5th Mar 2024

How does an air fryer really work?

How does an Air Fryer work?


A roast chicken being put into a Salter DuoWave Air fryer Microwave Cooked food being removed from a duowave air fryer

We've already covered a lot about air fryers in our previous blogs, such as:

Let's take a closer look at how air fryers really work. What is the secret magic going on inside these revolutionary new cooking appliances.What is it that can make an air fryer cheaper to run? What is an air fryer?

I'll kick off with some quick answers to those questions and then we can look a bit deeper into each one.

What is an air fryer?

  • An air fryer is typically a counter top appliance that cooks food quickly and efficiently by rapidly circulating hot air.
  • Air fryers come in many shapes and sizes and can cook individual portions of foods as part of a meal. Larger more advanced air fryers can cook entire meals or different things simultaneously thanks to automated cooking programs and multiple cooking compartments. 
  • Air fryers are often considered to be a healthier alternative to deep frying because they are generally less reliant on oil to cook food properly.

Are air fryers cheap to run?

  • When comparing an air fryer to a conventional domestic electric oven, they can often reduce electricity consumption and therefore could be considered cheaper to run than traditional appliances. 
  • Thanks to their more compact cooking compartments and recirculation of hot air, this can improve energy efficiency when compared to more conventional cooking methods. 

Find out more about How air fryers can save energy

How does and air fryer work?

  • Air fryers use thermal radiation and rapid heat convection combined with specially designed perforated cooking baskets to allow hot air to thoroughly recirculate food.
  • Thanks for careful temperature control they are able to use intelligent cooking modes and presets to correctly cook many common foods and ensure that they come out crispy and browned where necessary, optimising heat regulation to ensure the Maillard reaction (browning) works and can enhance the development of flavour.

Salter Digital Air Fryer XL

The science and technology inside an air fryer

Now that we've covered the main topic as a brief summary, let's dive a bit deeper into what is it that makes an air fryer work and help it to cook faster, more efficiently and be a healthier option.

Do air fryers really fry food?

Despite their name, air fryers don't fry in the traditional sense, by cooking food which has been submerged in oil or fat.

Air fryers typically use a combination of thermal radiation (such as from a heating element in a grill) and convection (similar to a fan assisted oven).

Oil is used in cooking to improve the transfer of heat so that food cooks more effectively, similarly it also has a higher boiling point than water and so allows food to be cooked hotter and aids with the browning process (often a vital part of unlocking flavour and improving texture). 

Frying in the traditional sense is the process of transferring heat to food using hot oil. The negative health impacts of using oil are well known and understood but many of us continue to use oil because it has been the best (or only) way to cook certain foods properly. 

AeroGrill air fryer with broccoli and chicken

How do air fryers cook faster?

Air fryers more effectively circulate their hot air and cook food rapidly. This is aided by having perforated cooking baskets, which allow the hot air to pass through and around the food more efficiently again and again - this also helps to ensure that moisture is retained and food isn't dried out as much. 

Air fryers are often able to reach higher temperatures than conventional domestic electric ovens which can also allow them to speed up the cooking time for certain foods. This is especially true for foods which experience the Maillard reacting at hot temperatures; where they begin to brown. 

The rapid hot air circulation also creates a convection effect which can draw moisture away from the foods surface, similar to what can happen with traditional deep frying.

But are air fryers really a healthier option?

Air fryers do sometimes use oil in the cooking process, which is why the claims are often "little to no oil" or "less oil". Thanks to how air fryers don't require food to be submerged in fat or oil, they may be considered healthier than traditional frying.

Some foods require no oil at all and can still benefit from being cooked via air frying because the hot air is a substitute for adding oil or fat.

The health aspect also depends entirely on what food you put into them and portion size.

There are many considerations when looking for a healthy and balanced diet. Having less oil in foods and your diet may lead to fewer calories and less saturated fat. 

Another consideration is that air frying may help to reduce the formation of harmful compounds which can form during high-heat deep frying. 

It's important to remember that using an air fryer will not automatically make your food healthy. 

How do air fryers make cooking easier?

A lot of focus is put on the health benefits of air frying and the potential savings in money and energy. The smart technology is an often overlooked aspect and benefit of air firers.

Unlike traditional domestic ovens which often have a simple temperature and timer function, many air fryers come with pre-programmed intelligent cooking presets and modes which add another level of support and assistance when preparing certain foods. 

Some units allow for synchronised cooking of two very different foods which require different temperatures, times and patterns and yet the advanced electronic modes will ensure that they are ready to be served at the same finish time. 

Dual View Air fryer oven with cooking presets and two compartments

Final Thoughts

This blog has explored the fascinating world of air fryers, from their versatility and energy efficiency to the science behind their operation. We've learned that air fryers use a combination of thermal radiation and rapid convection, along with clever basket designs, to cook food quickly and efficiently. This method allows them to achieve crispy results with significantly less oil than traditional deep frying, potentially making them a healthier option.

While air fryers offer various benefits, it's important to remember that they are just one tool in a healthy kitchen. Remember, the type of food you cook and the added ingredients still significantly impact its nutritional value.

Now the next time you and your friends are talking about the latest in kitchen technology, you can play the air fryer expert and tell them why air fryers are worth considering and how air fryers work.

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