What's the Big Deal?
Throw those lard-slathered fried foods in the trash, and save your heart (a little). Air fryers are here to change the way you cook your food. From French Fries to Shrimp and even cake, air fryers are super versatile kitchen appliances, that are essential for anyone who loves the taste and mouthfeel of deep fried food, but wants to avoid the clogged arteries. Instead of frying the food in large amounts of some sort of liquid oil / animal fat, air fryers use multi-directional convection, and very small amounts of oil, in order to give you the same resulting dish, in a much healthier form. But before you go out and buy the first fryer you see, make sure you know what features and design are right for you.
Air fryers come in two main types. The first are air fryers with pull out trays. Using an included tray or basket and accompanying slot inside the fryer, these devices are very effective, but difficult to see the progress of your food. The other, and much more common model comes with a bowl and viewing window which allows you to check on your food without disturbing the process. Some even have an included stirring paddle that removes the necessity to stir the food while it cooks, or similar functions that allow for hands free cooking on all sides without human intervention.
Many recipes call for certain temperatures when cooking, and the utility of being able to control that is not lost on the makers of air fryers. Many have manual temperature settings that allow you that control. Usually the range is from 176 degrees up to 392. More control over your cooking temperature however doesn't necessarily translate into a better cook. Many devices without manual controls cook as good or better than those that have it included. You also no matter how much control you have, create the same crunch and taste as food that is deep-fried in oil, as that flavor profile is more or less unique to the cook. But this is one of the best ways to get close to it.
Stirring Paddles and Rotating Baskets
Some air fryers come with paddles that move the food around periodically or consistently as it cooks, saving the cook time from having to focus on the food, and more on the rest of the meal. In theory this is a very effective way to get an even cook, but in practice it really depends on the device, so make sure to check out reviews before buying if this is a major selling point for you. It is also useful without the paddle attatched, for more delicate foodstuffs.
Other fryers have rotating baskets, though this is a more uncommon feature. Some of these devices cook at an angle, along with a rotating bowl, which simlar to the paddle provides a more even cook on all of the food in the air fryer. This method is highly touted, though it is not as thorough necessarily as the paddle, the results are often quite impressive.
Cooking Capacity and Cooking Modes
To find your perfect air fryer model, it is crucial that you consider how many people you plan on feeding with whatever you cook. Models are often mesuared in quarts, which ranges from 1 to 6 in the wide majority of options available. For those with larger families, or heftier appetites, there are also models designed for larger quantities of food. But make sure that you get an air fryer with enough wattage. Anything above 1500 is usually fine for most meals you could come up with, but depending on the amount of food, you may want to make sure you have a model that is closer to 2000 watts to make sure you have enough juice to prepare that thanksgiving feast.
These devices have not branched out very far in terms of a wide range of unique capabilities, so it mostly comes down to personal preference, and what kind of meals you are trying to make. Still, some devices have tried to set themselves apart from the throng. Some have a second frying compartment, like if you want to make a full meal of fish and chips at the same time. This is done either with a completely seperate basket, or a smaller basket that fits in the larger for them both to cook at once. Others can allow you to grill or sear your food, like in the case of steak or fish, and others still have joined the trend of "smart" devices, allowing an great deal of flexibility and usages of the device all controlled from your handy smart phone. While none of these are make or break features, some people might find more use for them than others, so to each their own.