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Unless you’ve been living under an Instant Pot for the last three or four years, chances are you’ve heard something about that other countertop cooker that the internet has been going crazy over lately: the air fryer. But, if you’re like us, you probably have a few reservations about rushing off to buy one. After all, for most of us, counter space is at a premium. Is another device even necessary? How would you use it? What can it do that you can’t already do with your oven / microwave / multi-cooker / etc? And, given the name, is it mostly for folks who are into home frying and/or trying to cut back on their oil intake?
It turns out that the air fryer is actually extremely useful, even if you’re not the kind of person who makes a lot of fried chicken. And part of that has to do with how it works. Essentially, an air fryer is a heating element (like the rings on a stove) combined with a high-powered fan in a relatively small space. Though it works the same way that a convection oven does (blowing hot air over food), it’s much cheaper. And the small space, far from being a drawback, is actually important. It lets the air fryer heat up quickly (in a few minutes instead of half an hour or more), and it can cook a small amount of food quickly as well.
This makes it more like another device you may often use to cook small amounts of food quickly: the microwave. But the air fryer has one big advantage: It makes things crispy. If that sounds like it might be valuable when cooking or reheating certain kinds of food, it absolutely is! In fact, it can be a real game-changer.
That’s why we’ve put together this list of our favorite out-of-the-box ways to use an air-fryer. If any of these sound worth it, you may want to consider getting one soon. (Here’s a device we like — or if you already have an Instant Pot, you can simply get this attachment.) Or, if you’ve already got one, either as a present or as a present-to-yourself, you may want to try these out today. It might just become your go-to way to cook things!
1. Make pizza crispy again.
We love pizza (who doesn’t), whether we’re making our own or ordering in, but the leftovers are generally disappointing. While cold pizza was an okay breakfast food in college, as adults, we prefer reheating it. But either the process is convoluted or the results end up mediocre. Not so with an air fryer. Preheat it for a minute or two at 325°F, drop the ’za in the pan, and it’s ready in 4-5 minutes. The crust is crispy, the cheese is melty, and the whole thing is almost as good as it was the day before. Genius!
2. Cook the frozen food aisle.
Peruse the easy-to-make dinner options in the freezer section of your local grocery store (or the fantastic finds at Trader Joe's) and you'll see plenty of stuff that would taste best crispy: from chicken wings to taquitos, from fish fillets to breaded shrimp, and more. Instead of wondering whether to preheat the oven or just deal with a sub-par microwave experience, you can use an air fryer to quickly crisp up these foods, and get a good low-lift dinner onto the table quickly!
3. Feed your children.
Picture this: You want to make something the grown-ups in the house can eat (like oh, say, white wine coq au vin) but you know the kids won’t touch anything that isn’t either on a stick or breaded and dipped in ketchup. What to do? Not a problem? Use the stove and oven to make yourself the dinner you want, and drop a couple corn dogs or some chicken nuggets into the air fryer. Cook at 400°F for 5-10 minutes until they’re crispy and hot, and the kiddos’ dinner is ready.
4. Say goodbye to the toaster.
If you’re worried the air fryer is crowding up your counterspace, there’s at least one device it can completely replace: The toaster. In fact, there are several models of air fryers (like this one, for instance) that look and work more or less like an industrial-strength toaster oven. And any air fryer is perfectly capable of toasting bread or bagels of all kinds. To toast a bagel, just set it to 350°F, toss a split bagel in, and cook for about 3 minutes or so. If it’s not as toasted as you want, keep checking it every minute until you find the time that you like best.
5. Make cookies
Next time you have a cookie hankering, try this: Take your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, and right after you finish making the dough, scoop it into balls and put them on a tray in the freezer for half an hour. Once they’re solid, put them all in a ziplock bag, where they can stay, frozen, for several months. When you’re ready for a couple warm cookies, line your air fryer with parchment paper, and bake a couple off at 350°F for 5-6 minutes. Voilà! Freshly baked cookies whenever you want.
Of course that's just the beginning. There’s plenty more you can do with an air fryer. If it tastes best baked, toasted, roasted, or fried, the air fryer will likely do it well. And as long as you're not cooking for a crowd, it’ll do it quickly, too. So feel free to experiment! See what you can cook up. It's easier to use than you might think.