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What the Hell Is an Air Fryer, and How Does It Work?

A look at the machine that cooks French fries you can feel good about eating.

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A picture of the Dash air fryer by StoreBound.
StoreBound | Dash

You’ve likely heard of them, and maybe even seen one, but if you’re still wondering what exactly is an air fryer and if you need one in your life, here’s everything you need to know:

Hot Air Is The New Oil

Instead of using hot oil, like with traditional deep frying, air fryers employ rapid air circulation to “fry” food without oil, butter, or any other type of fat, according to Catherine-Gail Reinhard, VP of product strategy and marketing at StoreBound, the company that owns Dash, an air fryer manufacturer.

“An air fryer is similar to a convection oven in the principles that it uses to cook,” Reinhard explains. “Hot air circulates around the food and creates a crispy layer on the outside of the food."

Less Oil = Healthier Food

Jonathan Valdez, a registered dietitian and owner of Genki Nutrition, notes that compared to deep-frying, air fryers are considered to be the healthier option. "This is due to the fact that deep-frying submerges foods in hot oil," he says. "Regular consumption of fried foods has been associated with increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes."

“Since little to no oil is required when using an air fryer, it significantly cuts down consumption of fats,” Valdez continues. “Even when small amounts of oil are used to prepare food, the air fryer suspends foods in a perforated metal basket, which allows fats to drain as they cook.”

Valdez lists roasted vegetables, chicken, French fries, and homemade potato chips as some of his favorite things to cook in air fryers. “Since air fryers cook with dry heat, you can also use an air fryer to bake and roast,” adds Reinhard.

Air Frying Vs. Deep Frying

While air fryers can result in a crunchy texture and flavor similar to fried foods, they don’t replace deep fryers, says Reinhard. “Air fryers do well with breaded and frozen fries, chicken tenders and appetizers but for liquid batters (like beer batter) a deep fryer is still going to be your best bet.”

A Note on Cost

Dash’s air fryers range in price from $59.99 to $129.99, with prices increasing with the size of the model and added features. Competitors like Ninja are comparable in price ($129.99), while Philips sells its air fryers for $300 or more. “Some air fryers even include accessories like baking pans and special racks so that you can prepare cakes and kebabs,” says Reinhard.

Whether or not it’s worth the cost depends on your style of cooking. “Think about the recipes you most love to cook,” says Reinhard. “If you love to entertain, a larger air fryer might be a great option. If you’re just looking to find a simple, healthy way to cook, a smaller air fryer will do the trick.”

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