Call it a COVID-life crisis, but way back in February 2021 I finally caved and bought myself an air fryer for my birthday. While everyone else was fixated on baking bread, I was determined to find out what was so amazing about the countertop appliance that practically dethroned the Instant Pot as a No. 1 bestseller.
Ninja Foodi 8-Quart Original Dualzone 2-Basket Air Fryer$148$170Save $22
Emeril Lagasse Power AirFryer/Toaster Oven 360 Plus$160$169Save $9
Ninja 5.5-Quart Air Fryer Max XL$159$170Save $11
Cuisinart Compact Air Fryer Toaster Oven$130$340Save $210
TaoTronics 5.3-Quart Air Fryer$80$116Save $36
Air Fryer Magnetic Cheat Sheet$8$9Save $1
Despite my ambivalence about trends and my aversion to cooking elaborate meals, I got myself a Ninja Foodi 8-Quart Original Dualzone 2-Basket Air Fryer — which happens to be on sale at Walmart as we speak. Fast-forward nearly three years later, and my air fryer has become indispensable in my kitchen. It's helped me diversify my menu (no small feat) and feel proud of the healthy meals that I prepare (air fryers use up to 75% less oil than traditional fryers). Everything is fast and easy. I'm convinced an air fryer can make anyone a confident cook.
While all of those pandemic bread bakers may have hung up their rolling pins by now, I’m still going full steam ahead with my Ninja Foodi Air Fryer. And by the way, it's not the only air fryer on sale at the moment.
I’m here to say it: You can and should believe the hype about these wondrous appliances. Here are five unexpected reasons why.
Air fryers cook the crispiest, juiciest, healthiest veggies.
Vegetables may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of an air fryer. They weren't for me. I, like everyone else, pictured French fries and chicken wings — but broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts have become my favorite foods to cook in the air fryer. You can pop any kind of vegetable in there and yield the most tender results using barely any oil. And it’s so easy.
I’ll usually preheat my Ninja Foodi Air Fryer to about 375 degrees first. Preheating is so important. Air fryers work a lot like convection ovens in that they circulate hot air around your food, ensuring even heat distribution. I put maybe a tablespoon of canola oil in the basket before cooking. The grate inside the basket keeps my veggies from taking an oil bath. And the fact that my Ninja has two baskets and DualZone Technology means I can cook two things at once!
Just recently, I was gazing at the grill on my deck, remembering summer cookouts with fondness. So naturally, it occurred to me to put corn on the cob in the air fryer, too. The result? Crispy, juicy, mouthwatering perfection. I flipped the cobs once at 400 degrees and served them with burgers as if there wasn't snow on the ground outside.
Air fryers are the easiest way to make breakfast, period.
For me, the air fryer became my breakfast go-to. Early on, I texted a friend about my purchase. Her response was, “you have to cook bacon in that thing!” She was right. Cooking bacon in the air fryer is quick and simple — two minutes at 375 degrees, then flip it and cook for another two minutes if you like your bacon crispy, like me. It's a lot less messy, too.
Now I’m famous for whipping up a full diner breakfast — eggs, bacon, potatoes, toast — using only my air fryer. Toast? Yes, you read that right. I just spread on a tiny bit of butter on top, then I put it in the basket of the air fryer at about 325 for five minutes (give or take; I like my toast toasty). You can finally kiss your rusty old toaster goodbye and trade it in for a modern-day multitasker.
If you have an air fryer/toaster oven combo like this one from celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse — which is on sale at Walmart for $90 off — then you can just choose the “toast” function (it can also fry, bake, roast and broil).
And on that note, air fryers can hard-boil eggs!
I know how crazy this sounds, considering an air fryer uses hot air and not hot water to cook food, but you can hard-boil eggs in this appliance — in fact, it’s even easier than boiling a pot of water and risking having your eggs over-boil, under-boil or crack midway. In fact, it doesn’t require any water at all.
I just preheat my air fryer to 250 — err on the side of caution here — and cook six cold eggs for 15 minutes. The hot air circulates around the eggs and results in a "hard-boiled" egg just like you’re used to making the old-fashioned way — minus, well, the old-fashioned way. Then plunge them in an ice water bath for the perfect amount of doneness.
Walmart also has another Ninja air fryer on sale — the Ninja Air Fryer Max XL — for over $20 off. This model has just one ceramic-coated nonstick basket as well as a broil rack. You can't go wrong with a brand like Ninja — and the price is right.
Air fryers make stale bread and pastries fresh again
File this under “things you have to experience to believe.” I don’t like to refrigerate bread, but I also hate when my bread goes stale. Ditto for pastries and cookies. I happened to be Googling how to bake a cake in an air fryer (I plan to try it soon!) when I learned an air fryer hack that changed my life: Just add water!
No, really — all you have to do is add water, either to the air fryer’s drip pan or right on top of the pastry itself, to make stale baked goods taste fresh. Preheat your appliance to 350 and pop in your days-old croissants, cookies, doughnuts, muffins or bread. The water and the hot air/steam work together to release the moisture inside the pastries and make them "fresh" again.
I usually use the sprinkling-water-on-pastries method, but drip pans are another great feature you get with an air fryer oven like the Cuisinart Compact Air Fryer Toaster Oven. This one’s the real deal with six settings — convection bake, convection broil, air fry, toast, pizza and warm — but it’s also compact enough to fit neatly on your countertop without hogging up a ton of room.
Air fryers make cooking seafood a cinch.
It's all too easy to overcook a flakey white fish or end up with rubbery shrimp. I like to get my seafood fix in a restaurant so I can avoid embarrassing myself by cooking anything that came from the sea. But back during the pandemic, I wasn't doing too much dining out, so I figured that having an air fryer was a reasonable excuse to try my hand at making the dish I mess up the most: scallops. If things went wrong, I could always blame it on the air fryer.
I'm delighted to report that, thanks to my air fryer, for the first time in my life I can actually cook one of my favorite foods at home. I just sprinkle some sea salt on the scallops, spray the basket of the air fryer with cooking spray and cook them for about five or six minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees (I use a meat thermometer to check).
It turns out a machine that circulates hot air made up for my years of goofing around with a cast iron pan, and the results are perfectly done, tender and delicious. This TaoTronics Air Fryer would be great for making scallops, shrimps or even fish filets — and it's $46 off at Walmart right now. In fact, this one's the least expensive of the bunch at just $70.
There's one thing I haven't tried using my air fryer for: baking bread. But who knows? Maybe one of these days, my pandemic purchase will come full circle!
Oh, and if you want to avoid having to look up the cook time for various foods every time you use your new appliance, this handy air fryer cheat sheet booklet is the perfect accessory to add to your cart. It's also on sale!