Air fryers: everything you need to know about the kitchen must-have 

The latest air fryers make it easy to liven up mealtimes – and they are more versatile than you might think.

Keep hearing about the joys of the smart and money-saving air fryer but have yet to try one out for yourself?

A healthier alternative to the deep fat fryer, the best air fryers can cook delicious meals in half the time of a conventional oven, which is why it’s fast becoming a kitchen essential.

If you’re tempted to buy one online, but aren’t sure which model to choose, we’re here to help. We’ve outlined all you need to know when choosing an air fryer that’s right for your household.

A woman placing salmon fillets into an air fryerCredit: Exceptional

We’ve included essential advice from expert chefs so you can shop for the ideal product, and in a separate article we asked an award-winning chef for their top tips.

Air fryers are best known for providing a quick, healthy and simple way to cook chicken and chips using little to no oil, while still giving you that tasty and indulgent crispy fried finish. They are, however, perfect for cooking so much more than the standard fried food.

Meat eater? You can use an air fryer to cook a succulent burger, ready in minutes. Pescatarian? How about chilli salmon with Swiss chard? Vegan all the way? Paprika roast carrots and crispy chickpeas are on the menu.

“While air fryers have been around for over a decade, sales have skyrocketed in the last year as we search for innovative ways to save energy when cooking,” says Karen Sime, small electrical, food and drink buyer at John Lewis & Partners.

From cooking a roast dinner, to bacon and eggs for breakfast, air fryers have shocked customers with their flexibility and efficiency.”

If you’re considering a purchase, read our guide on what to consider before buying an air fryer.

What is an air fryer?

A load of hot air

Unlike deep fat frying, there’s no traditional frying involved when using an air fryer.

In essence, an air fryer works much like a convection oven to circulate hot air around your food, cooking it through and creating a crispy golden finish while it remains moist inside.

The main difference between an air fryer and an oven is the size and the speed, with shorter cooking times for an air fryer as there is less capacity to heat.

When cooking food in an air fryer, the force of the air transferring heat to the surface of the food helps to create a crispy finish. And while it’s hard to get the exact same results as you would in a deep fryer, you can still achieve a satisfyingly golden, crispy crunch.

Man tipping food into the basket of an air fryerCredit: Exceptional

In terms of style there are a range of air fryer designs to choose from, including those with a single cooking drawer such as the Ninja Air Fryer AF100UK (£129 at Amazon), and the Ninja Foodi Dual Air Fryer AF300UK, (£219.99 at Ninja), with two drawers for more cooking space.

With a basket-style air fryer, you’ll need to pull out the drawer mid-cycle to check your food. Designs like this work particularly well for chips as it’s easy to shake the drawer half way through to ensure even cooking.

Air fryers with a viewing window such as the Instant Vortex Plus (£119.99 at Amazon), are lesser spotted, but they make it easier to see how your food is doing without having to open the drawer and disturb the cooking cycle.

Meanwhile, designs such as the Tefal ActiFry Genius XL (£199.99 at Amazon), with a bowl and stirring paddle, will mix the food for you while it cooks.

Many air fryers now come with advanced control panels with pre-set cooking modes for roasting, baking, reheating, dehydrating, grilling and more.

While you can buy multi-cookers, pressure cookers and grills with air fry settings as part of the offering, here we’ve focussed on designs whose primary focus is to air fry.

How much does an air fryer cost?

There are air fryers to suit most budgets

You’ll find a range of air fryers available online to suit a variety of budgets and worktop spaces.

Choose from sub-£50 models such as the compact 2-litre Salter EK2817 (£39.99 at Robert Dyas), to higher-end designs such as the Ninja Foodi Dual Zone Air Fryer, which comes with two cooking zones and will set you back around £219.99.

An average single basket 5.5-litre (9 pints, 14 fl oz) air fryer such as the Cosori Air Fryer (at Amazon) will cost you around the £100 mark.

Can an air fryer save me money?

Can an air fryer save money on my energy bills?

Depending on how efficient a design you choose, an air fryer can cut standard cooking times in half, and therefore save you time and effort in the kitchen as well as money on energy bills.

Once you know the wattage of the air fryer you want to buy, you can use this electricity usage calculator to work out how much it will cost to run.

You should also bear in mind if you have a gas oven, the air fryer may not work out that much cheaper – an A-rated 68 litre gas oven will cost about 17p per use. An equivalent electric oven would cost around around 25p.

Gas and electric ovens however do need pre-heating, so when it comes to something like frozen chips or a pizza that don’t need long to cook, an air fryer would probably be the cheaper option. However, if you’re cooking a large joint of meat in a gas oven, it will probably work out cheaper. 

It’s also worth noting that an air fryer won’t give you as much cooking space as a standard 60-litre oven, so make sure your air fryer is big enough for your needs. Running it twice to cook meals for all the family will defeat the air fryer’s energy saving aspect, of course.

Woman removing the basket from an air fryerCredit: Exceptional

What you can cook

What can I cook in an air fryer?

Both indulgent comfort foods and healthy dishes can be prepared in the air fryer and the beauty of it is that you can use as little or as much oil as you see fit.

The perfect tool to help you get creative in the kitchen, there is, in fact, little an air fryer can’t cook. If the food can be baked, fried or roasted, it will work well, but it’s best to avoid anything with a wet batter.

Your standard basket-style air fryer won’t have as much cooking space as a traditional oven, so it won’t be able to fit a whole roast chicken or particularly large cut of meat.

You can, however, find multi-cookers with air fryer settings that can fit whole chickens, and air fryers with specific grilling or rotisserie features.

The best air fryers make it easy to adjust temperature and time settings, with heat settings ranging between anything from 49°C to 220°C (120°F to 428°F). Some designs have pre-set cooking modes to give your food extra crisp, for baking, roasting or slowly dehydrating ingredients.

Cooked food in the basket of an air fryerCredit: Exceptional

You can use it to cook food that suits a range of tastes and food preferences, from meat eaters who want a succulent steak to those who’d rather get their fill from a delicious bowl of crispy kale.

Homemade chips, roasted vegetables, fresh fish and meat all work well, as do frozen chips, chicken nuggets and pies. Air fried doughnuts? You got it. Air fried vegetables? Coming right up.

At this time of year, Riverford chef Bob Andrew loves to use an air fryer for roasting root vegetables. “Air frying makes perfect comfort food in the winter months and gives potatoes, carrots, parsnips, celeriac and beetroot crispy edges and deep roasted flavours that an oven can, but takes up less time and is easier to use,” he says.

“I love to use my air fryer to cook Paprika Roast Carrots and Crispy Chickpeas. The protein and crunch of the chickpeas combined with the richness of the ricotta is a great lunch, or ideal beginnings of a sturdy dinner.”

Is air-fried food healthier?

It’s important to limit your intake of fried food

While air fryers are a healthier alternative to the deep fat fryer as they need far less oil, it’s important to remember that if you do cook with a lot of oil there will be associated health risks.

“As we become more aware of the detrimental effects of eating high fat, deep-fried food, an air fryer provides a much healthier alternative,” says chef and recipe developer Lisa Marley.

“But cooking oil on a very high heat may lead to damaging compounds to develop, including acrylamide, which (according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer) can be detrimental to our health. Research on the effects of air-fried food is at present limited, but in general I think it’s important to limit your intake of fried food.  

“A healthy diet should be filled with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, good fats and protein. As well as potato and sweet potato chips, an air fryer is great for healthy vegetable bakes, roast potatoes and even risotto. Chips come out crispy and golden, with soft fluffy centres and limited calories from oil.”

Are air fryers easy to clean?

Dishwasher-safe parts are common

Many air fryers come with dishwasher-safe parts, such as the inner air fryer basket and stirring paddle, although you can also wash these easily by hand.

Exteriors can generally be wiped clean with warm soapy water and a cloth.

For more guidance on how to keep your air fryer in tip top condition by hand, read our how to clean your air fryer article.

A man cleaning an air fryer in a kitchen sinkCredit: Exceptional

What are the disadvantages of an air fryer?

Space, size and noise

While entry-level air fryers will do the basic job of air frying your food, you get what you pay for and it’s easy to notice the difference in terms of quality if you spend a bit more.

We’ve found that the more premium models are not only quieter in operation and have a more durable finish, but they offer greater cooking flexibility.

It can be easy to burn or dry out food in an air fryer if you use the wrong setting, so you’ll need to take the hit and experiment a bit before getting it right.

It’s also worth remembering that air fryers won’t give you as much cooking space as a standard 60 litre oven, so make sure your air fryer is big enough for your needs. Running it twice to cook meals for all the family will defeat the air fryer’s energy saving aspect, of course.

It’s also worth checking the dimensions of your air fryer before you buy, to make sure you have enough space. Air fryer designs can be bulky, and they aren’t easy to store in a cupboard. Just like a coffee maker, an air fryer is most likely to become a permanent fixture on your worktop so you’ll need to live with its size and design.

Is it worth getting an air fryer?

It can save you time and money

If you want to cook a portion of chips quickly or need more cooking space when hosting a dinner party, an air fryer can be really useful.

The best models have a wide temperature range with easy to navigate pre-set cooking modes. Some designs even have smart app control, so you can set it to start cooking while you’re sitting on your sofa. 

Almost as essential a worktop appliance as your microwave, toaster and coffee maker, we think the air fryer works as an excellent accompaniment to your conventional cooker.

While limited cooking space does present its challenges, its ability to save you time and money in the kitchen has left some questioning the need for a conventional oven entirely.

Air fryers can work well for both cooking novices and expert chefs alike, and if you’re keen to spice up your weekly meal plan in the kitchen, anything is worth a try once.

Emily Peck

Written by Emily Peck


During her 20+ years as a lifestyle journalist, Emily has held inhouse positions as features editor at Ideal Home and a features writer at the BBC. A freelancer for Saga, she regularly writes for publications including Livingetc, GQ, Ideal Home, The Telegraph, Tom’s Guide, TechRadar and Wired to name a few. She covers everything from design and interiors, gardens and food, to fitness and health.