Sometimes, you need comfort food. In my house, some days, the kids (and I) want mozzarella sticks, and nothing else will do. For other families, chicken tenders and French fries are go to dinners that get the family fed on busy nights. When you serve them with fresh fruit or a green salad, they even end up being fairly healthy.
But fried foods, ultimately, are not the healthiest foods. When you fry food in oil, much of that oil stays in the food, and adds calories to your meal. Most of the oils that we use for frying are not the healthy omega 3 oils that nutritionist tells us to add to our diets; omega 3 oils tend to have lower smoke points, and so aren’t great for frying. So most of us have chosen to relegate fried foods to the “occasional foods” category, and only eat them when we feel like we can afford to indulge.
Which is great, for an adult who is trying to be healthier. For my kids, however, it’s more complicated. I could explain this all day long, and they’d smile and agree…and then ask for mozzarella sticks for dinner. I am clearly not the only parent with this problem, as there is an entire class of kitchen appliances dedicated to providing us with that delectable fried taste without all the extra calories. Air fryers, oil-less fryers, convection ovens, and deep fryers, are all options for your kitchen. Let’s look at which one might work best for you.
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How Does Frying Food Work?
To understand how to get that great fried-food taste, and to understand how the various oil-light options work, it’s important to understand how frying cooks food. The obvious answer is that heat and oil cook food from the outside in; what makes frying, and especially deep frying unique, however, is that the rapid heating process also causes the moisture in the food to turn into steam; the food cooks from the outside in and inside out at the same time.
Any countertop model that promises to mimic the results of frying food is going to need to heat up quickly and cook food rapidly.
Oil-less fryers, air-fryers, deep fryers, and convection ovens: compared
– Deep Fryers In All Their Glory
When I was a kid, growing up, my parents had a very big kitchen. They owned a single basket deep fryer, and on special occasions, we’d drag it out to make fries, mozzarella sticks, and even tasty treats like fried calamari or homemade chicken tenders.
The oil in a deep fryer tends to be very inexpensive, because you need a lot of it. It needs to stay solid at room temperature, because the oil is used repeatedly, and is often stored right in the deep fryer between uses. As a general statement, fats which are solid at room temperature (butter, lard, chicken fat) are considered less healthy for people than fats which are liquid at room temperature (plant based oils, like olive, avocado, or sunflower). When you dunk food into that boiling oil, the oil gets caught up into the food, even if you drain it well once the cooking is done, and you end up eating that saturated fat. Again, a little bit now and then is okay, but making this a part of your daily diet isn’t healthy.
Modern deep fryers are more efficient than the ones my parents had, and I also love that many options, such as this Presto FryDaddy, now have lids to keep oil from smelling up your kitchen between uses. If you are wanted to use four cups of a healthier oil with a high smoke point – sesame oil would probably work up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit – this could be a good option.
– The Benefits Of Air Fryers
The “fry” in air fryers is technically a misnomer. Really, air fryers are a specialized kind of convection oven. Using a heating element and a method of circulating air, they accomplish a similar kind of inside-out cooking as deep frying. Most air fryers will have you spray the food down with an oil mister, or toss the food lightly in some oil, to make sure that there’s enough moisture to seal and steam the food, since that’s what gives you the fried taste.
What air fryers can’t do is give you the same deep fried taste as a deep fryer. When you deep fry food, the food itself often takes on some of the flavor profile of the oil itself. There is a particular crispiness that just can’t be replicated any other way. But, as we discussed above, that flavor comes with plenty of extra calories that most of us just do not need.
Whether or not people are happy with their air fryers has a lot to do with their expectations. If you want a way to cook a bag of frozen French fries, a couple of small Cornish hens, or roast some vegetables without turning on your oven, an air fryer is probably going to be a great success in your home. If you have a very small kitchen, you might find an air fryer more frustrating; they tend to be heavier than a simple deep fryer, and they are often generally bigger, taking up a bunch of counter space. They are primarily an option for someone who either does not have a kitchen, and is replacing their oven, or someone who has a huge kitchen and plenty of room. Some people also enjoy them when traveling in an RV.
My favorite air fryer is the Phillips Digital; it has a great balance of size to weight, holds a reasonable amount of food, and it comes with a rack insert, so you can cook on two levels at the same time.
– Interest in Oil-Less Fryers
The concept of “oil-less” fryers is what actually got me interested in the concept of electric frying devices in the first place. I was bewildered at how anyone could argue that a product which used absolutely no fat or oil could be frying anything.
Most cooking experts agree that the name, much like the air fryer, has more to do with branding than with the actual cooking technique. And, like with the air fryer, many foods do suggest that you mist them with oil before cooking, to get the crunchy exterior that most people want from their fries and chicken nuggets.
The Big Boss Oil-Less Fryer is my favorite in this class. The Big Boss uses three methods of cooking: a halogen light for heat, infrared light for more heat, and convection to get the heated air moving.
– Cook with Convection!
If you are planning a kitchen remodel, switching from a traditional oven to a convection oven is a great idea. Your food will cook more evenly and in less time than a standard oven. But a brand new oven is expensive, and not always reasonable if you live in an apartment or are a student. One of the oldest convection cooking appliances is a small convection oven, sometimes called a toaster oven, like this Oster model.
Small convection ovens are fantastic in many ways. They can replace your regular single use toaster, while heating up items like toaster waffles and Pop-tarts. You can heat up leftovers without the weird, rubbery textures you get from a microwave, and make delicious snacks like toasted cheese and nachos. And, of course, a small convection oven can also cook your frozen fries and other ready-made snack foods.
These are great appliances for those who are traveling and need a quick breakfast or lunch on the go, or students who are looking to cook in their rooms without causing problems with dorm oversight. They’re also a much less expensive alternative for those who live in studio apartments, or who have very small kitchen. They generally don’t take up much space on the countertop, giving you a great heating method without sacrificing a ton of counter space.
Modern convection ovens have enough room to accommodate a small chicken or roast, and often incorporate broil and bake functions as well. This makes them a great option for big families, where more than one heat element is needed at a time to keep everyone fed.
What Should You Choose?
For my kitchen, the Oster Convection Oven is my favorite appliance. We were actually able to get rid of the microwave and replace it with this item. We can cook our favorite foods without heating up the whole house, heat up leftovers, and it’s easier to clean than the microwave was. While I am intrigued by the potential convenience of the different air-fryer and oil-less fryer options, their footprint is too big for my small kitchen, given that they feel more like a single purpose tool.
The price point on the Oster is also so much lower that I could seriously consider indulging in the FryDaddy and some good quality oil for the occasional dip into tasty fried treats. Ultimately, I’d rather spend my time frying food on the stovetop and get really good results, rather than have another appliance that is big and unwieldy but doesn’t quite give me the results I want.
That said, if I had a bigger kitchen, the convenient of the Phillips Airfryer would be a huge factor. I love that it has a safety button, to keep accidental bumps from knocking the fryer open. I could conceivably let my kids dump their own chicken and tenders into the appropriate trays, push the right buttons, and retrieve their dinner when the cooking cycle is over. They’re too young for that now, but if I had preteens or teenagers, that would be a persuasive argument.
Ultimately, the Oil-Less fryers have a reputation among my friends of becoming either warm or hot on the exterior due to the halogen bulb. With clumsy kids and a curious cat, that’s just too much of a risk for my house. If I had a bigger kitchen, where I could feel safe that no one would bump into the appliance by accident, I’d be more likely to consider it.
Which of these appliances would work best in your kitchen?