Air frying is all the rage right now, and for good reason. This ingenious method is accessible to home cooks and produces the kind of mouthwateringly crispy and evenly browned results that could once only be accomplished by a deep fryer. But when it comes to air frying vs deep frying, what’s the difference exactly? Here’s how the two cooking methods stack up (and why you might want to scoop up an air fryer, stat).
Air Frying Vs. Deep Frying: What’s the Difference (Besides the Obvious)?
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Air Frying vs Deep Frying: What’s the Difference?
You’ve probably already heard that air frying is a unique cooking method that allows food to get golden brown and crispy without the use of excess oil—and that is, indeed, the main difference between air frying and deep frying. What kind of sorcery is this, you ask? Well, air fryers are equipped with a heating element and a powerful fan that work together to rapidly circulate hot air, thus achieving a similar result as a deep fryer without a vat of grease (and a ton of extra calories, but more on that later). In fact, the folks at Whirlpool say that deep frying requires up to two quarts of oil…and that’s 100 times more than most air fryer recipes, which typically call for just a tablespoon of oil, if any at all.
When it comes to cooking time, deep fryers are the faster way to go. It’s no secret that fast food joints rely on this cooking method to produce perfectly fried food items in minutes. On average, the experts say that air frying takes between 10 to 15 minutes longer than deep frying. Still, cooking time isn’t everything. In terms of overall time commitment, deep frying doesn’t necessarily have an edge on air frying, namely because deep frying will leave you with an oily mess that takes a considerable amount of time—and elbow grease—to clean. (Cleaning an air fryer, on the other hand, is significantly less messy.) It’s also worth noting that less time is spent on setup and food prep when you go with air frying, since deep frying recipes typically require that foods be dipped in a batter prior to cooking, and that requires extra time and (you guessed it) even more clean up. The deep frying technique also demands more oversight from the chef throughout the cooking process, while air fryers boast a set-it-and-forget-it advantage many home cooks prefer.
Before you invest in a new kitchen appliance, you must consider cost. As such, you might be interested to know that air fryers are typically more expensive than deep fryers. (An entry-level air fryer will set you back roughly $100, whereas inexpensive deep fryers can be found for as little as $25.) Still, the steeper price of an air fryer will be quickly offset by the money saved on oil. Indeed, the huge amounts of oil required for deep frying can cost you a pretty penny in the long run. Plus, air fryers boast more advanced features than the average deep fryer and, much like an oven, have a wider range of cooking applications, including frying, roasting, baking and reheating.
Texture and Taste
We’d be remiss not to mention that air fried foods, though comparable to their deep fried counterparts in many ways, do not have exactly the same taste and texture. In general, deep fried foods will have a thicker crust on them, while air fried foods have a texture that’s light, crisp and, well, airy by comparison. The flavor of deep fried food is also heavily influenced by the oil it’s submerged in. In fact, cooking oil is often the dominant flavor of a deep fried dish; it’s that greasy goodness that makes it hard to distinguish a mozzarella stick from a chicken tender. For this reason, the culinary pros at Cook’s Illustrated advise either starting with fresh oil every time, or straining previously used cooking oil before heating it up again, lest the new batch of fried food take on a not-so-fresh (or in extreme cases, downright rancid) taste. Needless to say, this is not a concern with air frying—and fans of the method prefer that it allows the natural flavors of the ingredients to shine.
Is Air Frying Healthier than Deep Frying?
Given what you know about the amount of oil required for deep frying vs. air frying, it should come as no surprise that air frying is, by far, the healthier method. Deep frying requires that the food be completely submerged in oil, and a considerable amount of that oil is absorbed by the food during the cooking process. (You can minimize this to an extent by ensuring that your cooking oil is adequately heated to at least 325°F since anything lower than that and your food will cook too slowly, absorb even more oil and likely emerge a greasy mess.)
And it’s not just about the sheer calorie count of deep fried foods, which is obviously much higher than that of the air fried variety: Studies (like this one published in Food Chemistry in 2016) have shown that trans fat content increases when cooking oil is heated to high temperatures for frying, and when it’s reused for the same purpose. This is particularly problematic, given that the American Heart Association confirms that the consumption of trans fats raises bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, lowers good (HDL) cholesterol levels, and increases the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and type II diabetes. In other words, the less oil you use to get that desired crispy effect, the fewer trans fats you’ll consume and the healthier you’ll be.