I'm a gadget geek, so it's no surprise that I was fascinated by the air fryer when it first came on the scene. Especially since I'm also a busy cook; if a gadget doesn't make my life easier, then I've got no time for it. (Too few hours in the day to mess with one that messes with me!)
I am all about ruthless efficiency, in other words.
Mostly, I loved the concept of frying without oil. And so began a period of intensive experimentation. (Thereby putting my doctorate in experimental psychology to the only use it has seen lately.) Fast forward to about a year ago, when I wrote my first air fryer cookbook — and then, because I will totally overdo anything good, I wrote a second one: "Air Fryer Revolution."
Because let me tell you something: It's not about frying per se, nor is it about reproducing fried textures in breaded foods. It's about using an air fryer for what it does really, really well.
And what is that, you ask?
- It cooks fast. Air fryers take two to three minutes to preheat versus the 30 minutes most ovens take. In fact, it's so fast, that I've written all my recipes without an unnecessary preheat step. I just throw everything into an air fryer and walk away. I increase the overall cook time, and that keeps me from having to fiddle with the preheat-then-cook mumbo jumbo. Note: Most of my meat recipes only take 10 minutes to cook, because I have you cut up the meat smaller.
- It does indeed lightly "crisp" the outside of the meat. Not only does cutting up the meat into smaller chunks help it to cook faster, it also increases the exposed surface area that gets crisp. And more crisp equals better, as we all know!
- It doesn't heat up your house. A super powerful air fryer might heat up the area around it, but there's no way it's actually heating up your kitchen, like an oven does. If you've ever had to bake a cake in the middle of a Texas summer, you'll know what I mean.
- It combines baking and grilling. You know how you sometimes bake things and then broil or grill them to crisp up the top? An air fryer will do both of those tasks simultaneously. Another example of #ruthlessefficiency at play.
- It can indeed make breaded things taste better than just baking. If a food has natural fat in it, then it will "fry" up beautifully in an air fryer. Check out my breaded chicken wings or my air-fryer chicken fried steak.
Disclaimer: Unless you have zero taste buds left, you will not confuse air-fried potatoes with deep-fried potatoes. But that won't keep you from enjoying the air-fried ones, and in fact, enjoying them more than you might baked homemade fries with zero oil.
Don't think of an air fryer as a way to avoid frying — think of it as a way to make delicious food, fast. Think of it as a way to get a home-cooked dinner on the table in under 30 minutes. Think of it as a way to have dinner practically cook itself with very little babysitting. And then think of how much you'll enjoy that glass of wine or that video game you could be playing instead of babysitting your stove.
What to cook in an air fryer
On first glance, you're probably thinking, "Why do I need another $100 kitchen appliance that will take up a ton of countertop space?" And normally I'd tell you that you don't. But this time, you kind of do. The air fryer can cook so many things well: chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, fried chicken, green beans, pigs in a blanket, and sweet potato fries. Anything that you'd normally put in a deep-fryer is fair game. But there are so many things that you wouldn't think to deep fry, like shrimp scampi, toast, tacos, and turkey sandwiches, that you can cook in the air fryer.
Shopping for an air fryer
The marketplace is pretty crowded with air fryers at various price points, so how do you find the best one? Let me start with my favorites: The Instant Vortex is sold by the Instant Pot brand of appliances. It rings it at under $100 and has a six-quart capacity, which is ideal for large families and big-batch recipes. This one does take up a lot of space, so I'd only invest in it if you know you're going to use it frequently and need to cook large portions. For something a bit smaller, I'd recommend the Ninja 4-Quart Air Fryer. It's a bit more expensive than the Instant Vortex (it's about $80), but it takes up less space, which is ideal for smaller families and cramped kitchens. It offers more customization options than other air fryers, which is nice if you like to manually control the cooking time and temperature.
Best air fryer recipes
No, you're not cooking the pasta in the air fryer. But you are making the creamy mushroom sauce from start to finish in it. Winner, winner!
Lemony, garlicky shrimp cooks up extra quick in the air fryer — perfect over a bed of noodles.
Sweet, spicy, and sticky, these wings star my favorite Korean chile paste, gochujang.
Chicken wings crisp up beautifully in the air fryer, and taste even better once tossed in kecap manis and sambal.
I like to use thinly sliced beef here, but you could also go for fatty pork shoulder. In any case, meat loves this marinade, which is punchy and umami-packed, perfect for taco night.
I grew up eating this toast as an afternoon snack. (It's an Indian thing.) And yes, the air fryer is great at toasting bread.
Who doesn't love crispy-crunchy Brussels sprouts?! (Crickets) Thought so. Pop them in the air fryer for an irresistibly snackable side. The garlic chile butter is a great touch (and the garlic can be roasted in a regular oven, FWIW), but you can eat these sprouts with just about any dipping sauce of your choosing.
This recipe was made with a multi-cooker in mind, but there's no reason you can't steam the broccoli the old-fashioned way, then form the croquettes and stick them in the air fryer for maximum crispiness. While they're working, don't sleep on the zingy, herby ranch-inspired sauce.
Community member Foodlover 12 says of this recipe: "When I tried these, I could not beleive they were cauliflower. The air fryer gives them the most delightful light, crispy consistency that's better than any fried chicken."
Need we say any more? We think not.
Tempeh can eat a little bitter if it's not prepared with care — luckily, this recipe is chock-full of the stuff (both tempeh and care). Pile smoky, crispy slices of the air-fried fermented soybean cakes onto your favorite grainy, seedy bread and dig in.
Goat cheese fritters, without any of the messy oozing! Just bread them lightly and stick them in the air fryer for a crispy, melt-in-your-mouth result.
This post contains products that are independently selected by Food52 editors, and as an Amazon Associate Food52 may earn from qualifying purchases.