The name “air fryer,” frankly, is a misnomer. A brilliant marketing tactic, but a misnomer, nonetheless. An air fryer doesn’t fry. Not really.
You’ve heard of air fryers. Hell, how could you not know about them at this point? If you’re on TikTok you’d need an air fryer to make nearly every other recipe produced in the last year.
But when you hear air fryer, you might, naturally, think of, well…deep fried foods. Onion rings, mozz sticks, wings, and the like. That’s the power of marketing. And if there’s anything Americans love, it’s taking something decadent and wonderful, then watering it down so it can be consumed in large quantities. As Michael in TV’s The Good Place once said of frozen yogurt vs. ice cream: “There’s something so human about taking something great and ruining it a little so you can have more of it.”
That is the ostensible promise of an air fryer: OK, so it won’t be fried, but it’ll be close and good. Throw some frozen chicken tenders in this sucker and bam, you’ve got a slightly healthier version of the real deal.
But if that’s how you’re using your air fryer, frankly you’re using it all wrong.
The air fryer is the perfect tool for roasting vegetables. It is particularly sent from heaven for weeknight meals. Frankly, I hardly even use my traditional oven for roasting veggies anymore — and most dinners I make involve roasted vegetables.
An air fryer is, in all intents and purposes, a convection oven. It circulates hot air in and around your food to cook it fast at high temperatures. That is, well, exactly how you’d roast vegetables in a perfect world.
Brussels sprouts, carrots, onion, sweet potatoes, broccoli, freaking whatever, here’s my method for air frying veggies:
Cut the veggie into your desired size and shape
Douse the hell out of the air fryer basket with cooking spray
Dump the food in the basket
Spray the hell out of the food (you could use oil here, too, if you desire)
Season the veggies however you like (just make sure you include salt)
Blast the air fryer at its top heat
Shake the basket around to mix the veggies after about ten minutes
The vegetables are done when they’re crispy on the edges but tender inside. You should see a little char. This usually takes around 20-ish minutes.
Follow this method and you will be rewarded with crisp, salty, beautiful, slightly charred vegetables every time. A process that would take 45 minutes and gluttonous amounts of oil in the oven takes the air fryer half the time and no oil, should you desire to cut it.
OK, so now a confession. I am an idiot: I could not, for the life of me, find photos of my lovely air-fried vegetables. And that is because — like I said — it is a perfect weeknight food, when you’re just rushing to get something finished post-work. I don’t stop to take photos when I just want to relax and eat.
You’ve just got to trust me. It’s almost impossible to mess up. And here, gaze upon beautiful veggies air-fried by others.
Now of course you can use the air fryer for other things. It does do a damn fine job of cooking frozen foods. It makes a good chicken wing — though as a wing expert I contend deep frying remains tastier. You can use it for anything you’d bake or roast. I’ve air fried salmon, chicken, and whatever else I’ve needed to cook easily and quickly with little mess.
But I’d argue veggies are the only food I’d rather cook in the air fryer than any other method. If an air fryer was a one-function tool — if it only roasted vegetables — I’d still want it. You could use a convection oven to net similar results, but, typically speaking, a good convection oven is going to cost you more money, cook fewer vegetables, and be tougher to clean. My Instant Pot brand air fryer costs just $99 and has a large, nonstick basket that takes a couple of minutes to wash, at most.
So just hear me out, if you don’t love you air fryer, maybe ditch the frozen foods — or don’t, whatever — but definitely mix in some roasted veggies. You won’t regret it.