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PainFree Shopping Guide to Buying An Air Fryer
Most of us love fried food because, chips, chicken, fish or anything deep fried tastes delicious.
When frying food at temperatures above 140°C (285°F) a special reaction occurs which changes the flavour of the food and makes it tastier.
We call it browning, the scientific name is the Maillard reaction.
The heat causes chemical reactions between proteins and sugars in the food causing different flavour compounds to be created.
These compounds, in turn, break down to form yet more new flavour compounds. The science is so complex we just about understand it, the important thing is that it makes even the blandest of foods taste delicious.
Try this taste test: Compare boiled chicken wings & boiled potatoes with deep fried chicken wings and chips
The boiled food may be healthier but how does the taste compare?
This is one reason why stews etc.... taste so much better when we brown the meat first.
The problem with deep frying is that the food absorbs fat from the oil and increases the caloric content of food
Also, fried foods served in fast-food restaurants are often cooked in hydrogenated oils, which are high in trans fats.
Samosas draw oil into the batter making them taste greasy
Eating fried food regularly can put you at a higher risk of developing diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity
Olive oil, nice on salads, not sutable for deep frying.
What about healthy oils such as Olive oil?
Cooking with any oil which is heated beyond its smoking point is very bad as the chemical changes produce carcinogens. Olive oil and most unrefined oils have smoking points below 200°C so deep frying with them not advisable.
What an Air Fryer does is give us the deep fried taste we love, without having to dunk our food in boiling oil, less oil = less fatty = healthier food.
Most Air Fryers will also bake, roast and cook a variety of other ways too.
How an air fryer works:
It uses a fan to swirl hot air around the food, coating it is in a thin layer of oil. The air is hot enough to cause the Maillard reaction, giving the food its characteristic deep-fried flavour and brown colour.
Appliance warning: Air Fryers use high powered fans to cook so are noisy in operation.
Very little oil is needed but as you are cooking food in a swirling airstream battered food can be difficult as the batter gets blown off the food before it has a chance to cook and harden. (workarounds at the end of this page).
This video explains how an Air Fryer works.
Cooking tip: When making fries from raw potatoes, soak uncooked fries in water for 15 minutes to remove starch prior to frying. Pat dry with a towel before adding oil.
Air Fryers have been around for a while but have been only been getting serious attention for the past couple of years.
Most on the market are rebranded Chinese imports and you can find the same models at different prices under different brands.
What to look for in an Air Fryer?
Does it work?
Not so odd an ask when many Air Fryers we have tested have poor build quality, don't cook the food through or give uneven cooking.
If you want an appliance that lasts more than a few months then get one from a reputable manufacturer or supplier.
A chinese made Air Fryer $27 from Alibaba
We found that many of the Chinese imports worked great for the first few months, then the poor build quality starts to show, cracked lids, broken hinges and faulty electrics are commonplace.
How Fiddly is it?
Another issue is that with most you have to remove the cooking tray and shake or stir your food, sometimes several times, to get even cooking.
Most don't have shake reminders and some trays are tricky to remove, others have detachable trays which can drop off while stirring if you press the wrong button on the handle..ouch!
How much food can it hold?
You want more than a fistful of chips at a time, the bigger the better is our recommendation.
Even if you are cooking for one there are times you need to cook batches of food, ie more than 2 chicken wings.
Don't be fooled by manufacturers descriptions like XXL or super large, look through the small print to find out how big it really is.
Are the controls over complicated?
As with every appliance the more complex the control systems, the more to go wrong choose only the features you need.
Don't be persuaded by gimmicks you will never use. You will need a timer and variable temperature control, some automated programmes are helpful, but do you really need Bluetooth connectivity?
Is it up to date?
Technical advances mean newer models use less oil, activate faster and have more cooking options, such as steaming or even making toast (but why would anyone want to make toast in one? If you do please tell us why).
Is there an extended Guarantee?
We always prefer appliances with manufacturers own free extended guarantees, failing that supply companies such as VonHaus give their own 2-year extended guarantees if you register online.
Notice how many appliances break down just after a year, when the statutory guarantee runs out.
Never pay extra for an extended guarantee, if the manufacturer or supplier don't have enough faith in their product to guarantee it for more than a year, why should you buy it?
Our Recommended Best Buys:-
Three names top our list: Top performer Phillips, easiest to use Tefal and best all rounder at a reasonable price Cosori. All have free 2-year guarantees.
Cosori 3.5 litre - Best Buy
Cosori is an American company which sells a variety of multifunctional kitchen appliances and tools at resonable prices.
Not as sleek as the Phillips or as easy to use as the Tefal, but for price and functions (ones you really use) it is by far the best buy.
11 presets, keep warm function, shake reminder. Easy to use, easy to clean and great results time after time at a third of the price of our top performing Phillips XXL. A full review is on our product page
The no.1 performers but fiddley as you have to pause the cooker remove the cooking tray and stir or shake the food to ensure even cooking.
The cheaper models at 0.8kg capacity are enough for a small chicken quarter, too small for our liking unless you like snacking alone.
The large model the HD9650/99 is our choice from the range, it holds 1.4kg of chips or 1 small chicken and has an RRP of £320, you can pick one up for just under £250.
We found that results were consistently good across a range of foods, with even cooking and perfect chips. The appliance is robust, easy to set, easy to use and easy to clean, the basket, mesh and tray are nonstick and dishwasher-safe.
It has an easy to use digital control unit with five cooking presets giving one-touch operation, and a Quick Control dial for manual temperature and time settings. There is also a handy keep warm function.
The screen is large and clear and overall this looks quite sleek and well constructed.
This machine is powerful, it has a powerful fan which draws air over the food and also helps to draw fat out of any meats, the downside is it is also pretty good at whipping batter off the food and splashing it around the fryer.
We find the Tefal Actifry range the easiest to use and most popular Air Fryers. They use a paddle which continuously stirs the food, allowing the hot air to circulate so achieving perfect results for chips, veggies etc... without the need to pause and shake your food.
This along with Automatic timing & temperature controls mean you put your food in, set it the time & temp manually or with a preset and only remove it when its ready.
For coated chicken, steaks, pasties etc... you can remove the paddle.
Actifrys don't just fry, they bake, roast, grill, do, stews, desserts, stir-frys and more, you can even air-fry green veg in these machines!
There are several models, we originally recommended 2, the entry-level 1kg original and a larger model, the 1.7k Genius with 9 preset programmes. At your request, we have included the 1.5kg 2 in 1 (see the review on our best buy product page here).
NB:- Some Tefal models such as the original plus, the 1.5kg 2 in 1 and Smart XL may have 1-year guarantees. Tefal are claiming that their guarantee terms are changing from 1st Jan 2019 so check the length of the guarantee before buying.
You can call Tefal on 0345 602 1454 Mon -Fri 10am-4pm
The 1.7kg Genius XL has 9 programmes that adjust the temperature, cooking time and stirring motion.
Programmes include chips, rolls, breaded snacks, chicken, desserts, and a very handy ‘1-meal-in-1 go’ programme, where you can add all the ingredients at the same time.
There is also a setting for battered snacks and this is one of the very few Air Fryers which will cook battered food as with most the batter is blown off before it has time to cook. Even so, we recommend using a sticky batter as recommended in our cooking with batter workarounds.
There is a free cooking app available with over 250 recipes suitable for the Actifry, some are not suitable for all machines.
If you want true versatility then get the 2-1 which has 2 separate cooking zones allowing you cook to 2 dishes at once.
Cook your chicken & chips or steak & roasties or curry & onion bhajis at the same time.
Airfryers are expensive with the best well over £200. It's tempting to go for a cheaper sub £50 model, we have many reports of breakdowns, poor build quality and dismal cooking results from many cheaper models so look for an extended guarantee.
Our best buy budget Air Fryers
VonShef has a 3.5-litre model at £44.99 and a 5 litre model at £64.99 (prices March 2019) all work adequately with adjustable temperature and timers and are covered by VonChefs 2 year guarantees (register online).
The VonShefs don't have the versatility of the Tefal Actifrys or the Phillips but manage to produce decent chips, cook well and have a 92% customer satisfaction rating across the range.
Perfect battered chicken
Deep fried battered food is lovely but unhealthy because the batter absorbs lots of oil.
Air Frying battered food seems the perfect solution, but the airflow Air Fryers use to cook the food is strong and blows wet batter off the food before it can cook and solidify.
Here are some ways you can try.
Make a super sticky batter, this means you have to mix some oil with the flour, use a healthy oil such as Olive or cold pressed rapeseed oil. You will have to experiment to see just how sticky it needs to be to stay on.
Pan fry the battered food first to solidify the batter then finish it off in the Air Fryer.
For a light batter roll, the food in beaten egg then dip in seasoned flour or a batter mix. the egg should keep the mix stuck to the food.
For a thicker crispy coating try' double dipping' dip the food in plain unseasoned flour, then dip in beaten egg, then dip in seasoned flour and lightly spray with cooking oil before placing in the fr Air Fryer.
You can buy a sprayer and fill with your own oil or use a shop bought spraying oil such as Frylight.
As an alternative to batter use breadcrumbs instead, roll your food in a mix of oil and seasoned flour then roll in bread crumbs, the sticky flour should hold the breadcrumbs in place.