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Deep-Frying vs. Air-Frying: Which Makes the *Best* Fried Chicken?

Deep-Frying vs. Air-Frying: Which Makes the *Best* Fried Chicken?

It’s touted as the healthier way to ‘fry’, but can air be as good as oil? We test it out!

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Ruby Goss

Ruby Goss

Food Editor at Kitchen Stories

This article is part of “The Community Issue”, our celebration of what brings us together: Food. We’ll be giving you recipes that you asked for, highlighting some amazing recipes that you’ve shared, exploring what we’ve learned from each other here at KS, and so much more! Join us as we connect with each other through food this month and check out this link for an overview of all our latest stories and recipes from the issue. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for behind the scenes, extra community content, and more!

Fried chicken is a dish we love to dig into around the world. But whichever way you love to eat it—how often do you make it at home?

This month, in our latest video, Xueci and I tested two ways of making restaurant-worthy fried chicken home: I took on the traditional method, deep frying, while Xueci tried out an internet sensation—the supposedly easier *and* healthier—air-fried chicken.

For me, I had to step up to the plate: I’ll admit, I’ve never been the chief deep fryer at home. It always seemed like too much effort and I was happy to let my better (frying) half take on the job and simply kick back and enjoy the results. But, this journey into fried chicken changed me and I have emerged an even bigger deep frying fan, now with the skills to actually do it myself. I’m aware this sounds entirely like clickbait, but it’s so much easier than I expected. No dangerous oilsplashing in sight.

So, without giving too much (more) away about just how impressed I was with my deep fried chicken, I was most curious about the loss of the oil when we tested the air fryer. There’s a reason deep fried food tastes so good: the fat coats your taste buds, so what would happen to the desired oily crunch? Would the coating be dry, would the ‘hot air’ dry out the chicken inside? Xueci on the other hand, wondered if the air fryer might be the hands-off, healthier approach for deep-fried-ish-food-for-one at home. Could this be her new favorite gadget?

Watch us go head to head and test out deep-frying vs. air-frying chicken by clicking on the recipe below:

We test deep-fried vs air-fried chicken

We test deep-fried vs air-fried chicken

Before we begin: What even is an air fryer?

Basically an air fryer is like a small convection oven that circulates hot air rapidly around a cooking basket. Instead of submerging food in hot oil to gain a heavenly crispy crust: To air fry food, whether it be battered chicken or fries, you simply brush food in a very thin layer of oil, place batches of chicken, spaced out, into the air fryer basket to cook—unattended. It’s gained massive popularity online as the ‘healthier’ and more hands-off way to create deep-fried-effect food at home.

Our basic recipe for homemade fried chicken

Before we get to the two cooking methods, here’s our streamlined way to make *the best* fried chicken at home (whether you’re deep-frying or air-frying): A quick, 1 hr brine in saltwater (no overnight rest needed, thanks for the tip Christian) to plump up the chicken and season it from within and a three step breading that yields craggy, fast-food worthy crispiness.

To dredge, we dip the chicken in seasoned flour mix and buttermilk mixed with egg for flavor and sticking power. First the chicken is dredged in flour that’s been seasoned with garlic powder, onion powder, and smoked paprika. This is a basic seasoning which adds savory, spicy notes and suits all kinds of dipping sauces. However, one of the best things about making it at home is that the flavorings are entirely up to you; Korean fried chicken dripping with a spicy-sweet glaze, Southern fried chicken as golden as the sun, turmeric doused ayam goreng from Malaysia and Indonesia—there is so much goodness to be enjoyed!

Adjust your seasoning to tune into all kinds of global fried chicken recipes:

Deep frying chicken at home: The pros and cons

Deep frying pros

You don’t need to buy any expensive equipment: All you need is a large pot: We used stainless steel, as it’s quick to react to temperature change, meaning you can drop the temperature and feel the difference quickly if your oil becomes too hot—we recommend this, too, if your stove is a bit finicky. However, if you’re confident that your stove blasts out an even heat, many people like using cast-iron for its heat retaining properties.
The only extra tool you need is an affordable meat thermometer, to make sure the oil comes up to optimum temperature (that’s 175°C/345°F) and that the chicken is cooked (that’s 71°C/160°F for white meat like chicken breast or 74°C/165°F for dark meat like thighs or any meat on the bone). A cooking spider or tongs helps to safely lower and lift the deep fried chicken out of the oil—but you likely own one or the other!
Faster than an air fryer when cooking in batches. On average, frying my batches of chicken in oil at 175°C/345°F took around 12 min. (compared to approx. 20 for air-frying)
— Results in deliciously golden and crispy fried chicken!

Deep frying cons

— Uses a lot of oil, which then needs to be disposed of
— You have to stay by the stove for the entire cooking time to keep an eye on the process
— Best to fry in a room with good ventilation

How to reuse and dispose of deep frying oil:

To reuse oil for frying (this can be done a couple of times, until the oil darkens dramatically or has a smell to it—you don’t want your next fried dish to be tasting like dinners past), let cool and strain into a bottle and use again for deep or shallow frying.

To dispose of oil, let it cool and decant it into a non-recyclable food-waste container eg. some milk cartons, and dispose.

Air-frying at home: The pros and cons

Air frying pros

Uses far less oil: You only need to brush the chicken with oil to coat it. Xueci only used 2 - 3 tbsp in our recipe and video.
Set and ‘forget’: Comes complete with a timer and you don’t have to attend to it while cooking
— Also results in deliciously golden and crispy fried chicken!
No deep-frying ‘fumes’

Air-frying cons

You need to buy (and store) an extra kitchen device. We used thisPhilipsmodel, which is one of the most popular on the market. The basket fits three small or two large pieces of chicken.
Takes longer to cook the batches (approx. 20 min, compared to approx. 12 - 14 for air-frying) depending on the serving size, and basket size of the air fryer

Ruby: The deep-fryer’s verdict on deep-frying vs. air frying

As you know by now, I really enjoy deep frying! I love watching all the action happen when you lower it into its hot hot bath—there’s something therapeutic about watching it bubble away, so I don’t mind hovering over the stove while magic happens. I think the biggest deterrent when it comes to deep frying is dealing with hot oil—and the fear of any splashing. With proper tools like a spider or tongs you can gently (this is key) lower the chicken into the hot oil. Going slow and close to the surface equals a shorter fall through gravity meaning zero splash! Plus, your shaggy breading acts as a moisture seal, so you won’t be seeing any spitting oil here.

So after trying the results of both methods, what’s my verdict? I’m of course skewed by my labor of love, but personally, I don’t like having extra kitchen gadgets and am much happier to do something low-fi—for this reason, deep frying is my pick. Taste-wise the air fried chicken and deep fried chicken are quite similar, but I do think the oilier deep fried version carries the flavor of seasoning better and results in a crust that is crispy but with some oily, flavorful bubbling. The air fryer breading is SUPER crunchy, but doesn’t have that oiliness—resulting in a slightly harder mantle, if you will. If I want fried food, I want fried food. Both methods delivered super succulent chicken, so another hats off to our brining method. However, cooking side by side with Xueci, I did find that my chicken took less time to cook (averaging about 12 min per batch), and I could fit pieces into my large pot. That all said, if you want to eat deep fried food really often and don’t want to deal with the calorifics and the clean up of the oil—maybe the air-fryer is your new friend. I’ll just be over here, watching my oil bubble away.

Xueci: The air-fryer’s verdict on air-frying vs. deep-frying

I’ve been wanting to try an airfryer for a while. It’s not surprising: I’m an easy-to-influence consumer out and I almost never deep-fry in my single household. However, I had low expectations when the air-fryer arrived in our office, having just watched this video which didn’t endorse it at all. After testing the method and tasting the results, I have to say it’s a good add-on gadget, especially for beginners who enjoy deep fried food (and would like to enjoy it more often) and have some enough space in the kitchen. In many ways, it’s like a rice cooker (indispensable for me) or a toaster, which you could do without but definitely makes your life easier if you rely on it regularly. I picture it to be best for a household of 2 or 3 people.
We started off thinking air-fried chicken was never gonna end up as good as deep-fried chicken—so what’s my verdict? It does save oil and fuss. Plus, to me, the taste and look it produces is just like the KFC chicken of my childhood. There are more purposes for the air fryer too: Like many other reviews mention, an air-fryer is great for crisping up frozen fries, wedges or nuggets, as it’s easy to toss them with the handle and get them golden all over. There are also videos where people cook whole meals or even bake cakes with it—possibly a case of, you can, but should you? I’ll leave that up to you.

The overall verdict: Which method wins? Deep frying or air frying?

Although we really thought I was going to win (not because of my own talent, more from the age-old magic of deep-frying), we ended up in a TIE. Xueci’s air fried chicken was undeniably crunchy and really gave my classic deep-fried chicken a run for its money. Both methods successfully delivered the kind of fried chicken, in look and in flavor, that could hold its own if served up at a restaurant or takeout joint—as you can see, the difference in a photo isn’t perceptible! The method you choose is really a lifestyle choice—if you want fried food on the reg, maybe try the air fryer, but if deep frying is an every now and then treat, it’s a fun cooking project to dive into.

What’s your verdict? Let us know in the comments!

Published on May 26, 2021

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