn’t mean it is a good habit.

Many of the foods that are prepared in an air fryer (for example, French fries and other processed foods) are not healthy choices in general. They’re fried foods at heart, even if they don’t feel quite as greasy when cooked with this new gadget. So, there is a risk that people believe these are healthy food choices and think they can eat more of them.

What Can You Cook in an Air Fryer?

An air fryer is ideal for cooking things such as frozen chicken nuggets, chicken wings, tater tots, onion rings, or any frozen foods that you would otherwise cook in an oven. You can also cook most vegetables in an air fryer and even put slices of fruit in there to make dehydrated fruit slices. Depending on the size of your air fryer, you may even be able to cook an entire chicken in there–although it is not recommended even if you find one small enough to fit in your air fryer model.

Air fryers are also great for making desserts such as cookies and even doughnuts. You should, however, steer clear of trying to bake a full-blown cake as this could be a disaster.

The video below from Consumer Reports goes over a list of items you can cook in an air fryer.

What Not to Cook in an Air Fryer

While there are many foods that you can cook with an air fryer, some simply shouldn’t be cooked in one. You’ll want to steer clear of cooking anything that has wet batter coating in it. For example, corn dogs and fried fish won’t sit well in an air fryer because the batter will end up dripping off while the rest of the food cooks.

Instead of cooking with batter, replace it with breadcrumbs or cornmeal for a less messy way to make your favorite foods.

Most vegetables do well in an air fryer – all except one: broccoli. Unfortunately, broccoli tends to dry up pretty quickly when there’s no oil involved, which means if placed into an air fryer, it might disappear or shrivel up altogether.

Many foods that contain cheese in them may also not fare well in your air fryer. This is because the cheese will melt right onto the bottom of the air fryer, causing a mess. If you are cooking with cheese, make sure it’s folded in completely, like with a mozzarella stick. This way, the cheese won’t spill out during the cooking process.

Hamburgers are another food that doesn’t do well in an air fryer. An air fryer will achieve cooking the burger to a medium-rare temperature on the inside in just moments, but this means that the outside of the burger won’t have time to brown. Without a good char on the outside, a burger just isn’t as tasty.

But don’t tell this to an air fryer enthusiast. They’ll make you believe you can cook paella and win a taste contest in Spain.

Are Air Fryers a Gimmick?

Gimmick: 1. An ingenious or novel device, scheme, or stratagem, especially one designed to attract attention or increase appeal. 2. A concealed, usually devious aspect or feature of something, as a plan or deal.

Dictionary.com

Air fryers are definitely a novel device designed to attract attention or increase appeal. But this is really not negative, per se. But is there something concealed in the way air fryers are marketed? I think so, but to be fair, this is typical on many products.

When you ask someone who doesn’t know anything about air fryers, “did you know that most food you would cook with an air fryer either contains oil or you have to add oil to it?” Their typical answer I have got is, “Really? I thought it was just air.” That is actually what I thought too.

So, do I think air fryers are a gimmick? Yes, although it is definitely not the worst I have seen.

Disadvantages of Air Fryers

In addition to the possible initial disappointment when you learn that you actually need oil for most foods, there are also some disadvantages to consider.

They Are Not Meant for Family Dinners

Air fryers, even the bigger models, are on the smaller side, so they aren’t ideal for cooking large portions. This means if you have a large family or are someone who tends to entertain guests regularly, an air fryer probably isn’t right for you unless you’re willing to cook in batches.

You May Be Just as Happy With Your Conventional Oven

Many would also argue that a conventional oven works just as well as an air fryer. If you already have an oven, an air fryer isn’t really a necessity, especially since you need to make extra counter space for them. You may want to use that extra room for the toaster or an espresso machine.

The Taste Will Not Be the Same

Air fryers don’t require any or smaller amounts of oil, so the food can end up tasting different or having a different texture than it would if it were cooked any other way. However, many air fryers come with recipe books that can teach new owners the right way to make tasty food using an air fryer.

You May Have to Get Used to the Noise

There are quite a lot of complaints about the noise of most air fryers. To have an idea of the level of noise you have to get used to read the following FAQ question and answer from Phillips regarding their air fryer noise:

Question: My Philips Airfryer makes a noise

Answer from Phillips:

“If the noise you hear sounds like a fan rotating very fast, this is normal. Your Philips Airfryer has a fan inside which helps to keep its internal parts cool while the appliance is on. This noise can be up to 65 dB (decibel), or as loud as the noise an average vacuum cleaner would make. In this case, do not worry, there is nothing wrong with your airfryer.”

Did you read that, “as loud as the noise an average vacuum cleaner would make.” I think that’s pretty loud, but I am sure there are other models that make less noise.

Advantages of Air Fryers

But if there are millions of people using them, there must be positive things about air fryers. Of course, there are.

Ideal for Most Frozen Foods

One good thing about air fryers is that they are able to cook frozen foods pretty quickly and without the necessity of having to wait for an oven to preheat. This can be great when you’re on a time crunch and need to get food out on the table and fast. My question here is: what do I use my microwave for then? Should I sell my microwave?

Very Handy if You Don’t Have an Oven or Microwave

At the end of the day, whether or not you should get an air fryer all boils down to your needs and preferences. If you don’t have an oven or a microwave, an air fryer can be a very good affordable alternative. I remember reading about someone on Reddit that mention she lived in a dorm and her air fryer was a lifesaver for her.

Good if You Run Out of Conversation Topics

If you frequently entertain people, it may actually be a good topic of conversation. For a couple of hundreds of dollars you spend on an average air fryer, you can spend an hour talking about your favorite air fryer recipe. This definitely comes in handy with visitors you may not have much in common.

Closing Thoughts

If you are someone who doesn’t necessarily cook for a large number of people on a regular basis and enjoys indulging in fried foods more often than not, then an air fryer might be something to consider purchasing. Otherwise, you’re better off simply using your oven.

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