Unless you're completely disinterested in cooking and appliances, or you've been living under a rock, you'll have heard of air fryers. These nifty kitchen gadgets have taken over most household kitchens as a healthier, more efficient, and easier-to-use alternative to ovens.
As a young professional living in a small apartment, often rushing around with little time to cook, having an air fryer has definitely made my life easier. I've been amazed at the variety of meals you can make from A to Z in the appliance, and I love the simplicity of closing the drawer and waiting for the "beep" to tell me it's done.
As Christmas time is upon us, I've been wondering whether the air fryer can take on the biggest challenge of them all: can you cook a whole Christmas dinner in an air fryer? I put the mighty appliance to the test to find out.
Now, before I got started, my instinct was that the air fryer could probably handle each separate element of the meal with no issues. My doubts were on whether I'd have to turn on my oven to keep everything warm (thus reducing the point of the experiment) and whether the results would be just as delicious as a traditional Christmas roast made in the oven. Read on to find out what I found!
If you haven't yet invested in one of these appliances, you can check out our guide to the best air fryers to find the perfect one for you.
Can you cook a whole Christmas dinner in an air fryer?
For the purpose of this experiment, I used the Proscenic T22 air fryer, a single-drawer appliance with a capacity of 5.3 quarts. It's Bluetooth-connected, so you can control it via an app, a feature I love when I'm working late and cooking dinner at the same time.
In terms of the meal, I opted for a British roast dinner featuring poultry (in my case, a small poussin or chicken), roast carrots, parsnips, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, and pigs in blankets (for the non-Brits, those are sausages wrapped in bacon - delicious). Having previously cooked steak in the air fryer, I'm sure roast beef would be perfectly feasible, too.
For some of the elements of the meal, I followed the recipes included in the Proscenic T22's manual, while for others, I worked off my previous experience cooking meals with this appliance.
I didn't extend my experiment to dessert, but from past experiences, heating up pies and the likes in the air fryer works a treat, so once your main and sides are done, you could give it a clean and pop your pastry of choice in to get warmed up.
Christmas dinner in an air fryer: The meat dishes
When I first got my air fryer, I mostly imagined cooking vegetables and side dishes or reheating and defrosting meals. I was highly skeptical that it could cook meat properly, but I gave it a go and was very impressed with the results.
As I embarked on this challenge, I was optimistic about cooking a chicken (or, in my case, a small poussin) in the air fryer, having previously had delicious air-fried chicken breasts and wings.
With a container size of 5.3 quarts, I could have gone for a slightly bigger chicken or maybe a turkey crown - but as it was just myself, I went for a 0.5 kg bird, which I lightly covered in oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, and time. The key to cooking in the air fryer is to not overdo it on the fat, so I was conservative and used about 1 tbsp for the whole bird.
For the cooking time, I used my previous experience and put the chicken in for 15 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius. A few minutes in, my kitchen was filled with the familiar smell of a roast dinner. At the end of the timer, I opened the drawer to find the poussin had developed a brown, crispy skin and looked juicy and tender. I flipped it carefully and put it on for another 5 minutes so the skin below would have a chance to crisp up, too.
Once it was done, I let it rest while I cooked the rest of the sides. I was really impressed by how moist it was while being completely cooked through after just 20 minutes.
The pigs in blankets were incredibly easy to do. Once I'd wrapped the sausages in bacon, I popped them in the fryer with no additional fat for 12 minutes, and they came out golden and crispy.
Taste test: Honestly, this tasted exactly like an oven-cooked chicken and took considerably less time and effort. I wasn't concerned about checking the skin every 5 minutes or basting it, and I got a great result.
The pigs in the blanket were crispy and perfectly cooked, just like they would be coming out of the oven.
Verdict: This is a great cooking technique if you happen to be cooking a smaller bird or parts of a chicken, but it is obviously limiting if you're hosting a large meal for more people than yourself. For meat-based sides, the air fryer also does a great job at cooking them with minimal mess and hassle.
Christmas dinner in an air fryer: The vegetables
For my Christmas meal's sides, I went for honey-roasted (or, in this case, fried) carrots and parsnips, balsamic Brussels sprouts, and, of course, roasted potatoes.
For the carrot and parsnips, I followed the recipe and cooking times recommended in the recipe booklet that came with the Proscenic T22. I coated the vegetables in 1 tablespoon of oil, one tablespoon of honey, some salt, pepper, and thyme. I then loaded them up in the air fryer and selected the "Root vegetable" preset, which runs for 15 minutes. At the halfway point, my air fryer beeped to let me know I should shake the vegetables around to ensure more even cooking - a very nifty feature.
At the end of the 15 minutes, I found the vegetables were starting to look roasted but were still very undercooked. I like an al dente carrot as much as the next person, but this was verging on raw, so I ran the "Root vegetable" preset again. By the end of that, they were still a bit underdone for my taste, but I was getting really hungry and aware I had many more sides to cook before I could actually enjoy my meal, so I took them out.
I then went in with my Brussels sprouts, which I'd trimmed and cut in half and lightly coated in 1 tablespoon of oil, 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and seasoning. The recipe booklet recommended the "Root vegetable" preset once more, this time reducing the cooking time to 10 minutes. By the end of that, the sprouts were looking quite roasted on the outside, but a quick prod with a fork revealed they were barely cooked inside.
I followed a tip I'd seen on TikTok and filled the bottom of the air fryer with about 1cm of water to let the sprouts steam slightly, and put them back in for another 10 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius. When I took them out again, they were looking very charred but still mostly uncooked in the middle, which was a bit baffling. At that point, because the charring was letting off an unpleasant smell, I actually finished them off in a frying pan.
I was very disappointed with the results. The sprouts were only cooked through because I'd flash-fried them in a pan and add some oil to avoid them charring further. The outer leaves were nice and crispy thanks to the air fryer, but for 20 minutes of cooking, the results were very underwhelming.
Perhaps I haven't found the right recipe, but I don't think brussels sprouts belong in the air fryer. You'll get better results in less time in a frying pan or oven. Maybe parboiling them ahead would have helped, but following the recommended recipe, I did not enjoy the results.
Christmas dinner in an air fryer: The roast potatoes
Now, for the star of the show: the potatoes. They're my favorite part of a roast dinner, and I was curious to see how they'd come out in the air fryer.
I researched cooking times prior to this experiment and found a TikTok from Poppy Cooks, a celebrity chef who specializes in cooking potatoes in various shapes and forms. She recommended parboiling the potatoes in the air fryer, filling the bottom of the drawer with a little bit of water, and setting them off for 20 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius. Once that's done, she upped the temperature to 200 degrees and put the potatoes back in for 15 minutes, salting and seasoning once they're out of the fryer.
I followed her method exactly and was super impressed with the crispy exterior and mushy, fully-cooked interior. They did look quite pale compared to oven-roasted potatoes, which I attributed to the lack of oil.
Taste test: Straight out of the fryer with a bit of salt, the potatoes tasted really nice. The smaller bits especially had a good crunchy crust and were lovely and soft inside.
I couldn't help but feel, however, that they tasted like a very healthy version of the fatty roast potatoes doused in oil we usually enjoy at Christmas. If you're health-conscious or need to cut down on fats this festive period, this is a great way to do so, but roast potato fans might be a bit disappointed.
Verdict: The air fryer is a great vessel for cooking potatoes of all shapes and sizes, roasted included, especially if you want to reduce your oil and fat consumption. While the oven yields slightly more luxurious results, I appreciated not having to wash a greasy oven tray and a pan for parboiling.
Christmas dinner in an air fryer: The verdict
Now we've established that you can, in fact, cook a whole Christmas meal in an air fryer, the question is really whether you should.
If you are lacking an oven or don't want to turn it on for whatever reason, then this alternative cooking method can ensure you get a full roast dinner at least reminiscent of Christmas. Likewise, if you want a healthier option or are only cooking for yourself, then the air fryer route might be the way to go.
Cooking a whole meal this way did produce fewer dirty dishes than cooking in an oven, but I didn't find it sped up the process significantly. As my air fryer only has one drawer, I had to do each component one at a time, which was quite inefficient.
In an oven, you can put your sides on one tray and main in another, and you can use residual heat to keep dishes warm if you need to. By the time I had finished making all my sides, the chicken was going a bit cold, so I gave that a quick blast in the fryer, but really, the whole thing could've done with being kept warm in the oven, reducing the point of cooking in the air fryer in the first place.
Overall, some elements of my meal came out really well, and I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy eating it. The air fryer was also a great vessel to heat up the leftovers without a mess. However, for my next roast, I would probably consider air frying the meat but roasting the sides in the oven.
Once I was done cooking and eating, I did wish I had a countertop dishwasher to deal with all the dirty dishes, but that might be a present to myself this Christmas...