When the Sydney chef Dan Hong posted a video to his 104,000 Instagram followers of a lamb rack emerging from his home airfryer, its fat aureate and twinkling, the caption had a caveat: “Edit,” it read, “please don’t take this too seriously guys. It’s a lamb rack cooked in the air fryer 🤷🏻♂️ 🤷🏻♂️ 🤷🏻♂️”
“Some people were commenting ‘it’s undercooked’ or this or that you should’ve rendered the fat a bit more and it’s like, bro, I cooked it in a bloody airfryer,” Hong says.
“Using the airfryer is more about having fun with that appliance. It’s not about trying to be a full professional chef or trying to gain technical skills in the kitchen, it’s just about having fun.”
The chef behind some of Sydney’s most popular restaurants, including Mr Wong and Lotus, says he is “obsessed” with his airfryer, and calls it the “unofficial kitchen appliance of lockdown” because, for some, it’s simply a new toy. And as a chef currently cooking more at home, it’s been a welcome distraction from the pandemic.
“I [saw] a TikTok recipe where people put their mi goreng in the airfryer and got like a crispy noodle cake and I was like, oh maybe I can do chow mein in that, and people were like, mindblown,” Hong says.
The airfryer is a bench-top fan-forced oven. It has a round element and a fan that blows dry air into the cavity to achieve browning on food.
It was invented in 2010 by Philips and marketed as a healthier alternative to a deep fryer, using 80% less oil, Philips claimed, but it only really took off in the last few years, alongside the rise of TikTok.
TikTok videos with the tag #airfryer have amassed more than 1.6bn views. Some of the most viewed are from accounts offering ‘healthier’ fried recipes like homemade fries or crumbed zucchini nuggets, while others veer in the opposite direction, with short-cuts to cookies, doughnuts and pizza.
The Australian TikTok comedian @airfryerguy, who has close to 800,000 followers, experiments off the back of requests, airfrying everything from burger patties to watermelon to sour gummy worms, giving viewers a similar thrill to an unboxing video or makeup reveal.
“I never thought that it would come to this,” says Fiona Mair, a test coordinator at independent consumer group Choice.
Mair says when she tested the original airfryer for Choice it was as a “novelty appliance”. Now it is one of the most popular appliances she’s ever tested. She chalks this up to the product’s convenience and preheating efficiency, as well as clever marketing.
At Choice, airfryers are assessed on their usability, size, ease of cleaning, and performance on fried frozen foods, homemade chips, crumbed items and roasts like pork belly. The results are compared against other fan-forced ovens, not deep-fryers, and Mair says food comes out much the same.
But airfrying communities swear by its ability to render fat and caramelise food better than any oven.
“There are online food trends that are truly awful – the TikTok one about the whole block of feta and tomatoes? Ew, no – but every so often there’s one that sticks because it lives up to the hype,” the MasterChef judge and food writer Melissa Leong says.
“I’ve been known to cook everything from soft boiled eggs to grilled fish in it, but probably one of the most satisfying things I’ve used it for is perfect pork crackling.”
Hong agrees it’s great for thick cuts of meat, like a lamb roast or whole chicken. He says that compared to an oven, an airfryer will result in a more caramelised exterior in the same time it usually takes to properly cook through the centre.
After testing 70 airfryers over 10 years, Mair says she’s not a fan, likening them to other bench-top gadgets like breadmakers.
“I really hate the thought of having another appliance in the kitchen. I just think you’ve got an oven, use that oven. When I first started looking at airfryers I thought, these are just going to end up in landfill.”
She recommends opting for a multi-cooker device that combines airfryers, rice cookers and slow cookers in one, or simply getting a perforated shelf or basket for your fan-forced oven for better browning.
Novelty or not, like many others Hong has found enjoyment experimenting with his airfryer, and cooking TikTok recipes with his daughter in lockdown. And while he acknowledges they’re a trend, he says they could be here to stay a little longer – at least while people are still bored at home.