Do air fryers really fry? Or is Big Air Fryer lying to us?

Are we being sold an air fryer fib? These mini ovens are excellent but what is the truth about frying?

Do air fryers really fry?
(Image credit: Xiaomi)

As much as I like air fryers, there is something just a little off about them: the name. We will now investigate an important question: do air fryers really fry? 

[Spoilers coming up]

No, air fryers do not fry. Here is what frying means: to cook in hot oil or fat, in a pan. The characteristics of fried food are that it is crispy and oily in a specific way that immediately tells you it's been fried. Clearly, unless you fill your air fryer with oil and then cook your supper that way, you are not frying in any meaningful sense. And even then, some would argue you're then roasting that food. 

That concludes the article; please exit via our best air fryers guide. Good day to you, sir.

Oh, you want a longer answer?

Samuel Groves Tri-Ply Stainless Steel Non-Stick frying pan review

Pro tip: for that genuine fried taste and texture, try a frying pan

(Image credit: Samuel Groves)

Air fryer manufacturers are not exactly lying per se with the name they give their devices. These cookers were originally marketed as a healthy way to 'fry'. Often, marketing phrases used were along the lines of 'cook all your favourites [ie: French fries or chips] with just a teaspoon of oil'. A lot of air fryer users no longer focus on the health elements of air frying so much as the convenience, versatility and speed of it. 

You can make delicious meals in an air fryer – here are the best things to cook in an air fryer in my opinion, to prove that point. They're all quite meaty, and apart from the broccoli recipe, I wouldn't dare to describe any of them as healthy. However, they are all health-ier than cooking the same foods in a pan filled with oil. 

Elsewhere, we have some handy guides to making air fried food as much like actual fried food as possible. There's how to cook perfect air fryer chips, not to mention how to make perfect air fryer chicken. What both have in common is they involve using quite a lot of fat, albeit from a spray rather than by melting an enormous lump of beef dripping  in a pan. 

An air fryer, as I think is well understood now, is a small electric fan oven. Practically all modern ovens heat the air within them using an electric heating element, then move the resultant hot air around the oven with a fan. This gives more even cooking throughout the oven, and means that lower temperatures can be used than on traditional ovens, which predate the invention of the fan. 

An air fryer is exactly the same thing, but smaller, and usually the fans are pumping faster than on a full-size oven. The result of that is that even lower temperatures can be used, or the same temperature can be used, but for less time, and with crispier results. 

This process of heating and blowing air means oil or fat on your food is rapidly vaporised and blown around whatever you're cooking, and this is where the notion that 'frying' is occurring comes from. The exact same process happens in a standard oven, albeit at lower speed, but nobody who makes full-size ovens claims that 'frying' is taking place. 

Anyway, none of this is really a criticism of air fryers. They produce lip-smacking results at speed, and with a bit of practice, you can create specific dishes that have a taste and texture that is quite similar to frying. It's almost never totally similar, however, and that's because air fryers do not really fry.

And now, this really is the end of the article. Please enjoy the following words from our sponsors…

Duncan Bell

Duncan is the former lifestyle editor of T3 and has been writing about tech for almost 15 years. He has covered everything from smartphones to headphones, TV to AC and air fryers to the movies of James Bond and obscure anime. His current brief is everything to do with the home and kitchen, which is good because he is an excellent cook, if he says so himself. He also covers cycling and ebikes – like over-using italics, this is another passion of his. In his long and varied lifestyle-tech career he is one of the few people to have been a fitness editor despite being unfit and a cars editor for not one but two websites, despite being unable to drive. He also has about 400 vacuum cleaners, and is possibly the UK's leading expert on cordless vacuum cleaners, despite being decidedly messy. A cricket fan for over 30 years, he also recently become T3's cricket editor, writing about how to stream obscure T20 tournaments, and turning out some typically no-nonsense opinions on the world's top teams and players.

Before T3, Duncan was a music and film reviewer, worked for a magazine about gambling that employed a surprisingly large number of convicted criminals, and then a magazine called Bizarre that was essentially like a cross between Reddit and DeviantArt, before the invention of the internet. There was also a lengthy period where he essentially wrote all of T3 magazine every month for about 3 years. 

A broadcaster, raconteur and public speaker, Duncan used to be on telly loads, but an unfortunate incident put a stop to that, so he now largely contents himself with telling people, "I used to be on the TV, you know."