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Air Fryers vs Deep Fryers: Which is Best for Your Needs?

Air fryers vs deep fryers - featured. Close up of chef tipping potato waffles and chicken out of a deep fat fryer basket onto parchment paper

We consider the key differences between air fryers and deep fryers to help you determine which appliance is best for your needs

Once the undisputed king of at-home frying, deep fryers have seen increased competition from air fryers in recent years, with these new countertop cookers offering a viable alternative for anyone seeking to make tasty treats at home. Deep fryers may be difficult to beat in terms of crispy results and flavor, but air fryers have gained a strong foothold thanks to their convenience, low-oil usage and admirable cooking performance. To help you decide which of these two appliances is best for you, we’ve put together a comparison guide using our expert knowledge and hands-on reviewing experience.

If you’re unfamiliar with either of these appliance types, you’ll find a brief introduction to both below, as well as details on how they operate. Further down, we consider the pros and cons of the two appliances, comparing cooking performance, relative healthiness, ease of use, clean-up process, versatility, safety and more. Finally, we offer our verdict on which countertop cooker will suit you best.

What is an air fryer and how does it work?

Air fryers have quickly become a popular appliance in kitchens across the US, but not everyone will be familiar, so let’s take a quick look at what air fryers are and how they work.

Despite their name and visual similarity to deep fryers, air fryers actually operate more similarly to a standard convection oven; but in a smaller unit. Using a heating coil to generate hot air, air fryers circulate hot air around the surface area of the food inside to cook it. Due to their powerful coils, fans and smaller interiors, it’s possible for air fryers to cook food more quickly than a standard oven. Other advantages of air fryers over standard ovens include their lower power usage and the reduced amount of oil required to achieve golden, crispy results.

The most common air fryer format is a basket-style model with a single drawer, but they can come in all shapes and sizes. Other air fryer types include dual drawer options — boxy, oven-style models that open from the front — and fully fledged multi-cookers that bring baking, roasting and pressure cooking options among others, while also including an air frying function. While simpler models can be picked up cheaply and will get the job done, pricier air fryers do offer more, adding things like settings for grilling, dehydrating and reheating, and accessories for rotisserie cooking, autonomous stirring paddles and more.

What is a deep fryer and how does it work?

An older and more established cooking appliance than an air fryer, most people will likely be familiar with deep fryers as a result of their use in fast food restaurants. While they’re no longer as common in private kitchens as they once were, many people still enjoy deep frying foods such as fries, chicken, doughnuts and the like, at home.

Air fryers vs deep fryers. Close up of deep fryer making nuggets with a bowl of fries on the table next to it

Design-wise, deep fryers usually have stainless steel exteriors, up to two interior cooking compartments with removable wire cooking baskets and a control panel with temperature settings. To deep fry, you start by selecting your desired temperature and allowing the appliance’s electric heating coil to warm the large amount of oil in the deep fryer’s cooking compartment.

Deep frying is a high heat cooking method, calling for oil temperatures between 350-400ºF. As such, high smoke point oils such as vegetable oil and peanut oil are best suited to this type of cooking. Once the oil has reached the desired temperature, food is submerged completely into the hot oil, cooking the exterior surface instantly, creating a seal that stops fat penetrating beyond the surface. On the inside, the high heat will vaporize the moisture in your food, creating steam that cooks it from within. This unique cooking process delivers food that is super crispy on the outside, and fluffy and moist on the inside.

READ NEXT: Do air fryers need a preheat before use?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of an air fryer?

Now that we’ve explained how air fryers and deep fryers work, below we’ll take a more detailed look at each kitchen gadget’s strengths and weaknesses, when compared to one another:

Advantages of air fryers

  • Healthier cooking — One major advantage air fryers have over both standard ovens and deep fryers is that they’re a relatively healthy method of cooking. Thanks to their hot, rapid cooking process, air fryers can achieve excellent results with little to no oil, reducing the amount of fat and calories in the finished product.

Air fryers vs deep fryers. Air fryer on a kitchen surface with rotisserie chicken inside. Plates of different foods like corn on the cob, green vegetables and pizza surround it

  • Fast and convenient — Due to their powerful heating coils and small cooking baskets, air fryers are able to heat food quickly and evenly. Most air fryers are even able to get going without preheating, giving them an edge over ovens and deep fryers in terms of convenience.
  • Energy efficient — Air fryers are able to take on most of the same tasks as a standard oven, but do so while using much less electricity. While exact reductions will depend on the make and model of your air fryer, on average, air fryers tend to use about ⅔ to ½ as much energy as a standard oven.
  • Easy to clean — The baskets of most air fryers are non-stick and dishwasher-safe, making them simple to clean. In terms of day-to-day cleaning, the most your air fryer will need is a wipe down with a damp sponge and some warm, soapy water. Less regularly, you’ll need to clean your air fryer’s heating coil to ensure that dirt and grime doesn’t build up and affect its performance.
  • Versatile, with a high ceiling — Air fryers are well-suited to cooking a wide range of foods, including fresh vegetables, potatoes, fish, meat, tofu, baked goods, frozen oven classics and more. Mid-range air fryers also tend to offer extra settings for reheating, dehydrating and roasting, while higher-tier models add versatility with second drawers, extra cooking accessories and fully fledged cooking modes.

Disadvantages of air fryers

  • Can dry food out — If you don’t get your timings right, or you forget to check on your food often enough, then the use of only small amounts of oil and cooking using hot air can sometimes lead to food drying out. A potential problem for air fryers, deep fryers don’t have this issue since frying foods in hot oil will help seal in moisture.
  • Not as crispy as deep frying — While air fryers are great at producing a range of tasty, crispy foods, they still won’t be able to match up to the results of a deep fryer. Cooking using hot oil will result in a higher level of crispness and, according to many, deliver a deeper, richer flavor.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a deep fryer?

Now that we’ve looked at the pros and cons of air fryers, we’ll take a look at the positive and negative features of deep fryers:

Advantages of deep fryers

  • Crispy texture and fried flavor — While not the healthiest or most convenient cooking method, many people would argue deep frying delivers the tastiest results. Deep-fried foods tend to be unbeatably crispy and crunchy on the outside, while remaining juicy and fluffy inside.
  • Speed — Once your oil has reached temperature, your food will cook very quickly thanks to the high heat necessary for deep frying.
  • Can be affordable — Being fairly simply put together and no longer as in demand as they once were, deep fryers can be picked up relatively cheaply. A simple deep fryer can be acquired for under $50, while larger, double-basket options can regularly be picked up for less than $100.

Disadvantages of deep fryers

  • Unhealthy — As a result of the oil they absorb during cooking, deep-fried foods will have a higher fat content and more calories than foods cooked via other methods. The breading and flour coatings necessary to deep fry foods also adds extra calories.

Air fryers vs deep fat fryers. Hot oil bubbling in the basket of a deep fryer

  • Safety concerns — Thanks to internal thermometers that ensure even heating, deep fryers are a much safer way to deep fry food than heating oil in a pot over a stove. That said, regularly heating up large volumes of oil will still feel too dangerous for many due to the risk of severe burns and grease fires.
  • Large amounts of waste oil — Deep fryers require large amounts of oil for cooking, which needs to be replaced regularly to ensure it doesn’t negatively impact the flavor of your food. Finding a safe way to dispose of used oil can be difficult; it can cause blockages when poured down sinks or drains.
  • Difficult clean-up — Aside from the bother of regularly changing out the oil, deep fryers can also be tough to clean. To fully remove grease and debris, you’ll need to soak and wipe down your basket, and run the fryer while filled with water and then wash it out again with a soft brush and warm, soapy water.
  • Not very versatile – Deep fryers are great at what they do, but they’re generally not the most versatile appliances. They don’t tend to offer other cooking modes or settings, such as modern countertop cookers, plus they aren’t suitable for cooking any foods that aren’t battered, breaded or very starchy.
  • Persistent odor — Regularly cooking using a deep fryer can lead to a lingering odor of grease in your kitchen.

READ NEXT: Do air fryers use oil?

Which one will suit your needs best?

Ultimately, both air fryers and deep fryers are useful appliances. Which one will suit you best will largely depend on your cooking preferences and kitchen setup. However, based on our tests and reviewing, alongside recent consumer trends, it does look like air fryers tend to fit better into modern kitchens than deep fryers, for reasons we’ll recap below.

An air fryer will suit most kitchen setups thanks to its ability to quickly and effectively cook a wide range of foods using less oil and electricity than either a deep fryer or a standard convection oven. As well as being a speedy, healthier and more energy efficient option, air fryers are also safe and easy to operate, simple to clean and versatile in their cooking abilities. While they can’t quite match the crunch and flavor of deep-fried foods, air fryers can still produce tasty, golden and crisp results.

If fried food is a key part of your cooking plans, and you want the tastiest, most authentic results, then a deep fryer will be a great addition to your kitchen. It delivers a cheap and quick way to cook chicken, fries, onion rings and more at home. However, deep fryers aren’t without their drawbacks. Deep-fried foods are less healthy than air-fried foods as a result of the higher fat and calorie content. Deep fryers are also seen as dangerous by many, they can prove inconvenient to clean, have to be re-filled with fresh oil and lack the versatility offered by multi-functional countertop cookers. So, if you’re set on a deep fryer, just be sure you’ve thought through these issues before you buy.

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