May 28, 2024

Another kind of dutch oven

Inventors help us solve problems big and small, and when Dutch inventor, Fred van der Weij, set out to solve the relatively small problem of how to get french fries crispy at home in 2005, he likely had no idea just how big the impact of his invention — the air fryer — would be. Now, 19 years later, two thirds of American households own an air fryer, and air fryer content on social media is inescapable.

The American public has had a raging case of air fryer fever since around the time of the pandemic, when home cooking became much more popular and consumers sought appliances that could make the task healthier and more convenient. Because air fryers are able to “fry” with minimal oil compared to deep fryers or even pan-frying, they can help consumers who are interested in lowering their calorie and fat intake. While air fryers are not meant for frying battered items from scratch, they are useful for crisping up pre-fried and frozen items and leftovers. They’re also much faster than conventional ovens, making them a smart choice for busy lifestyles.

By the digits

$1.9 billion: Projected value of the air fryer market by 2032

$100 million: Annual retail sales of Tyson Foods air-fried line, which debuted in 2019

2.5 million: Members of the Facebook group “Easy Air Fryer Recipes”

60%: Estimated percentage of American households with an air fryer

115,700: Number of posts of #airfryermeals on TikTok

Origin story

Fried by science

While van der Weij is the inventor credited with inventing the air fryer, the technology he used dates back to the 1940s when a man named William L. Maxson was looking for a way to feed soldiers during WWII. To heat the frozen meals Maxson had designed, he needed a super fast oven, so he came up with something he called the Whirlwind Oven, which used a gas-powered motor to heat the food. The key was in a fan that Maxson installed in the back of the oven that blasted the food with hot air from all sides, cooking quickly and evenly.

Though the military chose not to invest in the 35-pound ovens, they did find a home, for a time, on Pan Am airplanes, where they were used to heat in-flight meals. The Whirlwind Oven was the precursor of the rapid air technology that fueled van der Weij’s invention of the air fryer, and the same basic technology is still used today. The Whirlwind Oven faded from popularity as the microwave oven was introduced, but the technology was picked up and used for convection ovens, which use fans to move air around in the same way.


“The idea that air frying is a new cooking technique is a myth. Your air fryer is just a little convection oven with a fan system that really blows.” — Reporter Maxwell Zeff in an article for Gizmodo

Pop quiz

Which of these is NOT a kind of air fryer?

A. Paddle

B. Turbo Blaster

C. Oil Less Turkey Fryer

D. Basket

Think your kitchen appliance knowledge is as crips as a french fry? Check out the answer at the bottom.

Brief history

1945: The Maxson Whirlwind Oven, the precursor to convection ovens and the air fryer, is invented.

1947: William Maxson, inventor of the Maxson Whirlwind Oven, dies unexpectedly.

1967: The first residential microwave oven hits the market. (Everyone abruptly stops thinking about Whirlwind Ovens.)

2010: Phillips Air Fryer, the first iteration of the air fryer we see today, was released.

2019: Brands like Tyson and Ore-Ida begin adding air fryer instructions to packaging.

Fun fact!

Increasingly, as consumers are looking for appliances that can do more than one thing, air fryers are being built with multiple functions, including dehydrating, roasting, and grilling.

Take me down this 🐰 hole!

For some, air fryers aren’t just about convenience or health benefits; they’re all about reducing energy costs. The folks at CNet have done the math to help you determine if you can really save energy (and money) with an air fryer. Read it here.

And now, a recipe.

Marinated air fryer tofu

The quest for crispy, not-deep-fried tofu is made achievable thanks to our friend the air fryer. Freezing and thawing the tofu before marinating allows the tofu to absorb more marinade, resulting in a flavorful final product with excellent, craveworthy texture. (Strictly speaking, you don’t have to do the freezing/thawing step, but why risk missing out on all those adjectives?) Add it to grain bowls, salads, and spring rolls!


  • 1 lb extra firm tofu, previously frozen and thawed
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

For the marinade

  • ⅓ cup reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced


  • Over the sink, gently press the liquid from the thawed tofu. Pat the tofu dry with paper towels, pushing on the tofu gently to remove more liquid.
  • Combine marinade ingredients. Break the block of tofu apart with your hands into organically-shaped, bite-sized pieces. Toss the pieces in the marinade, and set aside for at least 20 minutes or up to 8 hours.
  • Remove the tofu from the marinade, and, in a mixing bowl, toss with cornstarch to coat. Place the tofu in a single layer in the basket of an air fryer, and air fry at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.


What’s your favorite thing to cook in an air fryer?

  • Frozen french fries
  • Chicken wings
  • Egg rolls
  • I just… use an oven!

Give us your hot take!

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🤔 What did you think of today’s email?

💡 What should we obsess over next?

Today’s email was written by Stephanie Ganz (whose unopened air fryer glares at her from a shelf in the basement every time she walks by it) and edited and produced by Morgan Haefner (is looking forlornly at her unused Instant Pot).

The correct answer to the pop quiz is B., Turbo Blaster. It’s a Max Steel action figure accessory and the name of several kinds of Nerf-style shooters, but as of yet, it is not a kind of air fryer.

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