An Ode to My Air Fryer
why I love it, what I use it for, and why it's fine if you don't have one!
A couple of weeks ago I shared some thoughts on how Grace and I figure out what we want to have for dinner, plus some of our go-to meals.
After answering the same DM on Instagram a few times — “what kind of air fryer do you have??” — I realized that it might be helpful to do a whole newsletter dedicated to my air fryer since I mention it so often.
So here goes nothing! Also note this post is kinda long, so you might have to open it in your browser to view the whole thing!
The air fryer I have is the one pictured above, an Instant™ Vortex™ Plus 6-quart Air Fryer. This is not sponsored!! I bought it in February 2021 (just checked my email receipt!) and have used it multiple times a week since then and it’s going strong. I have not cooked in any other air fryer so I have nothing to compare it to. But so far, so good. I haven’t used any other cooking function except for “AirFry” (maybe I’m missing out on a lot of other fun things?). The only other buttons I ever press are time and temperature. It beeps a lot and mostly I ignore those beeps. Using it has made my day-to-day cooking (which is my day-to-day life) easier. Plus it sorta feels like a grownup toy which gives me a giggle and why not have some fun in the kitchen?!
SOME MORE THOUGHTS ON AIR FRYERS IN GENERAL
First and foremost, I don’t think anyone *needs* an air fryer, but I unabashedly love mine.
Let’s get this out of the way: the term “air fryer” is both marketing genius and very misleading. An air fryer does not fry anything. It’s a compact, countertop convection oven. Which means it gets hot real fast and circulates that hot air with a fan. Things can get crisp in the air fryer, sure, but you’re not cooking anything submerged in hot oil— you’re just using hot air that’s moving. A chicken thigh that’s been soaked in buttermilk, dredged in seasoned flour, and cooked in a cast iron skillet or pot full of hot fat is heaven. That same piece of chicken cooked in an air fryer is a perfectly fine piece of chicken. It is not fried chicken.
The key to loving your air fryer, at least for me, is not expecting it to fry anything, but embracing what it can do well: cook things, especially vegetables, very fast and get them nice and brown without heating up your kitchen and without leaving a lot of stuff to cleanup.
When people ask me whether or not they should get one, I always say if you have extra counter space for one and you’re not regularly cooking for a lot of people, it’s worth a shot. If either of those things is not your situation, then it’s probably not worth it. Also if you have a toaster oven and/or a regular oven with a convection setting, you basically already have an air fryer!
In the spirit of radical honesty, here are a list of cons that I’ve found from a year-and-a-half of nearly daily cooking with my air fryer:
They take up a lot of space on your counter.
When they’re on, they’re LOUD. It is what it is.
You can’t cook a large quantity of food at one time. It’s probably not the greatest thing if you’re cooking for a large household.
It doesn’t feel intuitive, which is one of my favorite parts about cooking. You have to pull out the basket to check on things rather than just peer into a skillet or through an oven door. It feels a little bit like cooking in the future.
And in the spirit of air fryer love, here’s a list of pros:
Speed!! It heats up way faster than my oven and everything I cook in the air fryer takes much less time than in my oven. For example, I make some of the best crispy, roasted potatoes I’ve ever had in FIFTEEN MINUTES in the air fryer. No pre-steaming or boiling. Just chopped potatoes, olive oil, salt (plus other seasonings if you want), and the air fryer.
Cooking in the air fryer does not heat up your entire kitchen. I especially appreciate this on days like today when it’s oven 90º out where I live.
There’s no mess around it. After cooking even the fattiest things like bacon or sausages in the air fryer, I don’t have to deal with a splattered stove or greasy oven.
In general, clean up is very easy. Any mess inside of the air fryer is easy to clean— the basket is nonstick, so a quick soapy sponge + a rinse works fine and the rack in the basket can go in the dishwasher. I also have a silicone insert that I use when I air fry things like sausages or fish (things that release a lot of fat or juice that I either want to capture or just get rid of— either way, a little annoying to clean up after). I throw this silicone insert in the dishwasher to clean it and just store it in the air fryer when not in use. I don’t clean the interior of the air fryer itself each time I use it (just like I don’t clean my oven each time I use it), but when it’s been a while, I just unplug it and wipe it down with a damp sponge and then use a little all-purpose cleaner sprayed on a paper towel if needed (especially if I’ve cooked anything particularly fatty).
HOW I USE MY AIR FRYER + WHAT I USE IT FOR
In general, I cook almost everything the same way in the air fryer— I coat whatever I’m cooking with a little olive oil and season with kosher salt and then I cook it on the ‘AirFry’ function set to 400ºF for about 15 minutes and I shake the basket often. There are a few exceptions, but that’s my general go-to. Sometimes things take less time (check when you’re shaking the basket!) and sometimes more, but 15 minutes seems to be the gold standard.
I have two categories for my favorite things to cook in the air fryer: Vegetables and Besides Vegetables. Below is a bit more detail for both of those.
Potatoes: The air fryer makes EXCELLENT crispy roasted potatoes (serve with anything) or add some sliced peppers + onions in the last 5 minutes and have diner-style hash browns. To make air fried potatoes, I cut 1.5 pounds potatoes (any kind but especially great with Yukon Golds) into bite-sized pieces, place in a bowl with 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and a teaspoon of kosher salt and toss well to combine. You can also add other seasonings like garlic powder, paprika, dried oregano, za’atar, etc. Air fry at 400º shaking the basket once or twice during cooking, until the potatoes are browned and crispy on the outside and tender inside when you pierce one with a knife, about 15 minutes.
Sweet Potatoes: Follow same method as above (toss with oil + salt, roast at 400º shaking the basket once or twice during cooking, until the potatoes are browned and tender, about 15 minutes). You can also add a little cinnamon and brown sugar or maple syrup during the last 5 minutes. And/or hot sauce or chili flakes. Sweet and spicy is my jam.
Cauliflower / Broccoli / Brussels Sprouts: Same method as potatoes. Excellent just plan with oil and salt, but also all take well to other seasonings before cooking (garlic powder, sesame seeds, etc.) and after cooking, too (drizzle with a tahini sauce, any salad dressing really!, sprouts are so good tossed with fish sauce + lime juice + cilantro).
Mushrooms: So great with the go-to method! When done, toss with a little soy sauce and butter…serve on rice, top with a fried egg. YUM.
Zucchini! This time a year I air fry so much zucchini because THERE IS SO MUCH OF IT. I do my normal method and then often toss it with cooked pasta and pesto (YUM) or dress it with a garlicky dressing or just season with a squeeze of lemon and top with torn mint and/or basil and some shaved Parmesan.
Thinly Sliced Cabbage: A great way to cook down a ton of cabbage!! Serve as is as a side dish or fold into fried rice, a stir-fry, soup…whatever.
Eggplant: Cube or cut into thin rounds, use the go-to method and then eat as is / add to a stir fry with gingery ground pork or chicken or tofu / place in a baking dish and top with tomato sauce + mozzarella and run under the broiler / use to fill a pita plus hummus and shredded cabbage you’ve massaged with lemon and salt.
Mixed vegetables! No need to isolate anybody. Some of my favorite combos include cauliflower + cabbage (like for the tacos, pictured below) and peppers + onions (great to top sausages or to fill omelets + quesadillas + tacos…or just store in a container and use as the base for any braise, soup, or stew).
Meatballs: An air fryer is my favorite way to cook meatballs! No splatter, easy to turn them, just EASY. 400ºF for about 15 minutes. Can eat as is or air fry and then simmer in tomato sauce.
Chickpeas: For spiced, crispy chickpeas, preheat your air fryer to 375º (not the usual 400!). Toss a can of drained and towel-dried chickpeas with a little olive oil and about 1-2 teaspoons of ground spice (including salt)….for example, 1/2 teaspoon each salt, garlic powder, paprika . Air fry until crispy— about 12 - 15 minutes!!
Fish: I use my silicon insert for fish (see top of this post for the link + info). Makes clean-up easy! On the simplest end of the spectrum, I’ll just do drizzle a skinless/boneless piece of fish (whatever kind) with oil, season with salt, and air fry at 400º if it’s a thin piece for just like 5 - 10 minutes or 350º for a longer time if it’s a thicker piece (otherwise I find it cooks really unevenly if it’s hotter). To make it less simple, you can rest the fish on a bed of sliced lemons and serve with salsa verde / cut the fish into smaller pieces and coat with mayo + mustard and then breadcrumbs, spray with cooking spray, air fry until crisp and serve with tartar sauce / cut into pieces and toss with oil + taco seasonings (garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, etc) and when cooked, toss with lime juice and use for fish tacos!!
Sausages/bacon: I use my silicon insert when I cook these things, too (see top of this post for the link + info). Makes clean-up easy!
Crispy Tofu Cubes: Heat your air fryer to 400ºF. Use a 14-ounce package of firm tofu, drain it, and then pat it dry with a kitchen towel. Cut into bite-sized cubes. Place in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with a tablespoon of cornstarch, a teaspoon of kosher salt, and a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Toss well to coat. Spray your air fryer basket with cooking spray, add the tofu, and spray the tofu with cooking spray. Cooking, shaking the basket every so often, until browned and crisp, about 15 minutes.
—> Serve with cooked rice + broccoli that you also cook in the air fryer. I like to serve that meal with the easiest peanut sauce in the world which is equal amounts peanut butter, soy sauce, and boiling water whisked together. Nice spiked with hot sauce, too.
Crispy Tofu is also great tossed with the Sticky Chicken Sauce from Simply Julia!!!
For those able to comment (paid subscribers only!), I’d love to hear from you in the chat! Do you have an air fryer? Do you love it? If not, how come? If so, what are some of your favorite things to make in it? Any cleaning tips? I AM ALL EARS!
Also for paid subscribers only, the three recipes from my ‘Sunday Dinner in Celebration of the Air Fryer’ class are below!! They include:
Lemony Kale Salad with Crunchy Chickpeas, Apples, Dried Apricots + Almonds
Spiced Lamb Meatballs with Tahini Dressing
Crispy Potatoes with Gremolata + Sour Cream.
They are WINNERS. Want these recipes? Consider a paid subscription!
And/or you can purchase the recording of that class and it includes the recipes. Just head here!
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Keep Calm & Cook On to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.