The air fryer is being dubbed the latest must-have appliance for healthy cooking and the best countertop do-it-all since the Instant Pot. So, we decided to put it to the test by air-frying some of our favorite snacks —and then doing a side-by-side comparison with the same snacks cooked in a conventional oven.
First, we brainstormed which foods would be best to test using both methods. First, we tried frozen sweet potato fries. They’re convenient, relatively healthy, and have the word “fry” right in the name, so seemed like good contenders. Then, we wanted to try cauliflower florets. The super versatile veggie has major appeal these days thanks to it’s ability to stand-in for everything from steak to pizza crust. Could it serve as a healthy snack, too? Next, we wanted tossed in some chickpeas—when cooked to crispy perfection they have so much potential as a healthy, high-protein snack. And finally, chicken wings. Though not a favorite of our test kitchen team, we wanted to see if we cold win over chicken wing haters with a crispy-skinned un-fried snack — or if baked would win it all in the end.
So that the comparison was fair, we cooked each food at the same temp and time for both the air fryer and oven.
Here are our findings:
Frozen Sweet Potato Fries
Cooking Method: Spray basket with cooking spray, shake basket halfway through, 8 min. at 400°F.
Sarah, Content Manager: “The oven fries are limp and undercooked, while the air-fried fries are like actual fries — crisp, crunchy, and crave-worthy. ”
Belle, Test Kitchen Chef: “The baked one still taste like the freezer.”
Sharron, Recipe Editor: “The air-fried fries had a lightly blistered, crisp exterior and a tender, fluffy interior that remind me of the twice-fried French fries I get at some of my favorite restaurants.”
Sweet Potato Fries Winner: Air Fryer
Cooking Method: Spray cauliflower with cooking spray, shake basket halfway through, 15 min. at 375°F.T
Sharron, Recipe Editor: “The oven-cooked cauliflower is crisp-tender and tasty, but it lacks the savory roasted quality of the air-fried version, which is much browner. I would like to use that one for a crudites platter and dips, or put a sauce on it. It has a freshness, but not a lot of deep flavor. Meanwhile, the air fryer version is more caramelized with a more intense, even slightly smoky flavor. I want to eat it all by itself.”
Sarah, Content Manager: “The air fryer version has a nice mouth feel that makes me want to eat it, unlike the oven version which just tastes like steamed or boiled cauliflower, with the same lackadaisical flavor.”
Jenn, Social Media Manager: “The oven version is pale, versus the air fryer which is deep brown and caramelized.”
Belle, Test Kitchen Chef: “I like that the air-fried version is crispy on the outside and not mushy or overcooked on the inside.”
Devon, Test Kitchen Cook: “The oven version is a vegetable, the air-fried version is more like a treat. I would take the air-fried version to a party and drizzle buffalo sauce on top.”
CAULIFLOWER FLORETS WINNER: Air Fryer
Cooking Method: Drain and rinse, toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, 400°F for 12 minutes, shaking once halfway through.
Sharron, Recipe Editor: “The chickpeas are very crunchy coming out of the air fryer and have a nice brown color. They’re softer out of the oven, but still a nice color and lightly glossy. The air-fried ones are so much crispier and would be good for a snack, especially with a seasoning on them, such as za’atar or sumac. They would be a great vehicle for something, or to satisfy the craving for a snack that’s not chips.”
Belle, Test Kitchen Chef: “The air-fried ones seem like a healthy alternative to a chip — and your fingers won’t get greasy.”
Sarah, Content Manager: “The air-fried version is crispy, crunchy and light. Better for popping in your mouth.”
CHICKPEA WINNER: Air Fryer
Cooking Method: Spray basket with cooking spray, shake basket halfway through, 25 min. at 375°F.
Note: You can fit about 2 lb. of wings in a normal size air fryer. Shake the basket every 5 minutes, but you don’t have to individually turn them. T
Sharron, Recipe Editor: “On color only, the air-fried version is the clear winner. The skin looks crackly golden-brown, and you can already see that they’re going to be crispy. The oven ones, in comparison, just look pale and sad. If I saw those on a buffet table, I’d walk right by – or wonder if I’m going to get salmonella.”
Upon tasting the air-fried wings: “I would be happy to be served those in any bar with some sort of dipping sauce. I am literally going to borrow the Test Kitchen’s air fryer and make my husband these with a side of buffalo wing sauce and he is going to be so, so happy.”
Upon tasting the oven wings: “The oven versions were so anemic looking that I was worried that they weren’t going to be cooked through, but they totally were. Overall the flavor was blander and the skin was a little bit rubbery, which I didn’t like.”
Sarah, Content Manager: “I seriously never saw the point of wings before because they were all skin and no meat, but now, having tried the air-fried version, I totally get the point.”
Belle, Test Kitchen Chef: “Let me tell you, they get so crispy. All you have to do is make your sauce of choice and toss them after, or just eat them with salt and pepper. It’s fast.”
Jenn, Social Media Manager: “This would make me buy an air fryer. I bit into it and it’s super-crispy.” And I don’t even eat wings. You don’t even need a dip or a sauce! The oven one doesn’t taste as soggy as it looks, but it’s not as juicy as the air fryer one.”
CHICKEN WING WINNER: Air Fryer