Straight to the Point
If you deep-fry a ton and want a machine to regulate the oil temperature for you, then an electric deep-fryer may be worth it. For those that deep-fry only occasionally, we recommend just using a Dutch oven (or wok) and thermometer.
Is a deep fryer worth it for home cooks? Before you shout “No!” (and we get it if you really want to), let’s discuss. In this era of gadgety kitchen abundance (slow cookers, multicookers, toaster ovens,dehydrators, sous vide machines, etc), it’s easy to feel resistant to adding another appliance. After all, there’s a limit to how many tools you can store in your cabinets and still have room for, you know, food, essential cookware, and so on. And an electric deep fryer, which—unlike its trendy cousin, the air fryer—does one thing and one thing only. So it’s probably an unwise purchase, right?
Well, maybe. On the other hand, electric deep fryers can be surprisingly compact, efficient, and even fairly easy to clean (although you’ll still have to deal with disposing all that oil). Unlike a standard method of deep-frying in Dutch oven and manually maintaining the oil temperature with the help of a deep-fry thermometer, electric deep-fryers like the Breville Smart Fryer (a top model after some initial Lab testing) monitor the temperature for you—heating it, holding it, and responding to fluctuations.
Price at time of publish is $180.
But is it worth it? We spent some time frying with the Breville Smart Fryer and a Dutch oven equipped with a ThermoWorks ChefAlarm to tease out the pros and cons. Turns out, there’s a lot to love about owning a deep fryer…if you’re the type to actually use it.
Electric Deep Fryer vs Dutch Oven: Pros and Cons
When evaluating electric deep fryers versus Dutch ovens, we looked at a few main criteria:
We’ll go into each of these more below.
First, What’s an Electric Deep Fryer?
An electric deep fryer is (and does) exactly what it sounds like: it’s a standalone appliance that uses electricity to heat a large quantity of oil. The oil’s temperature is regulated with a coil that runs around the frying vessel (usually stainless steel). It comes with a frying basket and a lid to keep spatters to a minimum. Some deep fryers, like the Breville, have a digital control panel that displays the temperature and come with presets (for things like French fries, wings, and donuts) and the ability to set a custom temperature down to the degree. Others, like this model from Cuisinart, have analog control dials for temperature and time. And some, like the Presto FryDaddy, have no controls, presets, or the ability to change the temperature.
The streamlined efficiency of a model like the Breville makes it very pleasurable to use. It has a built-in temperature gauge and its display shows the current temperature on its screen throughout the heating and frying process. It alerts you when it reaches temperature and it has a countdown timer. While we preferred to use the custom setting to adjust the temperature and time per our preferences, if you’re a fan of using presets on other appliances (like with a Vitamix or air fryer), you’ll probably like the ease of a deep fryer’s presets too. We found it easy to remove food as well, thanks to its basket with a large, grippy handle.
So, how does a Dutch oven compare? With a Dutch oven, you have to monitor the temperature yourself, as well as set your own timer. You also has have to use a separate spider, tongs, or slotted spoon for food retrieval. Are any of these big deals? No, especially not when you consider a Dutch oven can be used for a plethora of other cooking tasks, while a deep fryer is a largely a unitasker you’ll have to store and probably won’t use a ton (or maybe you will!).
Both an electric deep fryer and a Dutch oven are capable of producing crispy, evenly browned food. But, in our testing, the biggest difference we noticed between the two was recovery time. It took the Breville between 40 and 55 seconds to recover its temperature after food was added, while the Dutch oven-ChefAlarm combo sometimes didn’t return to temperature before the food was finished cooking.
There’s also the matter of temperature consistency. With an electric deep fryer, once it recovered its temperature, it stayed there—resulting in uniformly golden food and, well, less stress. With a Dutch oven, its temperature can easily climb past the ideal range. It’s still totally and easily possible to achieve great deep-fried food with a Dutch oven: you just have to be more vigilant about monitoring the temperature.
There is an unexpected added cost to frying with an electric deep fryer: You have to use more oil. The Breville required sometimes double what we had to use for the Dutch oven, depending on what we were frying. This also meant there was more oil to cleanup.
That said, neither an oil-filled electric deep fryer or a Dutch oven are easy to clean. With the Breville, the interior vessel was dishwasher-safe (once the oil was removed), and the lid kept splatters at bay and kept our countertops cleaner. (Note: some electric deep fryers do feature a drain at the back for easier oil disposal.)
With the Dutch oven, we don’t recommend cleaning enameled cast iron in the dishwasher (plus, it’s very large), so you’ll have to wash it by hand. It’s worth noting some Serious Eats staffers are fans of FryAway for easier post-deep-fry, Dutch oven cleanup.
|Price Breakdown: Electric Deep Fryer vs. Dutch Oven|
|Breville Smart Deep Fryer||Dutch Oven|
|Machine Cost: $180||Dutch Oven Cost: $80 to $420
Tools for Deep-Frying: $28 to $77
|Total: $180||Total: $108 to $497|
The Breville costs $180 at the time of publish. On the other hand, our favorite Dutch oven from Le Creuset is $420 and our budget-friendly pick from Cuisinart is $80. If you’re deep-frying in a Dutch oven, you’ll also need a leave-in, probe thermometer like a ChefAlarm ($65) or this one from Polder ($16) and a spider ($12) or something to retrieve the fried food. We’re not including baking sheets equipped with a wire rack or paper towels in this price breakdown, as those are things you’ll likely already have.
As you can see from the table above, the Dutch oven route can be significantly more expensive if you got the priciest of all of our recommendations. However, you may well already have a Dutch oven (and a leave-in probe thermometer) on hand. And if you’re looking to invest in one, it can do so, so much in the kitchen: braises, baking, simmering, searing, boiling, and more. We consider it an essential piece of cookware.
An electric deep fryer may be worth the investment IF you plan on cooking fried food at home regularly.
But if you fry food just once or twice a year, this is one small appliance you can probably pass on without regret; when it’s not in use, it must be disassembled and stored somewhere. Unlike prettily-hued stand mixers, a deep fryer is likely not the sort of appliance you’ll likely want to display on your countertop. Plus, with a few key extras like a ChefAlarm, you can fry on the stovetop in a Dutch oven with success. And if you really wanted to go all-in of the Dutch oven frying accuracy, induction burners with temperature probes exist.
What’s the best electric deep fryer?
After Lab testing, we recommend the Breville Smart Fryer. For a model with analog controls, the Cuisinart Extra-Large Rotisserie Deep Fryer also performed well.
Can you put frozen foods in an electric deep fryer?
Yes, it can be safe to deep-fry frozen foods. Some electric deep fryers even have a frozen foods setting.