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I’ve never understood the air fryer craze. It seemed like overnight, everyone I knew had made space on their counter for this seemingly magical, oil-free frying machine that made cooking a breeze. When I researched the appliance, it didn’t seem like anything new—the craze felt like really good marketing to promote what is basically a mini oven.
Technically, an air fryer is a convection oven. Air gets circulated around the food being cooked, so it is prepared really evenly. But frying it with air sounds so much cooler, right? Less scientific.
Here's my qualms with the gadget, though: You still need oil, and it’s not like you can just throw in some battered chicken or dollops of hush puppies and expect them to come out with the same crunchy, crispy texture and be healthier?
However, begrudgingly, something inside me wanted to test it out. For one thing, any device that gets people cooking when they normally wouldn’t is something I’m all for. And two, there was some curiosity deep inside about the results, likely stemming from my inner child and her beloved Easy-Bake Oven. So, I got my hands on a Ninja 2-Basket Air Fryer and plotted out an entire week of meals around the device.
Here’s the plan:
Cook anything and everything I can in the air fryer for seven days.
Eat it with a certain critical palate.
Test out some famous air-fryer recipes to see if they're that good.
Finally come to a conclusion if an air fryer is worth it or not.
I started off the week simple with a classic BLT. I cut the bacon in half and placed it into the basket at 400 degrees. No preheat time, no waiting around. It cooked in about eight minutes. I loved that the fryer somehow contained the smoke in my tiny apartment, a feat certainly can't happen when cooking bacon on the stove. In fact, it takes just one tiny puff of steam, and my smoke alarm starts screaming like I’m hosting a bonfire in my living room. It also drained the grease away, and cooked the bacon evenly on both sides without flipping. Mission accomplished.
Next, I took a Delish eggroll recipe and adapted it to what ingredients I had. I sautéed up the cabbage, carrots, green onions, and pork with soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar. Then I took pizza dough and cut out a circle and stuffed the mixture in there. I dropped them in the air fryer for 10 minutes at 390 degrees. They came out crunchy but still soft on the inside. I was impressed with how quickly the air fryer could cook something that would take much longer in the oven, in addition to saving that time pre-heating.
Onto a dish that everyone is obsessed with: air fryer Brussel sprouts. I had to make them and guess what? Now I am obsessed, too. They cooked up in no time and each tiny leaf got so, so, so crispy.
At this point, I really wanted to push the limits of the air fryer, so I made what I'd call an air fryer salad. It started off with salmon, an air fryer favorite, then I cooked some carrots inside. And finally came my salad hack — roasting cooked quinoa, so it becomes a crunchy topper for the veggies. All that went over arugula with parmesan cheese, avocado, and sunflower seeds, and yeah...it all came together so much faster than it would have if I'd used a stove!
One of my last meals was a butternut squash gnocchi dish. I cut the squash in half and roasted it in the air fryer at 390 for about 30 minutes. Then I pureed it, mixed it with a little cream, garlic, pasta water, and the gnocchi. Yum!
In the midst of my delightful surprise, there was definitely one drawback, though. The air fryer is a real pain to clean! You have to remove the baskets, take out the grates, wash them all, and put them back, plus wait for the device to cool down before you even start cleaning. The process almost makes scrubbing pots and pans look appealing.
The appliance also takes up quite a bit of space on my counter. I did get a double basket air fryer, which is of course double the size. But as someone who lives in a New York City kitchen, having to sacrifice such substantial counter space breaks my heart a little.
Still, I was mostly quite happy with the air fryer, and I even figured out some cool hacks during my week of fryer madness. The idea that I could keep discovering new tricks, techniques, and dishes made me love the slightly clunky machine a little bit more.
If you coat fresh sage in a little oil and air fry it, it crisps up as if you actually fried it. I'm sure other herbs would work, too.
You can air fry an egg! Just line the basket with tin foil.
You can reheat your cookies, brownies, loaf breads, and any other desserts or baked goods in the air fryer to give them that fresh-baked texture.
So, is an air fryer worth it? Okay, I'm a convert. It's a resounding yes. Overall, the point of the air fryer is to make cooking easier for most people, and I want more people to feel comfortable in the kitchen. I think you have to find the right air fryer for your needs. Although the Ninja 2-Basket Air Fryer I got was a bit too big for my home, the fact that it can roast, reheat, and dehydrate (!!!), in addition to air fry, makes my internal chef very happy and excited to experiment.
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