If you’ve been looking through Black Friday sales and wondering whether your countertop needs an air fryer the answer is: maybe. These buzzy mini-convection ovens are actually incredibly useful for certain types of cooks.
Having been cooking with one for a few months now, my choice for aesthetic and practical reasons would be the combination air fryer and toaster oven from Cuisinart, which is currently on sale at Amazon for $160, down from $200. There are also a few excellent new cookbooks to help home cooks make the most of an air fryer, including Every Day Easy Air Fryer, by the Instant Pot maven Urvashi Pitre, and Air Fry Every Day by Ben Mims, a recipe developer and who has become a bit of an air fryer expert. (Mims’ pick for the best model to buy, the Crux 2.6 Qt. Touchscreen Air Convection Fryer, is currently on sale at Macy’s for $49.99.)
Here’s who should, and should not, get in on the air fryer deals this week.
Let’s get one crucial piece of information out of the way up front: If perfect French fries at 2am are what you’re after, skip it. Air fryers are not a low-fat miracle. They make excellent chicken wings, which you could certainly cook for a midnight snack, and they do crisp frozen things, like fish sticks, nicely. But they’re not a magical fried food machine.
The air fryer I have is not big enough to make dinner for my entire family of four. It does hold a perfect amount of vegetables to roast and enjoy without having leftovers, which are always somewhat unappealing the next day. If you like your broccoli charred and your cauliflower deep golden brown, the air fryer can handle that beautifully without heating your kitchen up to unbearable temperatures. The convection action—hot, dry, moving air—does a much better job than your standard oven, which often just steams chunks of squash or sweet potato. It’s not just for hearty roots and tubers either. Roasted corn salad, blistered green beans, sweet asparagus–all are delicious simply tossed in salt and oil and then blasted with 400-degree air for 10 to 15 minutes.
And I always toast nuts for recipes in it, because you set it for a specific amount of time, after which it automatically shuts off. No more forgetting about my almonds and burning them twice in a row.
If you have a crappy oven, as many apartment dwellers do, the air fryer may change your life. Their temperatures are very accurate, and cooking with convection heat is a whole new tool to play with. They turn out beautiful baked goods, in small batches, and nicely seared steaks and chops, too. I don’t use my air fryer every day, but there are certain things I always use it for that have made my life in the kitchen markedly better. They can make you into one of those urban iconoclasts who stores shoes, or books, or sweaters in the oven.
If you live alone or just dine solo a lot, the air fryer is an excellent appliance. It makes delicious vegetables and sides. The toaster oven-style models can cook a small lasagna. They’re genius for cooking fish, and reduce the amount of fishy aroma in your kitchen. Portion control is built into their design, especially if you’re making something like a lamb chop and roasted vegetables, so you’re not making a heap of food that you then have to eat all week long to finish the leftovers. It also makes fantastic brownies—four at a time.
As a parent of small children, I have nights when chicken fingers or fish sticks are their dinner, and the air fryer is ideal for heating them up while cooking something rather more grown-up in the oven. It is also the single best way to reheat a single serving of lasagna or pizza.
I can see this as a great gift for someone who is either new to cooking entirely, or new to cooking for just one or two. Its size makes a meal for one feel normal, not like your dinner date stood you up and left you with food for the week. If kitchen safety is a concern, air fryers shut off automatically—it’s very difficult to accidentally leave them on overnight. Using one, it is possible, but not easy, to burn yourself, and, unlike with a microwave, it still feels like real cooking.