We get it: 2021 hasn’t been the healthiest year – we’ve never shown our fridges so much love while we’ve been working from home.
But if you want to mix it up in the kitchen, without worrying about piling on the pounds, then cooking in an air fryer is a great alternative to normal frying.
What is an air fryer?
Remember your parent’s deep fat fryer? Well it's basically a healthier version of that, but instead of throwing your chips into a vat of oil, they’re cooked using a small amount of oil and hot air to give them a crispy crunch.
Almost like a mini convection oven they sit on your counter top and have pull out baskets or trays to cook the food from different directions.
How does an air fryer work?
As the name would suggest air fryers use hot air, which is circulated around the food in the machine to bake it. Instead of submerging food in oil, you add around a teaspoon to your food before you place it in the fryer. Some of the machines also allow you to use low calorie spray, while others don’t need any oil at all.
Most air fryers have pre-set buttons, which are pre-programmed settings, including the advised temperature and timings for particular foods. Because you don’t have to preheat most air fryers, and they take less time to cook the foods, you’re also saving on energy.
What can you cook in an air fryer?
The first thing that springs to mind is chips – allowing you to cook them from scratch quicker than in a traditional oven. However, you can cook an array of foods, from meat and fish, to vegetables and cakes.
Are air fryers healthy?
Air frying is no doubt healthier than deep fat frying or conventional frying as you’re using a lot less oil and with some models, none at all. So, you’re reducing your calorie and fat intake - sometimes by up to 75 per cent. If you’re a fried food junkie, this could be a great alternative for you.
However, you’re still technically eating fried foods, so if you’re looking to be healthier, either cut down on how much fried food you consume or use a food steamer – which is said to lock in the nutrients and vitamins of food.
See the best air fryers here
Quiet Mark Certified Lakeland Digital Compact Air Fryer
As per its name this sleek little model hums lightly in the background so you know it’s working, but doesn’t interrupt any chit chat in the kitchen. By far one of the smallest models on the market, it’s still big enough to cook everything from chips to vegetables.
The touch screen lights up when you first turn it on and the pre-set buttons for different foods, such as poultry or meat, mean you can’t go wrong when cooking. We lightly covered some potatoes with some oil and added them into the pull-out basket and they cooked with a crisp on the outside and softness in the middle. While turkey burgers did the same.
Small enough to have on your kitchen surface without it looking too out of place, it also comes apart easily to clean.
Tower Vortx 2000W 5-in-1 11L Digital Air Fryer Oven
The first stand-out feature on this air fryer model is one of its attachments – a rotisserie fork, meaning you can cook a whole chicken at a more efficient speed and quality than in an oven.
As you’d probably already guessed this air fryer is pretty big and comes with three shelves to cook food in. Almost as big as a mini oven, its perfect for bigger kitchens, but you may struggle to find the room in a smaller homes. The three shelves means you can cook your entire dinner at once: we popped in both vegetables and chicken, which all came out beautifully tender and crispy on the outside.
The five digital pre-sets were helpful too (especially for those navigating air fryer cooking times for the first time), while the trays all pull out and are dishwasher proof.
Breville Halo 5.5L Digital Air Fryer
Relatively quiet and medium-sized, Breville’s air fryer has five pre-sets – so if you’re feeling lazy or you're a beginner in the frying game, it controls the times and temperatures all at a touch of a button.
Like most of the models it has a pull-out draw with a basket, which can be divided if you’re cooking two different things. Barely any oil is needed to make chips, while cauliflower and falafel came out crispy and well cooked.
We weren’t too keen on its rigid square design, but it fitted well on our kitchen worktop and came apart easily to clean in the dishwasher.
Ninja Air Fryer AF100UK
It’s nice to be reminded that you’re cooking something, but when an air fryer is so loud you can barely hear it over the TV, then you have a problem. Thankfully the Ninja is only as noisy as a fan assisted oven and its sleekness meant that we could tuck it away on our worktop without it looking out of place.
Simple to use, we barely had to pick up the instruction manual - and you can mix up the typical air fryer function and switch to the roast setting to crisp up roast potatoes, or dehydrate to make fruit and vegetable snacks.
A light brush of oil cooked chips from scratch perfectly, while no oil was needed at all for steak or sausages – which meant all the meals cooked with Ninja felt super healthy. If you want a machine that does more, opt for Ninja’s multi-cookers which offer slow cook, pressure cook, saute and steam options alongside air frying.
Philips AirFryer XXL
The name gives it away. This is not a small air fryer, but it isn’t actually as big as some of the others on the market. However, with its hefty price tag, we were disappointed it didn’t come with more instructions on how to set it up.
The model has five digital pre-sets for cooking foods such as fish and meat, so there’s no faff in knowing how long or what temperatures they should be cooked at. One of its standout features is its slide out drawer, which unlike the other clunky drawers feels sturdy and secure when you’re rotating chips or meat. Plus, we were amazed at the speed of the cooking – with very little oil, it took just 20 minutes for meat and 15 minutes for chips.
We weren’t as amazed at the washing up afterwards though – we love that it helps to reduce the fat content of your food, but it leaves a black tar-like residue, which we found pretty hard to scrub from the three parts of the machine.
Russell Hobbs Express Air Fryer mini oven
If you’re hoping for a mini air fryer then this isn’t it – it weighs and look just like a microwave, so make sure you have room for it on your kitchen top. However, it makes up for it with its five settings - Air Fry, Grill, Bake, Toast and Keep Warm.
Big enough to air fry a whole chicken, with very little oil, it can also grill your morning bacon, then toast your bread to have with it. Cooking vegetables was also quick and they came out well done but not too dry.
We also loved how we didn’t have to fuss about with preheating it to save both time and energy compared with a conventional oven. The dial-like buttons were a little old fashioned, however, as most of the model we tried were digital.
All the trays and shelves come out easily to clean, however food does drip down into the oven - so if you’re using it daily then cleaning the inside of it is a must.
Lakeland Digital Crisp Air Fryer
This super sleek round air fryer looked very attractive on our kitchen top– even though it was slightly bigger than some of the other models.
With touchscreen controls and eight pre-sets, we found it quick and easy to start the machine and cook different foods including steak and frozen chips. If you’re following a super healthy diet then oil isn’t essential, but we found that a tiny bit of oil gave chips a crispy finish.
The basket came out easily to clean and once we were finished cooking, we stored it away in our kitchen cupboard without too much effort.
Tefal ActiFry Genius+
Unless you’ve got lots of kitchen storage and workspace then this air fryer is going to stand out. Its oblong shape is as tall as it is wide
The model comes with a built in dual-motion technology stirring paddle - which is basically an automatic way to turn the food over as it cooks. We can see that it’s a good idea but when we put chips in with vegetables, they ended up all mushed up together.
However, chips aside, it can hold up to over a kilogram of food in it, so it was great for batch cooking the likes of curry and stir fry, with very little oil.
Its digital pre-sets - nine in total - meant that whipping up different foods was easy, while the glass top gave us an insight into how our food was cooking. It’s worth downloading its free app too, which has over 500 recipes.
Instant Pot Vortex 4-in-1 Air Fryer
While it may sound contradictory, this device manages to be both big and compact. This air fryer is similar to some of the other models with a pull-out basket and touch screen buttons.
The air fryer cooked fish quickly and crispy without any oil, and sweet potato fries with just a dash of low-calorie spray, while its other pre-set smart programmes mean you can roast, bake and reheat too.
We loved its intelligent communication, informing you how long to preheat for, when to add in your food and also when it’s time to turn your food over.
Cleaning was easy too, taking out the basket for a quick wash. The only downside is the noise – it sounded like a noisy air-conditioning unit.
Quiet Mark’s model is the perfect size for any kitchen, while its sleekness and ease of use really makes it stand out. For bigger kitchens we loved how much you could cook in Tower’s Vortx digital air fryer – it’s perfect for hosting dinner parties or cooking bigger meals – and at under £100 its great value for money.