Instant Pots are so 2018. Now, the appliance du jour is the roly-poly air fryer. The question is: Does it really live up to the hype?

In a nutshell, whether or not the air fryer is a good investment really depends on how much you like fried food. Certain things do great in an air fryer; others really do require the old-fashioned hot oil bath.

How It Works

An air fryer is just a convection oven with a detachable basket to give you the feeling that you're actually about to deep-fry something. Most have a cylindrical shape to optimize the air flow from the internal fan.

The model I purchased was the GoWise 3.7-quart air fryer for just under $65. I didn't want to spend too much, so I went with the middle of the road. Turns out, it's enough for the two of us, but I probably should have bought something bigger. This model is approximately the size of a large rice cooker, and it's not a big deal to put it away when not in use.

air fryer

Courtesy of Amazon

Things that Taste Great from an Air Fryer

Frozen potato products like fries, hash browns, and tater tots are all AMAZING when air fried. They already have a bit of oil on them so don't require any extra spray. For the best results, make sure everything fits in the basket in a single layer and shake the food halfway through.

Other frozen things that you'd put in the oven also come out nice and crisp. Try stuffed chicken breasts, fish sticks, or breaded shrimp for a quick meal. Any from-scratch recipe that calls for a panko crust will turn out golden and delicious. Wings, either naked or floured, turn out crispy if you cook them long enough at high heat.

tater tots

Things You Should Deep Fry Instead

You can't put anything wet in an air fryer, so tempura, beer batter, and thinner fried doughs are all out of the question. Time to hang up those funnel cake dreams!

The Pros and Cons

The best thing about the air fryer is that you can program the cooking time. That means you don't have to worry about burning your dinner if you get caught up doing something else. The cleanup is rather quick, and you don't have to deal with a ton of used oil after each use. This also means that you're cooking with much less added fat as well. As a convection oven, it does a great job roasting veggies like baby potatoes with a simple drizzle of olive oil. It will be great to have this additional cooking space around the holidays.

The cons are variable depending on how much you'll use it. The basket can be on the small side, and you have to do everything in a single layer, so you should buy the largest one you can afford. You'll need to tinker with your recipes, and don't be scared to spray the heck out of everything. Floury spots will not cook right; wield that spritzer with an eagle eye!

chicken wings

Photo by Sarina Petrocelly

In the end, the value of an air fryer depends on how much you'll use it. If you find yourself making fries, crunchy appetizers, or wings more than a few times a month, take the plunge. Just be sure to follow the instructions and build up your air fryer recipe repertoire. You'll love the faster cooking times and consistent, crunchy results.

Do you have an air fryer? What do you prefer to use it for? Drop a comment and let us know!