Electric deep fryers are a guilty pleasure. They make crispy, savory dishes. Easier to control than a stove-top deep fryer, they can be used for chicken, turkey, french fries, wonton, onion rings, tempura, doughnuts, shrimp, fish. Almost anything.
A home fryer will cost from under $50 to over $100. Brands include Tefal (T-Fal), Presto, De’longhi, Waring Pro, Rival, Cuisinart, Hamilton Beach and Masterbuilt (Butterball).
Sizes range from 1 quart (4 cups) to 6 quarts and up, with 2 to 3 quarts being a popular size. A rough size estimate is 1 quart for every 1 or 2 people. In terms of pounds of food, manufacturers commonly use a formula of about 3/4 pounds per quart of oil.
Deep fryers can be round, square or rectangular. For smaller fryers, the shape isn’t important. Larger fryers are usually round, so that a whole chicken or turkey can fit inside. A double fryer has two separate bowls and thermostat controls. However if one control breaks down, you might be stuck with a half-functioning fryer. If two separate single fryers are purchased, the spoiled fryer can be easily replaced.
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Deep Fryer Temperature Control
A high temperature is important for cooking non-greasy food. However, if the temperature is too high the oil will smoke. The smoke point of the oil will depend on the type of oil. Searching for “cooking oil smoke point” on the Internet will return information on different oils.
A standard temperature for deep frying is 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Many fryers have this as the maximum setting. Simpler fryers have no temperature control and have 375 degrees as the only setting. This makes them unsuitable for some types of low smoke point oils. More versatile are deep fryers that have an adjustable thermostat, typically starting from 250 to 300 degrees. They can be continuously adjustable or have a few (four or five) fixed increments.
A common complaint is inaccurate temperature control. An adjustable thermostat doesn’t help if the fryer can’t reach the specified 375 degrees, even at the maximum setting. Accuracy and reliability are more important. Stirring the oil might help the fryer reach a higher temperature.
Also important is the fryer’s power or wattage. The oil temperature falls when food is dropped in. A quick recovery time is important. For the same fryer size (quarts), the more powerful the heater, the faster the recovery time. Home fryers top out at about 1800 watts. Smaller fryers don’t need as much power.
Deep Fryer Baskets
A wire basket is an important part of the fryer:
- Larger fryers sometimes come with two small baskets that can be used side-by-side, allowing different types of food (with different cooking times) to be cooked at the same time.
- Some wire baskets are collapsible for easy storage.
- It should be possible to lift the wire basket out of the oil, and hook it on top of the fryer, to let the oil drain out of the food. Some fryers allow the basket to be lifted out while the lid is still on (and lowered in with the lid on), reducing oil splatters.
- To reduce the amount of food sticking on to the basket, dip the basket into the hot oil first, before placing food inside.
- Metal tongs or an Asian spider skimmer can be used instead of a wire basket, if the fryer’s heating element is not immersed in the bowl.
- The basket should not touch the bottom of the bowl, especially if the bowl is non-stick, as the bowl will be scratched.
Deep Fryer Lids and Filters
A lid reduces oil splatters and oil smells. However, some ventilation is needed for the moisture that is boiled out of the food (patting the food dry before cooking, will reduce the chances of the oil overboiling out of the bowl).
The lid’s design will affect how easy the fryer is to use. A hinged lid is convenient as the lid doesn’t have to be put down somewhere when the fryer is opened. A removable lid is easy to clean. A removable hinged lid offers the best of both worlds. Some small fryers might not have a lid. A separate wire mesh oil splash or splatter guard can be used instead.
Some fryers have ventilation holes and filters built into the lid. The filter can be permanent wire mesh or replaceable paper (to trap oil fumes) and charcoal (to trap smells). Replaceable filters last for about 10 to 15 uses and cost a few dollars each. They need to be of a specific size and shape to fit each model of fryer, but can also be cut to fit from a large generic filter sheet. The filters will reduce the smell and oil, but not entirely. It’s best to cook outside the house if possible.
For a clean kitchen (especially if there is no filter in the lid), the fryer should be used under the stove cooker hood, if possible.
Other Deep Fryer Features
Useful, but not necessarily deal-breaker features are:
- Power light to indicate when the power is on.
- Ready light to indicate when the set temperature has been reached.
- Timer. Some don’t switch off the timer, they just beep.
- Stainless steel exterior. This looks better and is easier to wipe clean. It might also hold up better to extended frying sessions, compared to a plastic skin.
- Cool-touch exterior. This can be metal or plastic. The surface will still hurt if touched, but at least it won’t be a serious burn.
- Safety magnetic breakaway power cord. The cord easily disconnects if pulled, making it less likely that a pot full of hot oil will be dumped onto someone.
- Removable bowl for easy cleaning and pouring of oil. Alternatively, some fryers have a drain port at the bottom of the fryer. The leftover oil can be strained through cheese cloth or a paper filter (using a metal funnel) before storing in the fridge.
- Removable heating element, for easy cleaning. This is mainly for fryers where the heating element is immersed directly in the oil. Other fryers have the heating element outside the bowl.
- Viewing window in the lid. This doesn’t always work as condensation can build up and fog up the window.
- Non-stick bowl.
- Built-in thermometer. A separate candy or fat thermometer can also be used. A thermometer should be used especially if a new fryer isn’t performing as expected.
The Best Deep Fryer
The best deep fryer is one that:
- Can reach at least 375 degrees (some don’t, even if they are supposed to).
- Is reliable.
- Is large enough cook the required amount of food, without needing too many batches.
- Is powerful enough to quickly recover from the temperature drop that occurs when food is dropped in.
The last two items can be checked from the manufacturer’s specifications. The first two items need to be figured out from reading user reviews, such as the user reviews of deep fryers on Amazon.com, that were used when researching this article.