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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Scott Bryan

‘OK, Denise, imagine you’re a chicken nugget!’ The bizarre rise of air fryer-based TV

Chipper … Denise Van Outen
Chipper … Denise Van Outen Photograph: Ricochet

For some reason, TV is becoming obsessed with air fryers. On Wednesday Channel 5 broadcast Air Fryers: Do You Know What You’re Missing? – two weeks after Air Fryers vs Microwaves: Which is Better?, and let’s not forget the Christmas special: Air Fryers: Christmas Made Easy. Channel 4 has also got in on the act, with Air Fryers: Are They Worth It? But why? There can’t be that much content about air fryers, right? Do these shows actually tell us anything about air fryers that we don’t already know? There’s only one way to find out – I watched them all.

Air Fryers: Are They Worth It? (Channel 4)

Credit where it’s due, Denise Van Outen goes all in for this air fryer show – even describing her presenting gig as the “role of a lifetime”.

She not only works out whether they save you money and faff, she commits to eating as much food from an air fryer as she can for a whole month. She then takes one apart, before standing in The Crystal Maze’s crystal dome to demonstrate how they work. “OK, Denise, imagine you’re a chicken nugget!” she is told as the fans come on. All of this takes place in the first seven minutes.

‘The role of a lifetime’ … Denise Van Outen in Air Fryers: Are They Worth It?
‘The role of a lifetime’ … Denise Van Outen in Air Fryers: Are They Worth It? Photograph: Ricochet

I learn quite a lot – and am surprised by how interesting it is. The crystal dome fans illustrate that while normal ovens cook from underneath, air fryers cook food from all sides (the gold tokens Van Outen is grabbing represent the heat). Later on, there’s an interesting section explaining how cheap they can be to run. A microwave costs £21 to run a year, an air fryer just over £42, compared with a whopping £220 for an electric oven. “So you’re telling me I should just ditch the others and cook everything in my microwave?,” asks Van Outen, with so much enthusiasm I actually get a bit worried.

At times the show does lean into the bizarre. Van Outen tests different models of air fryers with an expert who dramatically destroys chips in front of her, as an assistant writes down their findings on a clipboard. Apparently, these are actual jobs. I have found a fallback career.

So yes, I won’t take this consumer show to the grave but I had a nice time. Oh, and air fryers don’t cook rice very well, according to Van Outen, so don’t try that.

Microwaves v Air fryers: Which is Better? (Channel 5)

“The trusted old microwave has ruled the roost, pinging out meals in minutes, but there’s a new contender in town,” booms the X Factor voiceover man Peter Dickson (really) as the narrator of this show pitting microwaves and air fryers against each other to see which is the best (no, really).

This 60-minute show is desperate to make it all more exciting than it actually is. There are seven challenges, which they refer to as rounds, accompanied by dramatic music and the sound of a boxing bell. They also put a microwave and an air fryer in a boxing ring, each with boxing gloves, and at one point two people look dead in the eyes at each other while holding them.

Microwaves v Air Fryers: Which is Better?
The battle has begun … Microwaves v Air Fryers: Which is Better? Photograph: Production Company: Content Kings/Channel 5

The challenges start out straightforward enough: air fryers win a round because they can be cheaper to buy than microwaves. Microwaves then win a round because they are cheaper to run than air fryers. Yet as the hour continues the rounds get increasingly abstract, as it becomes clear that there isn’t really that much to talk about. For example, air fryers win a round because they are mentioned more than microwaves on TikTok, with an expert helpfully adding that air fryers are new and “microwaves were being used when social media didn’t exist”. Thanks for that.

By the last challenge, they’re testing which device makes the crispiest chips by holding a microphone up to their mouth while they munch. Microwaves come second (with 35 decibels) to air fryers (41 decibels) in a test that really doesn’t help anyone.

Do I learn a lot? No. But at least this documentary features someone who has met the inventor of the air fryer – which is about as much praise as you can give it.

Air Fryers: Christmas Made Easy (Channel 5)

Available on the Channel 5 website until 7 December 2028, for some reason, and starting with a warning that it “contains mild language and violence” (when it doesn’t), this show features the broadcaster Alexis Conran attempting to cook a whole Christmas dinner, including sprouts, in an air fryer.

“Could it possibly be the easiest Christmas dinner ever?” Conran asks viewers at the start, to which of course the answer is: “No, you’re cooking a Christmas dinner in an air fryer.”

Alexis Conran on Air Fryers: Christmas Made Easy.
All the trimmings … Alexis Conran on Air Fryers: Christmas Made Easy. Photograph: ITN Productions

Talking heads in this show include Vanessa Feltz, who pops up to talk about air fryers every 20 seconds and at one point says “Imagine a world without pigs and blankets,” and the TV personality Tom Read Wilson, who drops an anecdote about buying an air fryer as a flat-warming gift (that’s the whole anecdote). Tips include the astonishingly useful: if you have a big family, buy a bigger air fryer.

As for the central challenge, we hear that the device doesn’t require any pre-heating and can cook roast potatoes in a fraction of the time of a conventional oven. But the problem is that most air fryers can cook only two things at a time. Keeping everything warm is a potential logistical nightmare.

So how do you ensure your food doesn’t get cold after cooking? “You may choose to keep everything warm in a low-heat oven,” Conran suggests. Wait. What? Aren’t we using an air fryer to avoid the ov–? I’m out.

Air Fryers: Do You Know What You’re Missing? (Channel 5)

Considering this is the fourth show dedicated to air fryers I’ve seen, I have to ask: is there anything left to say? As the titles roll, I break into a slight sweat at the prospect of being subjected to the history of the air fryer again.

Nonetheless, I do learn a bit: £60 is a good entry point for an air fryer that works well. You shouldn’t overfill it, because it won’t cook everything properly. If you have a smaller air fryer you can put a rack in it, so you can double the cooking space. Some air fryers have lights in! Don’t use metal tongs as they scratch the insides! Read the manual! Make sure you soak it afterwards! Go outside! Wait, the last one is for me.

Talking heads in this show include Rustie Lee (who has an air fryer that bakes and grills) and the Radio 2 presenter and viral drummer Owain Wyn-Evans (he owns one with two drawers and windows on the front), who enthrallingly informs viewers: “Last night I cooked an aubergine in the air fryer.” It’s all a bit dry, even if it is informative.

I don’t actually own an air fryer. Have I been tempted to buy one after being subjected to four hours of air fryer content? No. I have not.

  • Air Fryers: Do You Know What You’re Missing is on the Channel 5 website

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