Air fryers, air fryers, who wants an air fryer? Judging by recent sales activity, absolutely everyone, and in particular, dual zone ones. And most in particular of all, Ninja's dual zone air fryer. You can't get one of those very easily at present, but you can read our guide to the new Tower dual zone air fryers – they actually are available (opens in new tab).
Now, I love air fryers as much as the next person – unless the next person is one of T3's air fryer correspondents – Rob Clymo and Millie Fender, for instance. They have to bear the brunt of an onslaught of air fryers to review, air fryers to test air fried recipes in and as a result they have had to move out of their homes, because they are too full of air fryers for human habitation.
Anyway, here are 6 things I wish I knew before buying an air fryer. Obviously by that I mean '6 things I wish I knew before receiving some of the best air fryers for free from leading air fryer brands,' but just go with it. If you like lists of things that I regret, we've also got 6 things I wish I knew before I bought an induction hob.
1. Air fryers do not fry
Do air fryers really fry? Hell no. I have no idea why they even got the name 'air fryer' in the first place. Air fryers bake and roast while blowing vapourised fat around with a fan. Exactly like a fan oven does, although the smaller cavity and more powerful fan does make it quicker and arguably more effective.
So while you can get delicious crispiness from an air fryer, you can't 'fry' anything in any meaningful sense. On the plus side, as a result of this non-frying, most air fryer recipes are a lot healthier than their deep fat fryer equivalents
2. …But you do have to use oil with them
Other than when cooking chips, I usually use quite a lot of oil when air frying, despite what the instruction manuals say. Food just tastes nicer and cooks better with some fat involved.
Sprayed oil is better than poured when it comes to air frying. However, one thing to be aware of here is that a lot of shop-bought oil sprays contain lecithin. Bizarrely, this does not interact well with non-stick surfaces at high temperatures, and turns into a weird gunk that is hard to remove and, paradoxically, rather sticky.
I find this hasn't been a problem for me as I only spray the food, not the basket. However, I have heard some horror stories from people who are more liberal with their fatty spraying, so be aware. There's always the option of buying a reusable spray and filling it with standard-issue cooking oil with no lecithin added, of course.
4. You can do a lot more than just chips
An air fryer, as we have now established, is essentially a small fan oven and not a deep fat fryer that cooks with magic instead of lard. The great news about that is that it means it's a lot more versatile than many people think. You can bake, roast and reheat leftovers and whatever you do with it will be fast, energy-efficient and hopefully lip-smackingly delish
4. The air fryer parts you use most are easy to clean but the outer parts… not so much
We have a handy guide to how to clean an air fryer – it's easier than you probably think! That's true of the most important parts of the device, anyway. Alas, I have some concerns about cleaning the less glamorous but more essential parts of most air fryers. By this I mean the heating element, the fan, the bit the basket sits in, the various inexplicable nooks and crannies, etc.
The low price and compact size of most air fryers, compared to standard ovens, doesn't fill me with huge optimism about their likely longevity. The fact that it's hard to de-gunk some of the most important parts of them is another warning sign. Not a red light perhaps, but certainly nudging into amber.
5. There's a war going on in the air fryer community!
Most people think an air fryer looks like the above. Strictly speaking, that is exactly what most of them do look like. However, there are a load of 'air fryers' that are actually multi-cookers which include an air frying function. Rob Clymo loves his Tefal Actifry Genius XL 2in1. I won't be parted from the multi-function monster that is the 15-in-1 Ninja Foodi SmartLid OL750UK. I think it's great that in one device I can do air frying and Instant Pot-style pressure cooking, not to mention slow cooking, steam roasting and… 11 other things that I admittedly don't really need to do.
However, on the other side of the divide, air fryer fundamentalist Carrie Marshall regrets buying a multi-function device to replace her old air fryer, and swears the results from the specialised fryers are more crispy. I haven't asked Millie Fender what she thinks, but most of her 47-or-so air fryers seem to be the compact, air fry-only type.
6. Air fryers can be quite large
This is particularly true of the multi-function type, but even the 'just a frying basket in a box' type will take up quite a significant amount of your precious worktop space. The good news is that many an air fryer buyer finds they use their new machine all the time, and don't need to store it away, or resent the space it takes up. But if you think you'll only use it once or twice a week, be aware that it'll still be taking up quite a bit of your real estate on the days you're not using it.
I'm lucky in that my kitchen is huge, anyway.