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Are air fryers the healthiest way to cook chips?

Air fryers promise chips that taste deep-fried but with a fraction of the calorie content. We look at whether these claims stack up
Man cooking with an air fryer

There's a reason why air fryers are often marketed as 'health fryers': they claim to produce food that tastes deep-fried, but only requires a teaspoonful of oil (or no oil at all) to cook.

This is because air fryers cook by blowing searing hot air around a small cooking zone rather than submerging food in fat. In fact, their method of cooking is identical to that of a fan oven, with differences in results caused by their compactness and the intensity of the circulated air.

Manufacturers' claims about air fryers can sometimes be overblown, but they can be a healthier way to cook chips when compared with other methods.

Read our air fryer reviews to find a Best Buy model that cooks chips quickly, reliably, and with minimal fuss.

Air fryers, deep-fat fryers and ovens: what's the difference?

Chips in a fat fryer
Chips in a deep fat fryer

Any time you add oil to your chips, it will get absorbed during cooking, although there's a limit to how much oil can physically be absorbed.

  • Fan ovens generate heat and then blow it around to cook food. This is called convection cooking.
  • Deep-fat fryers submerge your food in cooking oil. This causes it to absorb a lot of oil which adds to the fat content, though there's a limit to how much oil your chips can absorb before the moisture content in the centre creates a barrier to additional absorption.
  • Air fryers, despite their name, work in exactly the same way as fan ovens. The difference is that they circulate heat in a smaller chamber which cooks your chips more quickly and limits the amount they dry out.

This means that air fryers are roughly equal to ovens as far as adding fat content to your bowl of chips goes. The fat content depends entirely on how much oil you choose to add.

But because air frying creates a taste that's closer to deep-fried food, cooks who aren't satisfied with their oven-cooked chips might find air frying a healthier option than a chip pan, given the choice between one or the other.

If you're looking to buy an air fryer, read best air fryers for 2022 for our shopping advice.

How much oil do you need to use in an air fryer?

There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach here, but you don't actually have to use any oil at all.

You can simply season your chips and set them to air fry. This is the lowest-calorie version of cooking air-fried chips, but might leave them tasting a little less 'done' than you'd like.

That's because oil promotes a process known as the Maillard reaction, a chemical change that happens when your food is browned, that creates the flavours we love.

For the best tasting dish, one tablespoon or one spray of cooking oil can help create a fried taste without the calorific excess of deep fat frying.

For example, BBC Good Food's recipe for a plate of fresh chips calls for one tablespoon of vegetable oil or olive oil.

Read our Health & Personal Care section to find out which goods and services will keep you fighting fit.

Tips for great air-fried chips

Bowl of chips

We've tested a lot of air fryers, and we've picked up some tips for any home cook:

  • If you're using fresh-cut chips, make sure they're not wet when you put them in the air fryer. Drying them on some kitchen roll or a J Cloth can remove some moisture from the surface and help crisp them up.
  • If your air fryer doesn't have a paddle that mixes your chips as they cook, it's best to take them out halfway and give them a good shake.
  • You can fill the basket or drawer to capacity, but it's best to half-fill it so the air can circulate better. When we test air fryers, we test them half-full and at capacity, and the first batch is always better.
  • If you have time and you're cooking fresh chips, rinse your wedges in water first. This will remove some of the starch in the outer layer and help you to get chips with crisper outsides and fluffier insides.

Find the best food & drink judged by our expert panels of taste testers.

What makes a great air fryer?

We've established that air fryers can be much healthier than fat-frying while achieving delicious browning. But how do they do it?

It's all in the circulation of hot air in the cooking zone - a drawer or a basket. We've found that the best air fryers cook with intense heat and manage to reach every chip by buffeting them with air.

Bonuses, like a self-stirring paddle, help. But there are Best Buy air fryers that achieve crisp, even cooking with sheer power alone.

Outside of cooking performance, there are other aspects too: energy consumption is one. Great air fryers can be energy guzzlers and we mark them down slightly for this.

Ease of use is another aspect. Air fryers should be easy to use, one-touch if possible. And they can get dirtier than ovens because debris gets blown around and left scorched in crevices, so we see how easy they are to clean, too.

Our latest air fryer reviews

We've been reviewing new air fryers all winter and we've just reviewed six more, including three Tower models.

Read our expert reviews of the newest air fryer releases to find out if they dethrone current reigning champions or not.