Which? is the latest organisation to come on board with air fryers. In research published this week, it determined that an air fryer is one of the cheapest and most versatile ways to cook.
The consumer protection organisation’s research team tested a number of cooking appliances, including a conventional electric oven, an air fryer, a pressure cooker, a slow cooker, induction hob and a halogen oven. They performed a range of cooking tasks to find out which was the cheapest to run and which made the best food.
In every test, using an air fryer cost much less than using an electric oven: from a third to half (33%-46%) of the running cost. What’s more, it cooked the food faster and with better results. Bear in mind that if you have a gas oven, it’ll cost less to use than an electric oven, but it’s still nowhere near as economical as using an air fryer.
You can see all the results on the Which? site. It’s a British organisation, so the results are in pounds and pence but the ratios will be similar wherever you are in the world.
But even if you are using your air fryer, you may not be using it as well as you can. To make the most of its money-saving potential, follow these tips.
It’s not just for beige – use it for baking
When people think of an air fryer, they tend to think of beige food like frozen chicken nuggets and chips. But you can use it for much more than that: it’s a mini convection oven and can do anything that an oven can. If you’re baking a cake, you’ll probably switch on the oven out of habit. But you’ll be heating up a pretty big space just to cook a fairly small item, wasting electricity and money.
All you need is a baking tin that fits inside your air fryer. If you don’t have one, it’s well worth investing. In most cases, what this means is baking round, rather than loaf-shaped, cakes. You’ll also need to adjust the cooking time, and it may take a couple of tries to get it right.
But the savings can be significant. Which? found that a cake baked in an air fryer took just 33 minutes and cost 8p in electricity, compared to 56 minutes and 24p in a built-in electric oven. It also turned out even better than the traditionally baked cake.
Troubleshoot with toothpicks, bread and water
Air fryers cook quickly, whipping hot air around the food. It’s an effective method but it can throw up problems you’re not used to solving. Don’t be put off: there are hacks you can use.
The air fryer is smoking: if you cook greasy food like bacon in your air fryer, you might find that oil pools at the bottom and begins to burn during cooking. But there are easy fixes. You can put a slice of bread under the basket to absorb oil, or add a tablespoon or two of water to the bottom of the drawer to keep the oil from burning.
Alex Greenwood / Foundry
Your food is blown around: an air fryer toasted sandwich is a surprisingly great thing but there’s an issue. Put a sandwich into an air fryer and when you open the drawer, it’ll look like it was hit by a tornado. There’s little chance it’ll all still be in place. But if you secure it with a couple of toothpicks, you’ll get a crunchy toastie without problems.
Don’t cram, do shake
An air fryer works by circulating hot air around the food. This means that for the best results, you should ensure that there’s enough space between items you cook. This will also help to give you the crispy results that an air fryer is known for.
If you overload the basket, you’ll find that food won’t be properly cooked and may have soggy patches. In the end, what this means is cooking for longer – which will waste power and money.
This doesn’t mean that you need to separate the food completely. In fact, one of the best things to cook in an air fryer is gnocchi: it’ll come out chewy, crisp and delicious. But you can actually cook a whole pile of it: all you need to do is pause cooking once or twice and shake the basket to make sure it’s been evenly exposed to the hot air.
Emma Rowley / Foundry
In the same way, if you’re cooking fish or meat, pause the programme about half way through to turn your food over. It’ll ensure you never have to add a few extra minutes onto the cooking time.
Many air fryers will beep 50-60% of the way through the programme to remind you to shake the basket or turn your food, but if yours doesn’t, set an alarm.
Don’t forget to clean this hidden element
We’re all guilty of failing to clean the inside of the oven. It’s fiddly, hard to get to and easy to put off.
But there’s no excuse with an air fryer. In most cases, the basket and drawer can be put in the dishwasher. You can find out in the manual to your appliance whether you can do that with yours. If you can’t find your manual, just look up the make and model online.
If it can’t go in the dishwasher, the basket and drawer’s non-stick surfaces make them easy to wash by hand. You can even line it with foil or a baking sheet to make cleaning easier.
But there’s another part of the air fryer that needs regular maintenance. If you remove the air fryer drawer, you’ll see a heating coil above it.
If this gets spattered with burnt-on food, it will not only affect the taste and smell of the next meal you prepare but affect the appliance’s cooking performance. When it has cooled down, brush the coil clean with a soft brush or washing up sponge. Don’t use soap or get it very wet. If you have a smaller air fryer, you can turn it upside down to make this job easier.
Emma Rowley / Foundry
An air fryer uses a third to a half of the electricity of an oven. But that means if you use it two or three times to cook separate parts of a meal – for example, if you use it to make chicken, roast vegetables and jacket potatoes – you’ll erase the savings you’re making.
So, if you have several dishes to cook at once, it’s most economical to do them all together in the oven. You’re only paying once for the cooking time and if your oven is full, it’s probably worth it. If you run several appliances, you’ll be paying several times.
But if you’re just making two dishes, the cheapest option may well be to use two low-cost cooking appliances at once, like your microwave and your air fryer. The Which? team found that cooking a jacket potato in the microwave cost 5p, rather than 13p in an air fryer or 37p in the oven. Still, you miss out on a crispy skin.
You can read more about what your appliances cost to run or, if you’re considering buying an air fryer, have a look at our round-up of the best air fryers we’ve tested to see our recommendations.