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This past February, I finally caved and bought myself an air fryer for my birthday. While everyone else was fixated on baking bread, I was determined to find out what was so amazing about the countertop appliance that practically dethroned the Instant Pot as a No. 1 bestseller.
Despite my ambivalence about trends and my aversion to cooking elaborate meals, I got myself a Ninja Air Fryer XL— which happens to be on sale for $50 off at Amazon as we speak. Fast forward six months, and my air fryer has become indispensable in my kitchen. It's helped me diversify my menu (no small feat) and feel proud of the healthy meals that I prepare (air fryers use up to 75 percent less oil than traditional fryers). Everything is fast and easy. I'm convinced an air fryer can make anyone a confident cook.
I’m still going full steam ahead with my Ninja Air Fryer XL. And by the way, it's not the only air fryer on massive sale right now.
I’m here to say it: You can and should believe the hype about air fryers. Here are five unexpected reasons why.
Air fryers cook the crispiest, juiciest, healthiest veggies
Vegetables may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of an air fryer. They weren't for me. I, like everyone else, pictured French fries and chicken wings — but broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts have become my favorite foods to cook in the air fryer. You can pop any kind of vegetable in there and yield the most tender results using barely any oil. And it’s so easy.
I’ll usually preheat my Ninja Air Fryer XL to about 375 degrees first. Preheating is so important. Air fryers work a lot like convection ovens in that they circulate hot air around your food, ensuring even heat distribution. I put maybe a tablespoon of canola oil in the basket before cooking. The grate inside the basket keeps my veggies from taking an oil bath.
Shop it: Ninja Air Fryer XL, $100 (was $150), amazon.com
This past winter, I would gaze longingly at the grill on my deck, remembering cookouts with fondness. At least we had cookouts! So naturally, it occurred to me to pop corn on the cob in the air fryer, too. The result? Crispy, juicy, mouthwatering perfection. I flipped the cobs once at 400 degrees and served them with burgers as if there weren’t six inches of snow on the ground outside.
Air fryers are the easiest way to make breakfast, period.
For me, the air fryer became my breakfast go-to. Early on, I texted a friend about my purchase. Her response was, “you have to cook bacon in that thing!” She was right. Cooking bacon in the air fryer is quick and simple — two minutes at 375, then flip it and cook for another two minutes if you like your bacon crispy, like me. It's a lot less messy, too.
Now I’m famous for whipping up a full diner breakfast — eggs, bacon, potatoes, toast — using only my air fryer. Toast? Yes, you read that right. I just spread on a tiny bit of butter on top, then I put it in the basket of the air fryer at about 325 for five minutes (give or take; I like my toast toasty). You can finally kiss your rusty old toaster goodbye and trade it in for a modern-day multitasker.
If you have an air fryer/toaster oven combo like the popular Kalorik MAXX 26-qt. Digital Air Fryer Toaster Oven — which is on sale at Kohl’s for $110 off — then you can just choose the “toast” function (it can also fry, bake, roast, grill, braise, dehydrate and broil).
Shop it: Kalorik MAXX 26-qt. Digital Air Fryer Toaster Oven, $160 (was $200), walmart.com
And on that note, air fryers can hard-boil eggs!
I know how crazy this sounds, considering an air fryer uses hot air and not hot water to cook food, but you can hard boil eggs in this hot appliance — in fact, it’s even easier than boiling a pot of water and risking having your eggs over-boil, under-boil or crack midway. In fact, it doesn’t require any water at all.
I just preheat my air fryer to 250 — err on the side of caution here — and cook six cold eggs for 15 minutes. The hot air circulates around the eggs and results in a "hard-boiled" egg just like you’re used to making the old-fashioned way — minus, well, the old-fashioned way. Then plunge them in an ice water bath for the perfect amount of doneness.
Air fryers make stale bread and pastries fresh again
File this under “things you have to experience to believe.” I don’t like to refrigerate bread, but I also hate when my bread goes stale. Ditto for pastries and cookies. I happened to be Googling how to bake a cake in an air fryer (I plan to try it soon!) when I learned an air fryer hack that changed my life: Just add water!
No, really — all you have to do is add water, either to the air fryer’s drip pan or right on top of the pastry itself, to make stale baked goods taste fresh. Preheat your appliance to 350 and pop in your days-old croissants, cookies, doughnuts, muffins or bread. The water and the hot air/steam work together to release the moisture inside the pastries and make them "fresh" again.
I usually use the sprinkling-water-on-pastries method, but drip pans are another great feature you get with an air fryer oven like the Cuisinart Compact AirFryer Toaster Oven, which is on sale for $94 off at Amazon right now.
Shop it: Cuisinart Compact AirFryer Toaster Oven, $136 with on-page coupon (was $230), amazon.com
This one’s the real deal with seven functions — convection bake, convection broil, air fry, bake, toast, bagel and warm — but it’s also compact enough to fit neatly on your countertop without hogging up space.
Air fryers making cooking seafood a cinch
It's all too easy to overcook a flakey white fish or end up with rubbery shrimp. I like to get my seafood fix in a restaurant so I can avoid embarrassing myself by cooking anything that came from the sea.
I'm delighted to report that, thanks to my air fryer, for the first time in my life I can actually cook one of my favorite foods at home. I just sprinkle some sea salt on the scallops, spray the basket of the air fryer with cooking spray and cook them for about 5 or 6 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees (I use a meat thermometer to check).
It turns out a machine that circulates hot air made up for my years of goofing around with a cast iron pan, and the results are perfectly done, tender and delicious. This Gourmia 5-qt. Stainless Steel Digital Air Fryer would be great for making scallops, shrimps or even fish filets — and it's $20 off at Walmart right now. In fact, this one's the least expensive of the bunch at just $40.
Shop it: Gourmia 5-qt. Stainless Steel Digital Air Fryer, $40 (was $60), walmart.com
There's one thing I haven't tried using my air fryer for: baking bread. But who knows? Maybe one of these days, my pandemic purchase will come full circle!
The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.
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