T-fal’s ActiFry is marketed as a family friendly alternative to a deep fryer, claiming to achieve similar results while using only a tablespoon of oil. Is the ActiFry an answer to America’s obesity epidemic, or is it destined for the closet where failed kitchen gadgets bide their time until the next garage sale?
I frequently review electronics and gadgets, but when a representative from T-fal contact me, it marked the first time I’ve reviewed a kitchen appliance for GeekDad. While I spend a lot of time cooking for my family, I don’t do much in the way of frying. However, their timing was impeccable; in the middle of a renovation, we’d been living out of the basement for weeks and the only kitchen-related appliances I had access to were my beer fridge, barbecues and coffee maker. I’ve never been a frying guy myself, but any excuse to add a bit of variety was more than welcome.
The ActiFry is an enclosed non-stick hopper with a paddle in the middle that slowly rotates the food while a fan blows hot air over it. The idea is that only a small amount of oil is needed since it constantly recirculates and the hot air/paddle combination result in a uniformly crispy, fried effect without immersion in hot oil. It cooks two pounds of food at a time.
Wired Gadget Lab‘s Charlie Sorrel already debunked the advantages of the ActiFry versus a deep fryer and while I don’t doubt the science behind Charlie’s take on the device, I thought it was still worth looking at for four reasons. First, it seems to me a much more family friendly appliance than a deep fryer. While it can still get hot (although I can say it never got Cornballer hot), as a parent there’s a little less concern about a tablespoon of hot oil somehow getting loose compared to the entire contents of a deep fryer’s vat. Second, clean-up seemed likely to be easier since there’s little oil to deal with afterward, as opposed to the deep fryer that leaves you with 12 cups or more of used oil to filter and reuse or dispose of. Third, with a clear cover and a paddle turning the contents, it might hold some entertainment value for the kids. And finally, science be damned, a french fry may actually absorb little oil when cooked correctly, but with this I know exactly how much oil is going into my kids’ food and it’s no more than a tablespoon.
When the ActiFry arrived, it seemed reassuringly solid. There are several plastic parts that seem on the flimsy side mind you. In particular, the lid hinges and the plastic spindle that drives the paddle looked to me as though they may be the weak points. Set up was easy and the included recipe book has a number of ideas to get you started. I didn’t get fancy and attempt chicken wings, but I did run the ActiFry through its paces on what is likely the most common application: french fries.
We tried both potatoes and sweet potatoes with results I was quite pleased with. Yukon Gold potatoes are recommend and using thick cut versions of these, after 45 minutes I ended up with two pounds of fries that reminded me of good chip wagon versions: soft inside, a bit crisp but not crunchy and a nicely browned color. The sweet potato fries looked great and came out really well, although not as crispy as the potatoes. The kids watched the cooking process a bit, decided it was similar to watching the clothes-washer and moved on, but I was happy with the end result. I had a few instances where the paddle got stuck early in the process and I had to interrupt the cycle and carefully prod the food to free up the jam (that plastic spindle again, seems low on torque), but it generally worked as promised. Clean up literally took a minute. The pieces that come into contact with food are dishwasher safe (although my dishwasher wasn’t hooked up to test that), but washed up easily. At $299.99, it’s a bit dear for me, though. If your family regularly eats fried foods, it might be worth considering.
ActiFry 2.2-Pound Low Fat Multi-Cooker and Healthy Fryer from T-fal
Wired: As advertised, delivers 2 pounds of decently crisped french fries with a single tablespoon of oil; easy clean-up; watching it in action somewhat of a conversation piece.
Tired: On the expensive side; uses less oil to cook but food may or may not contain less oil than that cooked in a deep fryer; plastic drive shaft and lid hinges seem a little fragile.