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Thursday, April 25, 2024

CHOICE turns up the heat on air fryers

The popularity of air fryers has continued to soar, with the appliance becoming a regular feature in many Aussie kitchens. 

Manufacturers have certainly taken note too, with more and more brands releasing their own version of the ‘it’ appliance – and some of the more familiar brands releasing updated models with more sophisticated features. 

CHOICE kitchen experts recently put a range of the most recent air fryers through a series of tests in their kitchen labs to sort out the top performers from the duds, and discovered a few interesting things along the way. 

Air fryer or multicooker?

CHOICE kitchen expert Fiona Mair says, “In our latest testing, we are seeing more air fryers morphing into multicookers. Air fryers have changed a lot since we first started reviewing them, and these days we’re seeing more models that include multiple cooking functions in addition to air frying, such as grilling, roasting and steaming, or even pressure cooking and slow cooking.”

Here we share a few interesting titbits from our latest round of expert air fryer testing, and some things to keep in mind before you buy. 

1. They’re getting bigger, but…

One of the first things CHOICE noticed when they set all the air fryers up in the kitchen ready for testing was that they all seem to have grown!

“In air fryers that have drawers, we have seen an increase in the basket capacity for many models, which is perfect for larger families or when you want to cook a greater amount of food,” says Fiona. “These larger-capacity baskets can accommodate something as large as a two-kilo roast meat joint or a kilo of chips.

“Larger families will benefit from a drawer air fryer that has a five-litre capacity or more. If you are wanting to use the air fryer for baking cakes and cookies, then look for a larger capacity drawer.”

… bigger isn’t always better

“Keep in mind that some of these appliances are very tall and bulky, and would be tricky to fit in the cupboard, so you need to ensure you have space on your kitchen bench,” says Fiona.

“The extra-large models are also very awkward and tricky to clean in a standard kitchen sink, which really affects how convenient they are to use.”

Be wary of claimed capacity

Take the manufacturer’s claimed measurements with a grain of salt, as the claimed capacity or volume can be misleading. Some manufacturers measure the whole space inside the air fryer rather than the actual useable capacity. For example, a lid-opening air fryer that states it has a 10-litre capacity may only accommodate 500g of chips in the roller basket accessory.

2. There are some interesting innovations (hello, steam air fryer!)

What on earth is a steam air fryer, you ask? It’s basically an air fryer and steamer in one. Our experts tested the Tefal Easy Fry Grill & Steam XXL Air Fryer, which is a very large 6.5-litre appliance that can cook food for up to eight people and comes with a steamer function.

“I found the steamer function great for cooking pork and other roast meat, as it helps retain the juiciness of the meat by combining steam with the air frying process,” says Fiona.

“It would also be useful for reheating any type of foods such as pizzas and bread. You can either use the steam function in combination with the air fryer function, or use it on its own for things such as vegetables, dumplings or steamed puddings.”

Aldi also recently sold a steam air fryer in its popular Special Buy sales, so we expect to see more air fryers with this function popping up.

3. They have new cooking modes and functions

CHOICE has seen many air fryers come through its kitchen labs that have auto-cook/pre-programmed settings for things such as chips, chicken or reheating. But they’re now also seeing new cooking modes and functions. 

For example, new models from Breville, Instant Pot, Ninja and Philips include various modes based on whether you want to grill, bake or even dehydrate foods. The Philips Essential Air fryer XL HD9270/21 also includes a ‘keep warm’ mode that says it “keeps your food at an ideal temperature for up to 30 minutes”. 

But Fiona says an extra 30 minutes can easily dry out certain foods, so be mindful which foods you use this function with. 

An extra 30 minutes can easily dry out certain foods, so be mindful which foods you use the ‘keep warm’ function with

Another model we tested, Instant Pot Airfryer Pressure cooker, has a filter that soaks up oil and aromas to stop smells permeating your kitchen. 

“Although this could be a handy feature, keep in mind that these filters will need replacing regularly, so they’re an added cost you have to take into account,” says Fiona. 

“This particular air fryer also has a viewing window and a light. These save you opening the door and removing heat so you can see how your food is cooking, which is a great feature that others don’t have.”

A Bluetooth-connected air fryer?

CHOICE is also seeing some air fryers that come with Bluetooth, connecting to voice recognition software and recipe apps that adjust the time and cooking temperature, letting you monitor your cooking from your phone or tablet. 

But although Bluetooth connectivity can be a handy feature for operating some home appliances, Fiona and others are less convinced of their value on appliances such as air fryers that often require you to be present to shake or physically manipulate the food. 

“Air fryers are not an appliance you should leave unattended if you want the best results,” says Fiona.

4. Price doesn’t always equal performance

Another thing CHOICE discovered in their recent testing is that some air fryers may do one specific cooking task well, but fall down in other areas.

For example, some models we tested turned out perfect fries and crumbed chicken, but fell down when it came to cooking marinated chicken wings.

“This can be due to the element position and the shape and size of the basket in the air fryer,” says Fiona. “For foods that require longer cooking times, if the element is too close to the food, you can end up with a dish that’s unevenly cooked and dry.”

Although many expensive models performed well, some models we recommend cost less than a third of the price of the most expensive model we tested

So, if you want your air fryer to cook something specific, check our reviews before you buy to find the best performer. CHOICE’s detailed reviews include scores for cooking crumbed chicken, frozen thick-cut chips, marinated chicken wings and roast pork.

But don’t buy on price alone. Although many expensive models performed well, some models we recommend cost less than a third of the price of the most expensive model we tested. 

5. More accessories are becoming available

Drawer-type air fryers generally come with few to no accessories, whereas the benchtop oven-style models with top-opening doors usually come with more, such as the roller basket, rotisseries and skewers. 

As the popularity of air fryers has exploded, we’ve noticed a huge number of accessories now available to buy separately, both instore and online – from pizza trays to double-tiered cooking trays, air-fryer liners (to stop your food leaking down through the basket) and silicone cookware for baking muffins and cakes.

Choose accessories carefully

Before investing in any extra accessories, Fiona advises, you should first make sure they’re either specifically designed for your model of air fryer, or that they’ll actually fit into your air fryer drawer. 

And although some can be useful, think hard about whether you’ll really use them – otherwise they’ll just end up just gathering dust in the cupboard, probably destined for landfill. 

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