Air fryers are pretty neat. If you blast the heat, you can create crisp, crunchy food in no time flat. Or you can reheat leftovers evenly on a lower setting. Or, if you’re really wise, you roast vegetables to perfection.
But, let’s say you’re new to air fryers, or you’re just curious: How do air fryers actually work?
Well, that’s a question with a couple different answers. The first answer is simple: You toss food in the basket of the air fryer, turn it on, and come back to a quickly cooked meal. Technically, that is how an air fryer works.
Of course, you probably want to know why and how that happens. As in: What are the mechanisms of an air fryer that allows for delicious food? We’ve got you covered.
Air fryers can look different depending on the brand, size, and price point. But there are a few component parts to expect, chiefly:
a drawer where the food goes
a basket or grate, which elevates and holds the food inside the drawer
a heating element
the controls, typically on the front of the air fryer
Knowing these parts will help you understand how the air fryer works.
The cooking process
The first thing to understand: an air fryer does not actually fry your food. Frying, by definition, is cooking food in hot oil. You can shallow fry in a skillet or deep fry, where the oil totally surrounds the food, but frying necessitates cooking in oil.
An air fryer, in theory, mimics the idea of a deep fry, where the heat source — in deep frying’s case, hot oil — completely surrounds the food and touches its entire surface area at once. That’s why deep frying creates crispy food, quickly: It puts high heat on the item, all at once.
The air fryer functions like a convection oven. You set the temperature and put the food in the cooking drawer. The heating element creates hot air, which is then circulated rapidly all around the food drawer by the fan. With the food raised inside the basket or grate, the hot, circulated air touches all sides of the food. You should, in turn, get crispy, browned food with very little or no oil.
It’s actually helpful to think of air frying as turbocharged roasting. Or, if you’re air frying on lower temperatures, it can reheat leftovers well and quickly, since the hot air engulfs the food. And, of course, it’ll make frozen food delicious since it defrosts and cooks evenly and quickly.
So there you have it, mystery solved: That’s how an air fryer works.