When my husband first toured the house that we would eventually buy, he rhapsodized about how great it was while underplaying the tiny kitchen. And it truly was small: a galley kitchen with doors that led into the yard, basement, hallway and dining room, and very little wall space left for cupboards or counters. But we loved the house anyway. It wasn’t the first tiny kitchen I’d cooked in, and eventually we took down a wall and moved some doors. But the lessons of small spaces stay with you. Pare down, keep it simple and only add what you must.
As a result, I’ve never been a big fan of single-use kitchen gadgets. Despite making a career in food, I’m probably the last person to adopt innovative cooking tools, especially anything that takes up a lot of space. But I do spend a lot of time wondering about them. Who wouldn’t be curious about things that claim they’ll make cooking better and easier?
I was excited to have the opportunity to test out some air fryers and see what all the fuss was about—while only temporarily committing the necessary counter space. My family doesn’t deep fry all that often, but we are fans of crispy oven-baked and shallow-fried foods. Air fryers promise to make these treats easier, and healthier, too, using continuously blown hot air over the food (not unlike a convection oven) to get a crispy, fried-like result with only a few teaspoons of oil. Would an air fryer give me a better result?
I tested two different types of air fryers: the windowless basket type (which my kids thought looked like a cute robot), and the countertop convection oven version, with a price range of low, med-high and high. And we kept it simple by cooking frozen french fries in all of them to see how they worked.
Dash Compact Air Fryer
First up was the Dash DCAF150 Compact Air Fryer. At $100, this basket-style appliance has a plastic exterior and comes in a few colours (and looks especially retro in the turquoise version we tried). Using it is incredibly straightforward: put food in the basket and turn the dials for time and temperature. Since these were oven fries, I didn’t add any oil. I couldn’t find any information on how much food the basket would ideally hold, but it seemed like 12 oz of fries(about four servings) fit nicely, so that’s what I used. You do need to stir the fries partway through cooking, but after 20 min at 400F, the fries were evenly cooked. The one annoyance is that once you’re finished, you can’t just tip the basket on your plate to remove the food, which feels counterintuitive. It has a false bottom that collects excess cooking oil; tipping it would pour the oil back onto your food. Overall though, I was actually surprised by how good a job this air fryer did. It may not be able to handle main-type dishes at its size, but can cook sides and vegetables quickly and efficiently.
Cuisinart AirFryer Toaster Oven
Next up was the Cuisinart AirFryer Toaster Oven ($278). This is a big machine! It definitely took up more counter space than we had to spare, but it’s stainless steel, nicely designed and still very easy to use, which is what you’d hope for with a kitchen appliance like this. Think of it as more like an impressively multi-functional countertop oven: You can definitely roast a whole small chicken in it, or bake a round 9” cake (like the Easy-bake oven of my dreams), and the fact that it also has convection and air fryer settings is pretty cool. The instruction booklet comes with a wide range of recipes to give you a sense of its capabilities—like roasting, broiling, toasting—but for the purpose of our experiment I only made fries. This oven can cook up to 2 lbs of french fries at a time, and I found that at the recommended 450 F it only took 12-15 minutes to get crispy fries.
DeLonghi Air Fry Convection Oven
The DeLonghi Livenza Air Fry Convection Oven ($234) was the only one of the bunch that had me reading the information booklet carefully before using. It looks like a gleaming, oversized toaster oven with a digital display—that definitely felt “next level” to use. It comes with a range of pans, including a cool rack and pan that allow you to cook a whole pizza in it. The air fryer basket itself was smartly designed to slide onto the bake tray for maximum air circulation and oil-catching capacity. It also needs to run for 30 min before you use it the first time to allow a protective coating to bake off. Like the Cuisinart, this is a very multi-purpose countertop oven, and comes with a couple of gourmet-level recipes to tempt you into making lamb shanks and lasagne alla bolognese. As for the fries: it can cook 1.1 lbs of fries at a time and they took about 30 min at 450F. Since the cook time was longer for this oven, I’d recommend adding a teaspoon of oil or two for this one to keep the fries from drying out.
All three of these did at least as good a job as my regular convection oven in terms of result—and my family clearly loves french fries and will eat them any which way. But the Dash is small and inexpensive, and makes a great crispy snack portion of fries if this is what you are looking for. The DeLonghi is a lovely multifunctional appliance but in terms of timing its forte is definitely not frozen fries. The Cuisinart is my favourite of the bunch, in that it cooks a big batch of fries in an efficient manner and is also a really versatile little oven. None of these have convinced me yet that I need to give up counter space for a new tool…though I do hear they stand out when roasting vegetables, legumes and even making old-fashioned doughnuts. Further experiments may be in order.