Editor’s note: The VisionAware Peer Advisors have started a series on cooking with small appliances. In this post, Empish Thomas and Jeannie Johnson share their experiences in selecting and using an air fryer.
Air fryers have become one of the most popular kitchen appliances. You can cook nearly any food item in them, and they are great if you like fried food but do not want the high calories. I wanted something to spice up my cooking routine during the pandemic, and I am no longer eating out. Unsure of which one to purchase, I knew two things: (1) I did not want a digital display because of inaccessibility (2) I did not want one I had to operate via smartphone with a Bluetooth connection. I do not want to deal with advanced technology when I am cooking and have my hands deep in the ingredients.
While listening to a Hadley Institute for the Blind webinar on accessible kitchen appliances, the subject of air fryers came up. I contacted the presenter, and she suggested one that fit the bill. Hadley also did a deeper dive into air fryers on their What’s Cooking webinar that I found very helpful. The air fryer I purchased is larger than a coffee machine and has turn dials that are easy to mark and label. The basket is the right size for my needs as I cook for myself and do not need large portions. It is also easy to keep clean, and I can wash the basket and base container in a sink of soapy water. And, of course, the most important thing-price! It was within my budget and very affordable. So I decided to join the “air frying” club.
You might ask, “So, what do you cook in an air fryer?” All kinds of exciting and delicious foods. I always discover something new, but the basic things are traditional items like chicken, fish, or french fries. You can prepare meats in various ways depending on the recipe. I checked online and found too many to count. I have cooked salmon croquettes and hush puppies. Next, I want to try veggies like frozen-cut okra or fresh-cut squash and zucchini. I am open to experimenting.
I have discovered that air frying is a way to take those old favorites of fried foods, which I had reduced but not completely stopped eating, and make them healthier. There is no oil or shortening. I use a little cooking spray, and that is it. The food has the same consistency as if fried in oil in a skillet. Using an air fryer also keeps the heat level down in my kitchen. My gas stove creates a hot and uncomfortable environment, but using an air fryer does not. Also, cooking time is reduced. For example, air frying meat takes about 20 minutes, depending on if there are bones. While the meat is air frying, I can prepare my sides. Using an air fryer has become a great way to keep cooking simple, easy, and healthy during the pandemic.
Empish mentioned that the air fryer is one of the most popular kitchen appliances today. It is a healthier alternative for enjoying that crunchy, crispy on the outside, tender, and/or juicy on the inside foods that once could only be achieved by deep frying in a vat of oil!
The main components of the air fryer are:
- base (houses the electronics and holds the air frying drawer, pan, or tray)
- heating element/fan (creates the air frying environment)
- basket (vessel with holes where one places whatever is going to be air fried), and;
- pan, drawer, or tray (solid piece where the basket sets, catching crumbs, fat, oil, sauce, etc.).
Baskets can be round, square, or rectangular, with the round having the least amount of surface space for food. Controls are analog (knobs) and digital (buttons or touch screen).
Air fryers are available in sizes to prepare food for one or two too big enough to serve a large, hungry family. Examples include:
- Standalone units such as:
- Insignia, Best Buy’s store brand, a smaller model and a larger model with a square basket and available with analog or digital controls
- Black and Decker Purify, small with a round basket, analog, a knob for time, and a knob for temperature
2. Oven combos such as:
- Cuisinart TOA60, analog, or TOA65, digital, both with a large, rectangular basket and large enough to hold a 12-inch pizza
- Multicooker combos
- Ninja Foodi and grill combos
- Ninja Grill
The most accessible air fryers for those of us who are blind or visually impaired have analog controls that allow for adhesive silicone markers to be placed at the most often used positions for the knobs or digital controls, such as the Cooks Essentials from QVC and Bella, where each button has a dedicated function, rather than buttons that toggle between several different functions.
As a safety feature, most air fryers turn off when the drawer is pulled out or the oven door is opened and will restart when the drawer slides back into place, or the oven door is closed. Clean-up is generally easy, but because many baskets and pans, trays, or drawers have a nonstick coating, it is best to use silicone utensils. Manuals for most air fryers, with some recipes and time charts included, are online and accessible for those who visit web pages using a screen reader or magnification. Air fryer Facebook groups, Youtube videos demonstrate various brands of air fryers and recipes, and air fryer cookbooks through BookShare and Kindle. Without question, the air fryer is one instance where being full of hot air is a good thing!