You’ve probably heard or seen the name “air fryer” several times since they’re so popular. They’re everywhere!
But not everyone knows that much about them. For example, what does an air fryer look like? What is an air fryer, what do they do, and why should you care?
I’ll cover that and more:
- What an air fryer looks like & the different styles
- What a digital air fryer is and its benefits
- What an air fryer does and why they’re so useful
- How much electricity and power (wattage, amps, and more) an air fryer uses
- How food tastes when cooked using one
Let’s get started!
What does an air fryer look like? What exactly is an air fryer?
Air fryers come in similar shapes, usually some sort of squarish or cylindrical shape similar to a barrel. Many are curved on the side and have a generally round style. Both digital or mechanical models (non-electronic controls) have the controls in the front or on top.
Air fryers generally look like a type of barrel shape or have a square/rectangular body, with a control set (mechanical dials or electronic buttons) on the front or top. Smaller capacity models (say 1 to 1.2 quarts or so) very often have a barrel or cylinder shape.
Nearly all provide a front-mounted handle to remove the food basket that is in the bottom half of the body.
What do air fryers do?
As an alternative to traditional hot oil fryers or ovens, air fryers cook food using intense heat that circulates over the food. They can cook food in a variety of ways including crisping food similar to how a fryer works.
Air fryers can also keep food warm (low temperature setting) or reheat cold foods and provide a tastier reheated meal than a microwave oven can. They’re also faster and easier to use than a conventional oven.
They offer delicious, freshly cooked food with about 85% less fat than deep fryers along with no greasy oil dripping off to make a mess.
Air fryer functions & the basics to know
Like I mentioned above, you can certainly cook many foods – but there’s a lot more you can do with one. Here’s are some of the most common cooking modes or functions air fryers provide:
- Air fry foods that normally require hot oil: french fries, chicken wings, tater tots.
- Baking: small servings or sizes of cookies, bread, muffins, and much more.
- Cooking meats such as hamburgers, hot dogs, steak, beef, lamb, chicken, and fish.
- Re-heating foods stored in the refrigerator.
- Keep food warm and fresh, ready to eat (warming function).
- Rotisserie cooking (not all air fryers offer this feature).
- Thawing, cooking, and even crisping frozen foods: frozen meat, burritos, Hot Pockets, mozzarella sticks, and a lot more!
Some air fryers offer a rotisserie function to cook whole chickens or meats just like you’ll find in a deli – but at home! They also can cook other foods just like a regular air fryer.
There are also some really neat features that some models offer that traditional ovens don’t:
- Food cooking temperature & time presets for a variety of meats, baked goods & breads, and frozen foods.
- Auto-off operation (set and forget).
- Pause feature: many air fyers pausing cooking while the food basket is removed. Many also offer a button for this purpose.
- Easy temperature and time controls: in addition to cooking timer presets on digital models, all models are easier than ovens when it comes to adjusting the temperature or cooking time.
- Easy clean up: unlike other appliances or ovens, most are pretty easy to clean up and even have a non-stick coating on the food basket and drip pan.
Does an air fryer use oil?
No, air fryers do not need oil to cook food. They use an electric heating element and electric fan to create intensely heated air that cooks the food as it surrounds and moves around the food in a cooking basket. As the food cooks, fat, grease, and other food contents fall away and are captured for cleaning when done.
However, while oil is not used, you can use a spray cooking oil like canola oil or brush oil on foods for better crisping.
For better crisping, you can use a brush-on or spray cooking oil on the outside of your food. Canola oil is healthy, inexpensive, and a great choice (plus there are several other great choices you can use, too).
What kind of foods can an air fryer cook?
There’s a huge range of food air fryers can cook:
- Meats: steak, poultry, seafood, shrimp, bacon
- Frozen Foods: basically all types
- Side dishes/potatoes/etc: French fries, hashbrowns, tater tots, stuffed crabs
- Vegetables including root vegetables & stuffed peppers
- Bread and desserts
- Toast and other bread you’d like to toast or brown
For many brands it’s as easy as just choosing the correct preset with 1 easy tap on the display once the food is put in the basket – you’re ready to cook. You can also set cooking temp/time as needed.
How does an air fryer work?
Here’s a diagram showing the major parts of an air fryer and how it works. Air fryers share a lot in common with traditional ovens which have a convection baking design. Food in an air fryer’s cooking basket is exposed to hot air forced over it using the electric fan near the heating element.
As I mentioned earlier, air fryers don’t actually “fry” food. Hot air is forced onto the food in a way much like a convection oven, cooking it as it works.
Above the food area, there’s an electric heating element that creates hot air. A fan located above it blows the heat over the food as it moves, cooking both the inside and outside of the food. Foods that ordinarily require a deep fryer to crispen become crisp without oil although a sprayed or brushed cooking oil can improve it.
They were given the name “air fryer” because of how they can cook food well and also crisp the outside similar to how a grease or shortening fryer works. It’s also because they’re more appealing to today’s health food lovers since they’re a healthy alternative to oil fryers.
One of the biggest advantages of air fryers is how they don’t need hot, dangerous, and messy oil like a traditional fryer. Who wants food saturated with oil that drips all over the place?
The basic parts in an air fryer
Air fryers may look a little bit different from one another but they all have the same basic way they work: there’s a heating element, a fan, a food basket that traps leaking fat or grease and crumbs, and mechanical or electrical controls. There’s also always a handle of some sort to remove or re-inset the food basket.
Sort-of like a traditional oven they also have cooking time and temperature controls.
The main sections of an air fryer are:
- A food container (also called a basket) in which food is placed. These normally have a nonstick coating and a slotted bottom (or a slotted tray that fits inside) to allow fat and other residues to fall to the bottom & away from food. This also makes it easy to clean up after using it.
- A drip tray or basket bottom section where melted fat, water, crumbs, and other residue collects. After cooking this is easy to separate from the food section for easy cleaning. These have a nonstick surface also.
- Electric heating element (electric eye). These are usually a small version similar to those you see in a standard oven.
- Electric fan. Placed over or below the heating element, this forces hot air over the food for better cooking.
- Temperature and cooking time controls. For standard (dial) models they’re electromechanical controls. Digital models offer push button controls and presets – these use more complicated electronics than more basic models.
Other models have additional features, but the basic way they all work is essentially identical regardless of how fancy it may or may not be.
What is a digital air fryer?
Examples of “digital” air fryers – these have electronic controls and a digital display instead of dial controls like others.
Digital air fryers use electronic controls and a digital display instead of mechanical dial controls. They offer cooking presets and more accurate cooking than standard models. That’s one of the single best reasons to get a digital air fryer: for the most common foods, they have built-in cooking presets that instantly set up the correct time & temperature.
Unlike mechanical models that use a more old-fashioned engineering design to control the temperature and cooking time, the electronics used in digital air fryers are better at measuring temperature and keeping track of time, making it easier to get the perfect results every time.
While you might think they’re much more expensive, they’re not. Models with digital controls don’t really cost much more than their lower-end counterparts. Air fryers with smaller capacities are often a little bit cheaper as they usually don’t offer the same features, but a digital model is a better choice overall because of the added convenience.
How much electricity does an air fryer use? (Wattage, amps, and more)
Air fryers have power ratings based on their size & food cooking capacity. Small units tend to be use about 1,000W while larger ones tend to use around 1,700W.
The good news is that air fryers tend to be one of just a few electricity use ratings which based on their size and food cooking capacity.
For example, the typical power use of air fryers is:
- Smaller models with a smaller capacity (1.2-2 quarts): about 1,000-1,200 watts typically.
- Larger units (3.4-6 quart capacity): 1,700 watts in many cases.
There’s a good reason why. The main reason for this is that larger models take more heat and therefore more electricity is needed to cook more food, while smaller units need less.
You’ll typically use more electricity when cooking foods like frozen meats like chicken wings or steak at high temperatures for about 25 to 30 minutes.
How many amps does an air fryer use?
Thanks to Ohm’s law, a basic formula for calculating power based on voltage and current, we can figure out how many amps different air fryers use.
Air fryer power vs amps table
|Air Fryer Watts||Amps (110V)||Amps (220V)|
These are approximate amps ratings, so they’re pretty close to what you’d measure with a Kill-A-Watt meter or test meter. As you can see, a typical higher-power 1,700W air fryer uses a bit over 15 amps while a smaller unit uses about 9 amps.
Does an air fryer use less electricity than an oven?
Air fryer vs oven power use comparison chart. Air fryers use a lot less electricity and also have a faster preheat time (about 3 to 5 minutes). They also use a lower maximum temperature than ovens. There’s much less air to heat since they’re smaller, making them great for saving energy and avoiding hassle.
Air fryers are very similar to a convection oven, with a few differences.
- Convection ovens have a higher maximum temperature (450-500°F). Air fryers use a lower maximum temperature (typically 400°F). [Note: This does depend on the model, but seems to be the case usually]
- You’ll normally cook food in an air fryer with a lower temperature than in an oven ( 350°F-370°F for example). Generally it will take less time overall as well.
- Air fryers, thanks to their size & cooking efficiency, use less electricity. Average models use about 1,000 to 1,700 watts. Ovens, however, often have a power rating of 2,500-3,500 watts.
- It takes roughly half the time (or less) for an air fryer to reach its full preheat temperature. Convection ovens/traditional ovens often take around 10 minutes because they have a great deal more air volume and more surfaces to heat inside.
- Air fryers include the cooking container (food basket) which ovens don’t.
- Food cooked in an air fryer is cooked by much more intense heat as the heating element is very close to the food.
Additionally, air fryers with digital controls usually provide preset buttons that make cooking the most common foods even easier than with an oven.
Do air fryers really work? How does the food taste vs frying?
Delicious breaded and raw shrimp I cooked in a digital and a standard air fryer. The results were excellent – hot, fresh, and tasty – without oil dripping off and without dealing with a hot oven!
How well do air fryers work?
Yes, in my experience, air fryers work very well! While you can’t expect to get the same results for some foods (fried chicken, for example), the quality I’ve enjoyed has been great when the food is cooked properly.
It can take a bit of learning when using one for the first time (especially when you’re used to cooking food with a deep fryer or a regular oven) but it won’t be long before you get it just right. You can expect the food to taste great and be a lot healthier. Also, air fryers are great at reheating foods that are best when exposed to hot air instead of a microwave oven.
For example, foods that are best when crispy, pizza, and nearly anything simply tastes better when warmed up in one. On the other hand, for some foods like soup, hot drinks, or quickly thawing out frozen items, a microwave oven may be a better choice.
Using a cooking spray
As I mentioned earlier, while they don’t require oil to cook food, there are some cases where brushing on a little bit of cooking oil or using a cooking spray to coat the food gives better results. For example, I like to use a bit of healthy canola oil spray on my french fries, chicken wings, and tater tots to help get a wonderful brown crispy outside.
More great air fryer articles
There’s lots more to see! Check out my other great articles:
- Get a great one! Here are the best air fryers under $100.
- Learn how to cook great chicken wings in an air fryer.
- Find out how to cook delicious frozen hamburgers with your air fryer.
- Find out how much electricity an air fryer uses here.
Thanks for reading. Comments or questions? Let me know below or reach out via my Contact page.