Air fryers, the small countertop convection ovens that create low-oil meals that taste deep-fried, are surging in popularity at the moment.
Air fryers are fairly new kitchen gadgets. Debuting in 2010, they’ve become beloved as a healthier alternative to the deep-fryer while retaining a lot of the taste and crispness that people look for in deep-fried foods.
But air fryers are still proving to be fairly niche appliances in Britain. When we surveyed Which? members in 2020, 91% of respondents hadn’t used an air fryer. Of those that had, most of them mainly cooked chips in their air fryers, and fewer than 30% of air fryer-owners cooked veg, fish, and other miscellaneous meals in theirs.
Chips and chicken are definitely air fryer staples, and they’re the two foods we cook when we test air fryers in our independent labs. We rate an air fryer highly when it creates juicy, evenly cooked chicken with a perfect texture, and when it makes chips that are crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, with the perfect amount of browning.
But there’s a lot more that you can make with an air fryer. These air fryer recipe ideas show that they’re a lot more versatile than you might think.
If you want to see which air fryers are Which? Best Buys, then head over to our air fryer reviews.
Despite being a perennial favourite, we only found one member who made pizza in their air fryer when we surveyed Which? members last year. But we think they’re ahead of the game with this one.
To make a pizza from scratch, lay your pizza dough in the basket, add your favourite toppings, set the temperature and press start. The surface area of an air fryer basket is smaller than an oven tray, but this means you can make a small pizza (or a pizzetta) in less than 10 minutes for a brilliant snack, lunch, or side. With an air fryer, you can achieve a golden crust without scorching the whole meal, so your pizza should have a delicious crisp base when it’s ready.
Air frying relies on a chemical reaction called the Malliard reaction. It occurs when heat triggers amino acids and reducing sugars to react, causing food to brown and creating a unique flavour. The distinctive taste of a pizza crust is a consequence of this chemical reaction – the browning is more than just appearance, but the key to its tastiness.
Quick, tasty, and no need to buy a frozen pizza in a box, an air-fried pizza is a treat that should be more common.
2. Macaroni and cheese balls
If you’ve overdone it when batch cooking macaroni and cheese, you can take any extra to the next level with this comfort food treat. Roll your macaroni and cheese into balls, coat them in an egg wash or another adhesive like coconut oil, and cover them in breadcrumbs. You can be adventurous here and add all sorts to the breadcrumb mix, like bacon bits, chili, herbs, or just your preferred seasoning.
Once done, air fry the balls to turn the breadcrumb coating into a crunchy shell. They have crisp outsides and warm, gooey centres, and are an unusual and delicious way to make the most of leftover macaroni cheese.
3. Baked potatoes
The primary reason that air fryers are so popular is their ability to cook chips with crunchy outsides and fluffy insides. So it stands to reason that they should also make great baked potatoes, and we can happily confirm this. If you like a soft skin on your jacket potato, you may prefer to oven cook it with a little oil and a foil wrapping. But if you like the skin to be really crisp, an air fryer will give you the best results.
At 200°C, you’ll need to cook your potato for approximately one hour. Pierce it with a utensil towards the end to make sure it’s done, and then quarter it and fill it with your favourite toppings. Some of our favourites are chili con carne, prawns and mayonnaise, and caramelised red onion. But you can’t go wrong with just a smattering of cheese either.
4. Courgette noodles
Courgette noodles are a surprising pasta substitute that’s useful for low-carb diets. George Foreman recommends this recipe from across the Atlantic where it’s known as zucchini noodles (or “zoodles”). And to make oodles of zoodles, all you need is a spiralizer and an air fryer.
Spiralize your courgette, salt it and leave it in a colander for a while to dry out. It’s best to try and have the courgette as dry as possible. You can also coat the courgette noodles in cheese and oil if you want, though that depends on how light you want the meal to be and what your dietary needs are.
At 200°C in the air fryer, they need 5-8 minutes to be browned and well-cooked. This will vary depending on their coating and how wet they are going in, so pay attention while you cook them.
At the end, you have a delicious pasta-like meal. If you coated the courgette noodles before air frying, then they are ready to serve, but if not, then you can serve them with a sauce.
If you want to make some courgette noodles, then check out our spiralizer reviews to find the model for your needs.
Air fryers are well-suited to making cookies with gooey centres and crisp outsides. In the same way they cook chips that are soft yet browned, the concentrated heat and the rapid fan speed strikes the perfect balance between a cookie with a hard snap and a doughy cookie that melts in your mouth.
You can make a batch of cookies in five minutes at about 180°C. A lot of recipes recommend using baking paper or aluminium foil, but these can inhibit the air fryer’s flow of air. An olive oil spray can avoid sticking. Alternatively, you can buy perforated baking paper that lets the air fryer circulate hot air while keeping your bakes from sticking.
You can make a cake in an air fryer in about 20 minutes at the same temperature. Get your cake mix ready, place a pan inside the drawer, and then make a cup of tea and watch a bit of television while you wait for the tantalising ding to let you know it’s ready. Online you can find recipes for Victoria sponge, chocolate cake, carrot cake, marble cake, and many more.
With cakes, there tends to be a bit of trial and error as different air fryers will require different amounts of time to cook them properly. You might underbake or overbake your cake the first time, but once you’ve found the perfect temperature and speed combination, it should be plain sailing.
To help you be exact, many air fryers come with baking presets. For example, the Asda George Home GAF201B-20 has a program for muffins, while the Tefal ActiFry Genius+ appeals to the sweet-toothed with a dessert program.
Thinking about buying an air fryer?
If low-oil cooking with a deep-friend taste sounds appealing to you, then you might consider buying an air fryer. At Which? we take every air fryer to the lab and test them under our rigorous programme so that we can compare them directly and find the Best Buys. Among the models we’ve recently tested are:
Ninja Foodi MAX AG551UK
This air fryer’s expensive at around £250, but it could be one for you if you’re interested in using high-tech gadgets to optimise cooking performance. It has a digital probe that detects the internal heat of the food you’re cooking, and this thermometer feeds back into the heater to help it determine how long to cook it. In theory, this means your food should be cooked to perfection.
Read our expert review of the Ninja Foodi MAX to find out if its innovations make for a Best Buy air fryer.
Tefal Easy Fry Compact EY301840
Air fryers can come cheap too, and we’ve noticed a lot of demand for budget air fryers over the new year. At £60, this is one of the cheapest you can buy — but it’s also one of the smallest. If space on your countertop is at a premium, then it’s one to consider.
Read our expert review of the Tefal Easy Fry Compact to find out if it’s a deal or a dud.
Tefal ActiFry Genius XL 2in1
Some air fryers offer you the opportunity to cook two different batches of food at once. This can be great to maximise efficiency or to cook two different components of the same meal. Though there are new models coming into the market, including the Ninja Foodi Dual Zone, this Tefal model was one of the first.
Read our expert review of the ActiFry genius XL 2in1 to find out whether two cooking zones makes this air fryer a trailblazer or just a gimmick.