Kitchen appliance technology will continue to progress with time. One of the most popular modern inventions is the air fryer, which serves a million different cooking functions, including reheating and cooking food. So, should you get rid of your microwave and replace it with an air fryer?
The short answer to this question is, no, you shouldn’t. While there is some overlap in terms of the appliances’ functionality, microwaves are better at reheating food without drying them out, whereas air fryers are better equipped to cook food from scratch.
Of course, the description above is only a tiny part of the story. In this guide, I’ll talk about what microwaves and air fryers can do and explain what an air fryer can do that a microwave can’t.
What Is a Microwave?
A microwave, which also goes by the longer name microwave oven, is a kitchen appliance that is mainly used for reheating food. However, if you take a look at the heating options on any microwave’s control board, you’ll see that a microwave can also cook raw foods into edible dishes in a reasonable amount of time.
How does a microwave work? In short, it uses microwave radiation that causes moisture to vibrate. The violent vibrations of the water molecules cause them to heat up, which, in turn, cooks your food. So, if you were to place a fat-free, dehydrated piece of meat inside a microwave, it wouldn’t cook.
Microwaves typically have a holding capacity of between 0.5 to 0.9 cubic feet (roughly 15 to 27 quarts), which is perfect for preparing large quantities of food at a time. Also, contrary to popular belief, nuking food in a microwave does not destroy the nutrients in food. In fact, the opposite is true since microwaves do not use direct heat—the main destroyer of nutrients.
What Is an Air Fryer?
An air fryer is, for all intents and purposes, a miniature convection oven. Air fryers work on a simple principle that involves recirculating heated air throughout the cooking chamber to cook food from all angles.
The main cooking components inside an air fryer are a heating coil and a fan. As the coil heats up, it increases the temperature of the air inside the food basket. The fan rotates at high speeds, forcing air to move around and penetrate your food. This is the exact same cooking principle that convention ovens use.
The food basket of an air fryer is considerably smaller than the cooking capacity of a microwave. The largest air fryers typically have 8 to 12-quart food buckets, whereas the smallest microwave oven has nearly twice the capacity. Of course, quantity isn’t always everything, which is evidenced by all the excitement surrounding air fryers in recent history.
So, why are people so proud of their air fryers? What makes this countertop cooking appliance so great is that users only need to add tiny amounts of butter, fat, or another type of oil to their dishes. When air-frying French fries, cuts of steak, vegetables, and so on, you can enjoy a guilt-free dinner without sacrificing flavor or texture.
What Can Microwaves and Air Fryers Do?
The cooking capacities of a microwave vary from model to model. For the most part, microwaves are used for reheating and defrosting food. However, you can also use them for cooking food from scratch, as long as you continue to rotate and mix the food intermittently.
There are also microwaves that have a built-in range hood on the underside, such as the BLACK+DECKER OTR Microwave. So, as you cook food on a stovetop, the microwave will actively suction the smoke, steam, and heat away before passing them through filters and circulating the purified air back into your kitchen.
Something else microwaves can do but don’t get enough credit for is de-crystalizing honey. All you have to do is microwave the crystalized honey in a microwave-safe bowl for 30 seconds (medium-power) and stir the honey afterward.
What Can an Air Fryer Do?
Air fryers can do whatever a convection oven can do, including reheating food, defrosting food, and even de-crystalizing honey if you’re careful. But with the right attachments and accessories, you can use an air fryer to grill meats, roast vegetables, bake cakes and cookies, and cook French fries.
Your cooking options with an air fryer are virtually limitless. If you look at the control board on an air fryer, it may come with several presets that control temperature, fan speed, and cooking duration. Best of all, it’s not completely necessary to defrost or thaw food before popping it into the food basket. The recirculated heat inside the cooking chamber will melt the ice crystals and cook your food from the outside in.
Can an Air Fryer Replace a Microwave?
This brings us to the crux of the matter: if you have an air fryer, should you get rid of your microwave to make more room in your kitchen?
Ultimately, it depends on what you use your microwave and air fryer for.
There is one thing that a microwave can do that an air fryer cannot, and that is heating up liquids without reducing them. For instance, if you want to make a cup of tea, you can pour water into a microwave-safe cup and set the microwave to high power and heat for 90 seconds. The water will not boil, but mixing it will distribute the heated water to make a nice, hot cup of tea or coffee.
In an air fryer, the heat from the heating coils will eventually cause the liquid to boil, which reduces how much is left over. Also, heating a cup of water is generally not considered air-fryer-safe since, on the off-chance the water does boil, the water could spill onto the heating coils and short the device.
What Can an Air Fryer Do That a Microwave Can’t?
Earlier, I briefly spoke about why you should keep both appliances in your kitchen. That said, there are times when it makes sense to get rid of a microwave and replace it with an air fryer. Let’s look at the things an air fryer can do that a microwave has no hopes of attempting.
The only way to crisp food is to dehydrate it with heat. Microwaves do not dehydrate food because they rely on the presence of water molecules to function. Your food will retain its moisture, which is why it may come out soggy even after several minutes in the device.
Air fryers introduce direct heat to the cooking chamber with heating coils and a fan. The heat will eventually cause food to dry out slightly, allowing them to crisp up and produce a satisfying crunch when you bite into them.
Cook food from scratch
Although microwaves can also cook food from scratch, the food options are very limited. Unless the food is dependent on a cooking liquid, your microwave might not be the most suitable cooking appliance.
For instance, you can make stews, soups, and oatmeal in a microwave from scratch. However, roasted meats and vegetables, pizzas, cookies, and other guilty-pleasure delicacies are simply out of the question. But for an air fryer, not only is cooking these types of food possible, you can do so without adding too much butter to crisp the exteriors.
Cook with metal accessories
You’ve probably heard about all sorts of whacky things happening when you put metal in a microwave. If you haven’t, here’s an awesome video by TKOR on YouTube that shows precisely why you should never microwave metal. In short, your microwave could break.
However, heating up metal (aluminum, cast iron, stainless steel) in an air fryer is completely fine, provided the cooking vessels are oven-safe. Since air fryers only use direct heat for cooking food and not mysterious microwave radiation, you don’t have to worry about the metal causing your air fryer to short.
What About Microwave/Air Fryer Combos?
Here’s something that might impress you. Did you know that there are microwave-air fryer combos? Instead of investing in 2 kitchen appliances, you can enjoy the best of both microwave and air fryer worlds by picking up a microwave/air fryer combo appliance, such as the Panasonic HomeChef NN-CD87KS.
However, what you should know about a microwave/air fryer combo, as well as any combo appliance, is that it is a Jack of All Trades but a Master of None. While it can microwave and air-fry food beautifully, it is a much better microwave than it is an air fryer. However, if you don’t plan on doing the majority of your cooking in an air fryer, then you might enjoy using this ultra-versatile, space-saving appliance.
So, are microwave/air fryer combos worth the cost? It depends, but these appliances sure are exciting. Plus, the Panasonic HomeChef is one of the highest-rated microwave/air fryer combo appliances on the market, so if you were to look for one, this would be the best place to start your search.
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