Are you the proud owner of an air fryer, like the other nine million homes in Britain? The kitchen tool saw a huge increase in popularity last year, with sales rising by 3,000% over 2021, thanks to claims that it could cut energy costs in half, shorten cooking times, and make French fries a true health food. There were even worries of a national shortage at one point, much to the dismay of social media chefs who were TikTok-ing their interactions with the machine (mercifully, this never happened).
Air fryers, which are essentially a convection oven that has been amplified, are gaining popularity all over the world. Gordon Ramsay, Oprah Winfrey, and actress Drew Barrymore are all fans, and Barrymore even developed her own branded air fryer. The plan to include air fryer cooking instructions on food packaging in addition to the more common oven and microwave instructions was made public this week by supermarket chains Waitrose and Aldi.
But if you’re one of the many people who now owns an air fryer, be sincere—how frequently do you actually use it? Sure, there was an initial rush of enthusiasm for making “corn ribs,” “healthy chips,” and roast chicken in under an hour. But has the air fryer really replaced your oven? Do you turn it on before each meal? Or has it – much like mine – ended up being, well, a load of hot air?
I’ll be the first to admit that my Ninja Max 5.2-Litre Air Fryer completely captured my attention. I convinced myself we would save £130 in energy costs in the first month, but we didn’t. For a while, I scheduled our weekly suppers around it. For the kids, we had sausages and potato wedges; for the adults, chicken schnitzel and crispy noodles. The meat was always a squeeze, but I even braved whole roast dinners in there. I invested in an air fryer cookbook, saved a ton of recipes on my phone, and devoted hours to learning how to make cakes, cookies, and meringues without using the oven.
In the end, I found myself craving slow-cooked, saucy, big-dish comfort food, rather than the crispy, dry-as-a-bone, teeny-tiny portions that fitted inside my air fryer
My patience and zeal lasted for about three weeks. The crispy, bone-dry, teeny-tiny portions that fit inside my novel cooking apparatus ultimately made me long for slow-cooked, saucy, big-dish comfort food.
Instead of using the air fryer to save time and money, I was working much harder than usual, putting food in and taking it out of the basket in batches (while ironically keeping them hot in a low oven to prepare enough for a family meal). Clearly, whoever designed the appliance didn’t have the appetites of two growing boys and a hungry husband in mind.
Using the air fryer gave me the uneasy feeling that I was being dishonest. Cooking isn’t supposed to involve chucking everything into a sealed compartment, pressing a few buttons and hoping for the best. I enjoy keeping an eye on my food through the oven door and occasionally dipping in for a taste. This simple pleasure was diminished by using my air fryer, which left me feeling uninspired, unmotivated, and constrained in my ability to cook.
My three-year-old described everything I made as being “a bit samey” as well. Crispy this, crunchy that: fried food is far tastier when it’s dunked in boiling oil and frazzled to a crisp, rather than being blow-dried inside what, let’s be honest, resembles a miniature Dalek. I discovered that I was secretly going back to the oven to cook the main ingredients of a dish while adding an air fryer “flourish”—such as tempura vegetables or spicy cauliflower—on the side.
At some point, my Ninja moved from the kitchen island, where it had taken center stage for the better part of a month, and retreated to the back of my worktop, joining an underutilized KitchenAid stand mixer, a vintage toastie maker, and a bread machine that has been collecting dust for years.
It seems that I’m not the only one who has lost love with the air fryer. Even though sales aren’t as high as they were last year, they are still consistent. And a recent report by retailer Currys claims that microwave sales have increased by 50% since the previous year, quickly following the air fryer in popularity. Only 30% of UK households have an air fryer, which increases to 51% of households with three or more children. Meanwhile, 93% of UK households have a microwave. Experts don’t predict a big shift in these statistics any time soon.
Halogen ovens, which start at just 60 pounds, multi-cookers, a contemporary version of pressure cookers, and electric mini-grills, which are popular again thanks to George Foreman, are all other energy-saving gadgets that are beginning to gain attention.
Air fryers suffered another blow when the Domestic Goddess herself, Nigella Lawson, dismissed them in a recent Twitter exchange. I know nothing about the world of air fryers, she said in response to the question of whether one of her recipes might turn out when prepared in an air fryer rather than a conventional oven.’
I am unable to make such grandiose claims. I was completely taken in by my Ninja, and I’m devastated that it didn’t prove to be the culinary white knight (or, more importantly, the frugal person) I was promised. It had its moment, just like any other foodie fad, but the romance has since ended.
But despite that, I won’t be selling mine on eBay just yet. Although it has its uses, my oven (or microwave) will never be replaced by it. It has saved my bacon on several occasions when I’ve only had ten minutes to prepare dinner for my sons. It makes a mean roast chicken for two, baked potatoes to die for with all golden skin and fluffy insides, and roast chicken for four. As a result, I’ll keep it until the next gadget captures my attention once more.