Air Fryers: Just Another Gimmick?

For months, literally months, I have been agonizing over the decision to purchase an air fryer. Well…Let me back up and start from the beginning. Originally, I wanted to upgrade my toaster oven. I have an older model Hamilton Beach that still works, but I know more recent models have better insulation and/or are more energy efficient. You see, we live in Texas, and if you don’t know, Texas gets pretty damn hot. The last thing you want to do in the middle of a 30-day streak of 100+ degree days is fire up the oven. Toaster ovens DO help minimize the heat impact to your kitchen. I can attest to that.

As I researched toaster ovens, I couldn’t make up my mind. I wanted a toaster oven large enough to fit frozen pizzas, but the ones I could find didn’t get the greatest reviews for very legitimate reasons. So, I decided that I would keep an eye open for something down the line. While I was researching toaster ovens, I somehow started browsing air fryers.

When air fryers were gaining popularity, Rugjen and I laughed at them. Just another gimmicky small appliance that promises big results and fails at it. And, for the longest time, we laughed for good reason. People that bought those first generation air fryers were upset with their soggy fries and pitiful attempts at reheating chicken tendies.

It’s been years since the debut of the air fryer and major improvements to the technology have put them back in the small appliance game. I’ve had more and more friends swear by their air fryer, so for the past 2-3 months, I have been waffling back and forth between a toaster over/air fryer combo, or just picking up an air fryer. In the end, I decided to purchase an Instant Pot 6 quart Vortex Air Fryer. If I am being honest, I chose the Instant Pot version because it looked the coolest, and most modern. Overall, most of the on-the-shelf brands are rated pretty equally. I also liked the Instant Pot version because it has a built-in preheat cycle.

Do french fries really come out crispy?
YES. We purchase the Ore-Ida Extra Crispy Fast Food fries and have never been able to get them to crisp in the oven. I mean, you could broil them for a few minutes to try to brown them, but even doing that, I still did not really get satisfactory results without actually deep frying them. But, who likes to deep fry? We do own a deep fryer, and I hate the thing. Absolutely hate it. Dealing with the oil waste, the weird smells…I am not a fan of deep fryers. To our surprise, they were super crispy and lived up to the claims. This, alone, made the purchase worth it. My husband loves french fries and I avoided buying them because it was always disappointed to be met with soggy results.

What else have you tried?
So far, we have had success with everything we have tried. That being said, these have been all pre-cooked, frozen snacks. We recently tried frozen potstickers and they were amazing. They came out crispy AND lacking that lingering pan-fried oil taste. Mozzarella sticks? Amazing. Pizza rolls? Amazing. Cubed potatoes? Amazing. I plan on trying some cream cheese rangoons this week, but from my research, they should come out amazing. Hot wings is also on our list.

Let’s Address The Negative Reviews

Reviews can be super helpful if done correctly. Unfortunately, over the years, I have found that a majority of the complaints and/or bad reviews I read on a product is USER ERROR. So, when you run into a negative review, do a little research on the issue before taking someone’s word as gospel.

Chemical and/or Burning Plastic Smell

One of the top negative comments for ALL of the air fryers I was researching was “chemical”, “burning”, or “melting plastic” smell.

Make sure you have removed ALL of the packing materials and have pre-washed your appliance.
As my husband was unpacking our air fryer, he noticed that installed on the removable cooking grate were rubber feet to prevent the grate from damaging the inside of the basket during shipping. He mentioned he could see how someone could mistake these packing materials as part of the appliance. For this air fryer in particular, there were strong complaints about a “burning rubber” smell that never got better. We suspect that those individuals did not remove the shipping feet. That being said, the included reading materials do not mention specifically to remove them. So, make sure that you thoroughly inspect your air fryer upon unpacking and that you remove all packing materials. Also, pre-wash your appliance. I know a lot of you skip the first step of washing your new small appliances. There is a reason they instruct you to do this. It removes any traces of lubricants that contribute to that chemical smell, so wash your parts!

With that said, did we have a “smell” during the initial test run? OF COURSE WE DID. Any small appliance with a cooking/heating element and/or moving parts will have a “chemical” or “weird” smell the first few times you run it. It is ridiculous to expect it not to. The question is at what point is not normal. Per the instructions, we ran our air fryer through the recommended cycle. It smelled like it does when you turn your home’s heater on for the first time in the fall. It was not extremely offensive, but wasn’t so bad we felt like we needed to air out the house. After that initial cycle, we did not notice additional plastic/chemical/offensive smells.

Keep in mind other factors. If you have a very small apartment kitchen and/or poor ventilation in your home, these “chemical” smells may linger a lot longer in your home and be more concentrated than in my home. I think the point is to expect some “new appliance” smells for the first few uses. The smells should be decreasing in intensity, and if they are not, there may be an issue with your appliance.

My Food is Soggy!

Like any new appliance, you have to learn to speak its love language.

Don’t Skip the Preheat.
Whether it is a toaster oven, air fryer, or regular oven, DO NOT SKIP PREHEATING. Generally speaking, most baked items need to go into a hot oven to cook properly. Skipping the preheat cycle is setting yourself up for failure. My air fryer has a built-in preheat mode. If your air fryer does not, crank that baby up to 400 degrees for 7-10 minutes before you start. Even if your air fryer claims “no preheating needed”, it LIES. Preheat your air fryer.

For the Love of All Things Holy, Stop Overcrowding Your Air Fryer!
Take this as gospel, people. STOP. OVERCROWDING. YOUR. AIR. FRYER. The purpose of the air fryer is to use AIR to crisp up your food. If the air cannot penetrate or reach your food, it won’t crisp your food evenly. If your air fryer says it can handle 2 lbs. of frozen fries, read that as saying “If you want crispy AF fries, don’t put 2 lbs. in me.” Most of the pictures I have seen in reviews put too much food in their basket.

Size DOES matter.
If you find that the quantities you need to make results in consistently soggy food, you might need to buy a larger air fryer. Most standard 3 quart air fryers are for 1-2 servings. Most 6 quart air fryers claim to be able to handle 3-4 servings. I own a 6 quart air fryer and I have to say that cooking 4 servings of something is a stretch. Can it do it? Yes. Will it be crispy? No.

Toss Me Like a Salad.
My air fryer has built-in reminders to flip the food at certain points in the cycle. I have found that air fryers are NOT a set-and-forget appliance. While, yes, you can press the start button and walk away, you will not achieve the best results doing that. Again, this goes back to how an air fryer works. If you want all around crispy goodness, you have to flip and/or toss the food at some point in the cycle so the food’s exposure to the air is as equal as possible.

Your Food Might Need Oil.
I know. That sounds counter-intuitive. The whole reason you purchase an air fryer is so you don’t have to use oil, right? Right?! Well…not exactly. If you are cooking pre-made fried foods, you can typically get away with going oil free. The reason? It has been pre-fried. You’re just reheating the product to restore it to its former glory. However, if you are cooking something from scratch, your recipes may need the addition of a little oil to achieve the desired fried texture. There are a ton of resources out there, so I won’t go into too much detail. Just know that adding a little brush of oil, or mixing in a very small amount of oil during the prepping processing can help achieve the correct results.

How loud is it really?

Let’s talk sound. Air fryers are loud. Period.

That being said, how loud the air fryer sounds is going to be a matter of perspective. If you live in a 3,000 square foot home and your kitchen is pretty isolated from the other rooms in the house, it really may be “not that loud”. If you have a small studio apartment, or you have an open floor plan that allows your kitchen noise to bleed into your living areas, that same air fryer may sound like a jet engine to you. There are a lot of factors in determining how loud something is.

So, to make it simple. Air fryers are loud. They make noise. You will notice it is running. It will range from sounding like a microwave to sounding like a box fan. In other words, it is not silent. If you need silence and/or won’t be able to tolerate the noise level, you will be unhappy with an air fryer.

ChibiChonk Approved!

Overall, I am very pleased with our purchase. I think we will continue to use the air fryer in our meal preparation. Do I think air fryers are just another gimmick?

Yes and No.

Are they over-hyped? ABSOLUTELY. No, you do not NEED one to have a successful kitchen. Air fryer proponents praise the appliance so hard that you begin to believe that you will use it for everything. It will revolutionize how you approach cooking. You can cook full meals, oil-free, healthier, in one basket.

Let’s be real. Unless you, too, join the cult of making more work for yourself to justify how an air fryer is the next best thing right along side sliced bread, you won’t. You will most likely not use it every day and certainly won’t try to cook for a family using only the air fryer.

While it is true that it crisps food up in a way that you just can’t achieve in an oven, at the end of the day, even the largest air fryers simply do not have enough room to prepare for a larger-sized family. I do think that air fryers are absolutely great for the bachelor/bachelorette/young couple/roommates that is focusing on school or work and needs a simple appliance that will turn their frozen meals into something edible. I would not say it is a great appliance for families. You will find that it is just easier to cook larger amounts using your traditional oven, even if it is a bit unsavory compared to what an air fryer can do for you.

Does it live up to the hype? While I cannot say this true for every air fryer, I know the Instant Pot version we bought does. Every item we have put into it has come out crispy, delicious, and made my meal preparations just a little easier.

So, there you have it. If you have extra counter space and the extra cash, you won’t regret it. Even if it is solely to fry up some french fries on burger night, it is worth it. I have to caution you, though. No, you don’t need it. No, it won’t become your sole method of cooking. No, it won’t replace every other appliance in your house, but it will make whatever you put in taste crispy without that greasy, oil residue.

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