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Who Invented the Air Fryer and When? History, Present & Tips

bbq chicken legs in air fryer

In the past few years, and especially since the Covid lockdown, the air fryer has become a home cooking phenomenon. As well as being used as a replacement for a deep fat fryer, it has found use in reheating leftovers and especially ingenious home cooks use it to prepare everything from full-cooked breakfasts to roast dinners.

What we think of as the modern air fryer was introduced in 2010 by Fred van der Weij, but the history of this piece of home cookware can actually be traced back to the 1940s.

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The First Air Fryers

Although we think of the air fryer as being a relatively modern invention thanks to its surging popularity on TikTok and other social media sites, its roots are firmly planted in the mid-20th Century. In the 1940s, inventor William L. Maxson was one of the early pioneers of frozen meals. And, to cook the meals, he developed a small, countertop convection oven.

Maxson’s oven ran on electricity, gas, or kerosene, which powered a 120-volt motor. It produced heat and, just as importantly, it had a small fan at the back of the oven. The fan pushed the heat around the chamber, enabling it to cook frozen meals in around half the time. The oven was called the Whirlwind Oven, and while effective, it could only heat to approximately 200°F.

The introduction of the microwave in the late 1940s saw the Whirlwind Oven’s popularity fade away.

a black air fryer in the kitchen
Image By: Enjoy The Life, Shutterstock

The Modern Air Fryer

Although the Whirlwind Oven’s popularity died off with the introduction of the microwave, the system of convection heating did regain popularity in the late 20th Century. Full-sized home convection ovens became especially popular in the 1990s, but these were giants compared to the modern air fryer.

Fred van der Weij, a Dutch inventor, started to look at ways in which he could effectively condense a modern convection oven into something much smaller. In 2010, his invention was launched by Philips and called the Air Fryer. The egg-shaped home fryer used close-range radiation combined with a fan and effective air circulation to mimic the results of a deep-fat fryer.

It took a few years before the device’s popularity really took off. The year 2017 saw a major boost in sales, and the pandemic brought a further boost, as people spent more time at home and struggled to get out and buy oil for fryers. In 2020, it was estimated that around a third of U.S. homes had an air fryer and interest in the kitchen gadget has only increased since then.

How Do Modern Air Fryers Work?

Modern air fryers work in the same basic way as the first Whirlwind Oven. They have a heating element that provides the heat and a fan that disperses that heat around the food. The dispersal of heat is what ensures that food gets crispy on the outside, compared to a microwave that heats from the inside out and doesn’t crisp up food. The fryer is well insulated, too, which ensures that it retains heat and enables you to cook food in a fraction of the time it would take in a larger convection oven.

Whereas a deep fat fryer requires a large volume of oil to fully cover the ingredients, an air fryer takes only a small amount of oil or none at all. Adding a little oil to the basket can help prevent food from sticking, but this isn’t necessary with all models of the air fryer.

a woman opening an air fryer
Image By: Ika Rahma H, Shutterstock

What Can I Use My Air Fryer For?

Air fryers can heat frozen food and are obviously ideal for frying most (but not all) ingredients that would fry in a deep-fat fryer or a frying pan. Cooks and bakers have also found innovative ways to use the device, creating everything from cookies and cakes to full-roast chickens and donuts.

Most modern air fryers come with recipe booklets, and there are plenty of websites and social media accounts that showcase the ways this kitchen gadget can be used.

What Cannot Be Cooked in an Air Fryer?

Although an air fryer has a lot of convenient and tasty uses, you can’t put absolutely anything in this type of fryer. For example, battered foods should not be placed in the fryer. It will make a mess of the fryer and the batter won’t cook, set, or crisp in the same way it would when cooked in fat or oil.

Any ingredients that are light should be avoided, too. Air fryers use a fan to circulate air and the circulating air will push light ingredients like leaves around. This means that they won’t cook evenly.

While some cooks have prepared whole roast chickens and other joints in air fryers, it is best to avoid it. Even if you can fit a whole chicken in the fryer, it will likely fill the basket, and this will prevent air from circulating properly so the meat won’t cook evenly. You could end up with some parts of the exterior burned and parts of the flesh uncooked.

cooking skinless chicken breast with spices in an air fryer
Image By: Francisco Zeledon, Shutterstock

Do Restaurants Use Air Fryers?

Some restaurants use air fryers rather than traditional fryers, and you will usually see this on the menu when this is the case. However, many restaurants do not use this type of cooking method because an air fryer does not have the same capacity as a deep-fat fryer, so it takes too long to prepare large amounts of fried food. Some chefs also say that the flavor of food from an air fryer isn’t as good as in a deep-fat fryer.

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Air fryers have become incredibly popular in the last few years, which gives the illusion that they are a new invention. However, the forerunner to the modern gadget was invented in the 1940s as a way to prepare frozen meals.

Today’s air fryer has improved on the original design but uses the same basic concept of circulating high heat around an insulated fryer.

Featured Image Credit: Bubbers BB, Shutterstock


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