These are the hottest gadgets around, second only to (last year’s) Insta-Pot in popularity for keto cooking. Are they any good? What kind should you buy? And what CAN you make in them? Here’s the skinny.
It’s Okay to Buy Cheap
An air fryer is really a small, high powered convection oven, circulating hot air around the food. The only thing that varies on the brands very much is the basket size (and kind) and the electronics for setting the time and temperature. You pay more for larger baskets (with more powerful fans and one would presume, better quality heating elements). And you pay more for bright, legible, easy-to-use electronic interfaces. Some of the fancier ones have all kinds of additional inserts for the baskets.
Last year, I got a tiny one, the Dash, on sale for fifteen bucks on deep discount clearance at Target. I took a shot and it’s become our favorite little gadget. The Dash has been great for cooking a few wings (like, say four), the occasional “hot pocket” and other non-keto snacks that my son has enjoyed. It can also quick cook bacon.
The Dash has held up well and has been easy to clean. After a year of use (about two or three times a week), I still think of it as something good for “everyday.” In our tiny two-person household, the Insta-Pot gets pulled into service only a few times a year by comparison. Cooking for one or two is just a whole different ballgame than cooking for a four person family.
The Dash doesn’t hold much and has a clunky “dial” timer that is very stiff and mechanical. I was definitely ready to start trying new things with it– but I wanted to make whole meals, not just a few snacks or components.
The Dash was adequate for chicken wings, but it tended to make the wings too dark, with burned places on them when I painted them in barbeque sauce. Because the dial mechanisms for time and temperature are clunky, it was hard to be precise making them from batch to batch–which meant using it for bacon was hit or miss. If you’re using this for carby snack, it works great. Hot Pockets, for example, cook up great. The Dash is now the back-up snack machine, for use by my son. It was worth the fifteen bucks — but not a good choice for real keto cookery.
I went shopping for a bigger air-fryer with a better interface.
I looked around at Kohl’s, where the sales guy on the floor gave me a complete run-through on the various brands. He had the Power AirFryer XL (which he loved) and his father had a different brand, the NuWave (that he loved) and some friend of theirs had a third brand (the NinjaFoodi) that also combined the capability of pressure cooking, making it rather like an Insta-Pot plus. In his opinion, they all did the job well and they were all more or less in the same price range.
I went to Target and found the Chefman on sale for sixty bucks. With the success of the Dash behind me, I decided to take a shot.
The Chefman is dead simple. Its top temperature is 400F, its lowest heat is 160F. You push buttons on a glass touch screen to adjust for time and temperature. It can adjust in one-minute intervals and its very simple to operate.
The Chefman is quiet. While the Dash sounds like a small jet plane firing up, we could barely hear the Chefman while it cooked.
Wings: Experiment #1
I did a dead simple experiment for the first outing on this.
- Four wings (raw)
- Two eggs
- 1/2 cup fine almond flour
- 1/2 cup coconut flour
- Everything But the Bagel Seasoning (Trader Joe’s)
With my so-so experience with barbequed wings using the Dash, I decided to forego the barbeque sauce on the first experiment, and just use an egg wash with almond and coconut flours. Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel has onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and black sesame seeds, which provided all the flavors I wanted in one easy sprinkle.
Note: If you don’t have Everything But the Bagel seasoning available, then add 1 teaspoon of garlic powder and a teaspoon of onion powder, along with about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper to the flour.
- Crack the eggs in a bowl, beating them together to make an egg wash.
2. Next, mix the almond flour and coconut flour together and spread it on a plate.
3. Then, dip a wing into the wash and proceed to the next step.
4. Sprinkle the wing liberally with the SEASONING. There’s garlic, sesame seeds, onion and sea salt in this seasoning. It’s a good blend for this quick experiment. (See the note above if you don’t have this seasoning. Then you could skip this step.)
5. Lastly, dredge the wing in the flour mix until you can’t see any wet spots. Set it aside and do the next wing until they’re all well coated.
6. Put the wings in a single layer in the air fryer. Set the temperature for 350F and 20 minutes.
I have no pictures from the first batch because MY SON ATE THEM. He considered them “pretty good! I’ll eat these!” — from the non-keto wheat-a-holic, this was rare praise.
Bacon: Experiment #2
Bacon is probably the most keto thing you can make in an air fryer. I cut the bacon strips into two and lined the bottom of the basket. I had them airfry at 380F for 10 minutes and got super-crisp, super-dark but not burned bacon. A little browner than I like, but I just cut back 2 minutes and I got perfection, as least as far as our household of extra-crispy bacon lovers is concerned.
Bacon requires a bit of fine tuning but you will be able to figure out the times for the kind of bacon YOU like with only a bit of experimentation.
Cleanup was dead simple. If you’re saving the bacon grease for cooking, you can just pour it into a coffee can (or whatever jar you use), right out of the basket. The basket only needs a little dishwashing soap and five minutes in the sink. This was so much cleaner and easier that this alone might make it worth the purchase — but the bacon recipe itself is easily perfected — time, temp, and its done!
Experiment #3: Air Fryer Low-Carb Tortilla Chips
What else can you do with an air-fryer? One of my favorite dishes has always been the chimichanga. Low-carb tortillas are great for enchiladas, could an air-fryer make them keto-friendly?
My first experiment towards that goal is the creation of a much simpler dish, keto-friendly nachos. This was also dead simple: I took a low carb tortilla and cut it into triangles. I used a tortilla that was starting to get a little stale.
I had some bacon grease, about a half tablespoon, in the pot from my earlier bacon experiment. I left that IN the bottom of the pot. I only made two pieces of bacon. Would that add some flavor? There was no harm in leaving it in.
Other than that, this recipe requires 2 ingredients: a low carb tortilla, cut into triangles and cooking spray (I used coconut oil cooking spray).
- Cut the tortilla into triangle chips
- Spray with cooking spray.
- Spread the chips on the bottom of the air-fryer basket.
- Set the airfryer to 360F for 5 minutes.
The result: crisp tortilla chips. Add a little sprinkle of salt and they were damned near perfect. I had to restrain myself from chowing down on them just to take a picture. When I put them in the microwave, covered in cheese and jalapenos, a few got slightly limp due to an overabundance of cheese, but overall they held up remarkable well. Nicely crisp and very tasty. Thirty seconds in the microwave and they were ready!
I also took a small packet of “wholly guacamole” sauce, added lime juice and chopped onions for a dipping sauce. For a ten minute snack, this was very satisfying and keto-friendly. The tortilla was 4 net carbs, the tablespoon of onion probably pushed the carb up to maybe 5.
Air-Fryer or Instapot?
If you don’t have an insta-pot, the NinjaFoodi is getting great reviews from my fellow keto-ers. That’s a big cost savings if you don’t have either one of these. Another consideration: do you have a big family? My family consists of ONLY two people, so the Chefmate meets our needs. I would probably recommend a bigger fryer for larger families.