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I Tried an Air Fryer for the First Time Ever—Here's What I Loved

Thinking about getting an air fryer? Here's what it can and can't do.
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Full disclosure, I am not an appliances person. I grew up watching Food Network, specifically Alton Brown on Good Eats railing against "unitaskers." I believe that everything in the kitchen can be done with the old-fashioned oven and stovetop. In fact, I didn't even have a microwave until my place came with it. I used a French press for my coffee for the longest time, grinding each loving cup from scratch—but then I had kids and fast coffee tasted way better than no coffee. Enter the Keurig. I had already fallen from kitchen grace, so when I had the opportunity to try the fabled air fryer for free, I had to take it.

Convenient appliances are a slippery slope, but I have to admit, the Keurig changed my life, so maybe the air fryer could too. But what makes an appliance earn its keep? What allows it to take up space on the counter as a daily friend rather than an encroaching enemy? Before I even pushed the "on "button on the Ninja Air Fryer Max XL, I wanted to set some parameters. Here were my questions:

  • Would it be easy to use?
  • Would it make sense in my routine?
  • Would it save me time?

I decided to use the air fryer for a week to make all the things I usually do to see if it was worth it. Here's what happened along with some tips to help you figure out if this is the appliance for you. Plus, don't miss I Tried Texas Roadhouse for the First Time Ever—Here's What I Loved.

What I Loved

Welcome to reheating heaven.

air fryer chicken and fries
Meaghan Cameron

For my first air fryer experience, I made the best chicken fingers on the planet—Bell & Evans—and reheated leftover french fries. I was surprised to see the package had air fryer instructions, which I always skipped over. Halfway through the cooking time, which was about ⅓ of the oven time, I tossed some fries over the chicken. And, oh my, everything was crunchy and the chicken fingers were juicy inside. Was this thing for real?

Don't set it and forget it—take a peek!

Air fryer
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I am a frantic cook, and I kept checking my food which didn't seem to affect the outcome. The air fryer heats up so quickly in a way the oven does not. Later in the week I reheated pizza, which I used to do in the oven. The air fryer is far superior. The one I used didn't require preheating and it took four minutes. Are you kidding me?! If you have a hungry kid or significant other, this tool is magic. For pizza, I'd say the cheese got a bit too cooked but there was no contest with the floppy microwave pizza.

It makes a perfect baked potato.

air fryer potato
Meaghan Cameron

I love a crunchy skin baked potato, but heating a whole oven for one potato is wasteful, plus if I turn my oven up enough to get crispy skin the smoke alarm goes off. Sleeping babies aren't a fan of that. The air fryer is a game changer! Baked potatoes come out perfectly in the air fryer. If you love baked potatoes this machine is worth it. It doesn't heat up the whole room, it doesn't set off the smoke alarm. It takes half the time and there is no guesswork because you can keep opening the machine without losing too much heat.

RELATED: Foods You Should Never Cook in the Air Fryer

It cuts cooking time in half.

Analogue metal stopwatch close-up on the black background.
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Did I mention it also took only 30 minutes?! A typical baked potato would take about an hour at 400 degrees. The air fryer seems to cut the cooking time of everything in half. So here's a cheat sheet if you don't want to look up everything online. Try cooking everything at the same oven temp but at half the time.

It's great for prep work.

walnuts
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The air fryer does small tasks like a champ. It toasted walnuts in four minutes for a salad without hot spots or random burned areas. I air-fried tofu for a crispy stirfry while the veggies softened up in a pan. A recipe online said I could do it all in the bottom of the air fryer, but I just wasn't ready for that.

What Didn't Work

Eggs and toast

air fryer hard boiled eggs
Meaghan Cameron

You will fantasize about all the things you can make in it, but rein yourself in. It is best for—surprise, surprise—things that you would fry. I made hard-boiled eggs and while the consistency was fine, they didn't take any less time in the air fryer, and they had some random toasted spots on the shell and the egg inside. They didn't peel great, as promised. Toast flew around the machine, but it tasted like toast and was evenly browned but a toaster can do that.

It's not going to replace your oven.

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It's just not big enough, and if it was, it would probably have preheating issues and heat up the whole room like an oven. If you have a few people wanting reheated pizza, the air fryer isn't going to cut it. If you have one child this would work, not with two or three. Though there are larger air fryers that people swear by. I wanted to try muffins but I needed something to put the cupcake liners in and that was too much thought. Oven it is.

RELATED: 16 Crispiest Comfort Food Recipes to Make in Your Air Fryer Tonight

It can make food dry.

chicken thighs crispy
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This one is anecdotal, but my mother tried it with chicken thighs and it made them crispy but dry. Again, it's best for those smaller, breadcrumb-coated foods that you want to come out crunchy and reheating things that have already achieved browning. Then again, this one could have been chalked up to user error, so give it a try!

It's another thing to clean.

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I guess there really is no way of getting around this one. You have to clean the rack, the crisper plate, and the bottom of the machine every time you use it. I hear it makes great bacon but I imagine the cleanup is a pain. Bacon in the oven on foil is sheer perfection and easy cleanup, but maybe I'll try it one day.

Verdict

Is it worth it? In a word, yes! The air fryer is staying on the counter because I just need to try so many more things. It checked off all of my boxes for convenience, ease of use, and saving time. I love it!

4/5 (24 Reviews)
Meaghan Cameron
Meaghan Cameron is Deputy Editor of Restaurants at Eat This, Not That! Read more about Meaghan
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