Do you really need an air fryer? A sceptic puts it to the test

A simple kitchen gadget standing in front of a boy, asking him to throw something in it.
A simple kitchen gadget standing in front of a boy, asking him to throw something in it. Photo: iStock

As with all fervent religions, eventually there will be a disturbance in the flock. The Church of Fryerntology is no different.

Where air fryers gather, there will be worship at the benchtop of the gadget gods and inevitably the occasional spat, as was seen in a Facebook air fryer group, one nudging 500,000 members. There was a cooking contretemps – a recipe ruckus, if you will – among the faithful, sparked by a makeshift sweet and sour chicken.

"Chinese fakeaway" the proud poster called her creation, which deployed frozen chicken cooked in an air fryer and a jar of sweet-and-sour sauce to create a nifty and cheap restaurant knock-off. The problem? There was not enough of it, according to one poster bothered by the portion size. Soon it was on for young and old. The offending post was later deleted but not before the flock had had its say.

"There's some real Karens in this group," wrote one, "r u all proud of urself (sic) keyboard warrior?"

And this: "Why do people have to be so nasty."

"No wonder kids are struggling with bullying and unkindness."

"Time to clean out the group, how disappointing are these comments."

Not every kitchen appliance can unleash such passions, but the air fryer is not just any kitchen appliance. Like a bargain-basement Thermomix – in that once you have one, you won't stop talking about it – the air fryer is a phenomenon that has taken Australian kitchens by storm and prompted thousands to ask innocent questions like, "what does it do?", quickly followed by, "do I need one?"

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I tossed these inquiries out on Twitter and was swamped by responses ranging from "It will change your life!" to "It will change your life."

And then there was this snooty reaction: "You do know it's just a convection oven that sits on your bench, don't you?" Well yes. It is. But more on that later.

First up: do you need one? Yes. Yes, you do. 

And what a range of choices you have. Retailers offer around a dozen of different brand, shape, size and price. I settled on the $149 entry model from Philips, which introduced the first air fryer at a consumer electronics event in Berlin in 2010. You can spend a lot more, or a lot less. The smallest from Kmart is a mere $89, and is hugely popular. At the top end of the scale, you won't get much change from $500.

You get what you pay for. My model proved a great size – fears of it taking over limited bench space proved unfounded; it occupies roughly the same amount of room as a large toaster. It's a solid but not high-end bit of kitchen kit, comprised of the main barrel-shaped unit into which slots the cooking tray and detachable basket. There is a temperature dial, and that's it. Plug that baby in and you're off to the races.

And this is a race. An air fryer's main claim to fame is that it not only cooks healthier food, but it does so much more quickly. The "fryer" bit comes from the notion that with its swirl of intense heat in a small concentrated space, the device mimics the act of deep-frying in oil – but uses little to no oil to at all.

With that as the key test, it passes with flying colours. It produces classic fried foods, such as hot chips, that you would swear have bubbled away in a couple of inches of fat and grease for 20 minutes. The air fryer, sans oil, delivers the same result in half the time.

Chips cook (and reheat) successfully in an air fryer.
iStock image downloaded under the Good Food team account (contact syndication for reuse permissions).

"Fried" chips pass the test. Photo: iStock

Once you've conquered the basics like fries, you might find it hard to stop. The genius of it is the speed and the convenience. It takes almost no time to preheat. And it is just there: a simple kitchen gadget standing in front of a boy, asking him to throw something in it.

And throw things in it I have. Occasionally I've nicked recipes from Facebook or YouTube, where thousands of air fryer cultists lurk waiting to have their slightly unhinged way with you. But more often I've experimented, and there is virtually nothing you can't put in it. As a short but not complete list, I have used it to cook chicken in three different ways plus meatballs, sausages, bacon, hamburgers, fries, dumplings, arancini, pork belly, fritters, cakes and even tofu. It has handled them all with aplomb.

A glorified convection oven it may be – the cooking principle is indeed exactly the same – but as the faithful know, a glorified thing can still a thing of glory be. And once you're in The Church of Fryerntology, it's best just to go with the hot air flow.