Archive for January, 2021

12
Jan
21

vortex oven

Air frying : Is it just a lot of hot air?

No doubt every few months the appliance gurus try to convince us of a better way to cook food with the promise that the newest appliance will replace every piece of cookware in our kitchens, rescue us from the drudgery of meal preparation and provide your family with the healthiest meal. So it starts, smokeless grills, smart ovens, grilling sandwich makers, pressure cookers, pressure ovens, slow cookers and now hot air fryers and hot air ovens.

While they been out for a while and always too expensive to commit to, there seems to be a glut of devices on the secondary market. After snagging an Instant Pot pressure cooker on a thrift store website, The Instant Vortex Ovens started to appear. Because of their size and weight , shipping would even make most used ovens comparable with a new one. Well almost…. Being the inquisitive type with technology, 2 broken or parts only models were purchased for teardown and repair.

What is it ?

Most experienced chefs take one look at the air fry technology and say , “Big deal, it’s a convection oven”.

While nothing is earth shattering about convection ovens, The newest countertop air fryers and air fryer ovens are basically a convection oven on steroids. While the progression basically started with an air fryer with a removable basket type food holder quickly evolved to a more spacious cooking capacity with the addition of the ability to do rotisserie (spit) cooking. While there have been other countertop rotisserie ovens (that you set and forget) most just employed a heater coil without the fan or a very small fan with limited air flow capabilities. Earlier than that a quartz type heating element with a fan mounted over a cooking vessel, usually a large round glass container was a popular infomercial product.

With the Instant Vortex oven and other similar clones, the first difference is the exposed heater coil in the oven cavity usually at the oven top, just behind the heater coil is a fan blade. The brain of the system controls basically the temperature regulation of the oven. Other functions are switched control of the interior oven light, a timer for cooking and a switched control for the rotisserie motor. The presets simply give you stored temp and time setting depending on your choice. Each setting of course can be modified. Also depending on the setting the oven will beep or to prompt the user to that fact that preheat temperature has been reached, add food or turn food and end of cooking time.

I’ve used toaster style ovens that are convection but the fan and heater may be separated from each other and as with a countertop microwave/convection oven the heater coil and fan are not even in the oven cavity.

The result with the Instant Vortex is that the heat and air circulation are more pronounced. Well, heat is heat when it come to temperature regulation but the placement of the fan blade directly behind the heater coil, provides a vortex of air in the oven more powerful that a conventional convection oven. Even a sheet of foil on the bottom tray to ease cleanup will tend to be moved somewhat by the air circulation. Also, it’s not a wimpy cal-rod element, this oven oven consumes 1500 watts most of it sucked up by the heater coil. In fact it resembles a high wattage hot plate element

The resulting fast and powerful movement of the hot air coined the term “air fry” irritating some chefs.

So finally, is it worth it? I can’t answer that as each person will have their own criteria for such a purchase. Let’s look at how I assess it.

Pros

Size of oven cavity

Makes the best fries

Fast preheat

Makes the best fries

Small countertop foot print for an oven

Makes the best fries

Rotisserie , either spit or basket

Makes the best fries

Easy cleanup

CONS

Size of oven cavity

Power hungry, but effective

Another appliance to store or have on the countertop

Not sure of the longevity of this product.

More noise than a standard, non convection countertop oven.

As you can see the size is a pro or con depending on the user and use as some will like the small compact size and it would be well suited to a small compact kitchen that does not have conventional range or uses a hotplate style or induction plate for a stove. A camper with appropriate wiring to handle 120 volts would also benefit from it’s size. Also if this is a global product it may fit better in housing area with a small square footage. (note that the oven is measured by quart size , 10 rather than cubic feet as most other ovens.)

The rotisserie basket IMHO is the best feature of the oven. When making potato fries, for example instead of the typical oven method of a baking sheet and flipping them, You simply load them into the basket that provides all over exposure to the vortex heat while rotating that results in even cooking on all sides. Soaking the potatoes in cold water before hand , drying them, and coating with a bit of oil results in the easiest way to cook fries. I’ve gotten up to almost 2 lbs of fries (weight before cooking) into the basket and about 50 minutes later excellent fries to table..

One thing I notice with the Vortex is that it’s possible to overcook your fries without burning, that is a result more like an air dry rather than air fry results in a super crunchy finish. Time and temperature length do have a more pronounce effect on the finish. Unlike a conventional oven, 2 or 3 more minutes of cooking time or a higher temp will make a big difference. Also the size of the food, in this case fries, whether your prefer shoestring, large or potato skin style has an effect on the cooking parameters. The food in the basket is visible and that’s your only gauge as it would be troublesome to pull out the basket to sample food once it starts cooking.

All in all, using the rotisserie basket makes cooking french fries easier so potatoes and other items can be cooked and included more often on the table.

The Vortex oven come with 2 oven grid trays and a drip pan that also could be used to cook on. Of course the cooking trays allow the heated vortex greater exposure to the food although it’s best to turn the food when prompted.Chicken pieces, when used with a fast food clone seasoned coating does crisp up close to a deep fried result. With the Vortex I use either a small amount of drizzled olive oil (or other type) tossed with the potatoes, aerosol type oil products are good for this application also and the oil provides a bit more crunch and flavor to your fries, you could omit any oil as well. When cooking oven style with both trays, your limited to 2 ~ 10 inch squares inches of cooking surface. (possibly 3 trays if you utilize the drip pan. Given the fact that’s its best to space the food to provide air flow you’ll be limited as to the amount of food that can be cooked at one time. If serving a hungry family you may come up short. As for a single or two person household this probably will suit them well.

As a side note to the advantage of air frying, properly cooked deep fat fried food doesn’t have a lot of oil in it, oil at the proper cooking temperature doesn’t get absorbed by the food. It just provides a high heat over all contact by being a liquid to cook food. The downside is managing temperature, hazards of a flammable hot liquid, and food amount, storage and disposal of oil which makes deep fat frying at home less likely. In my opinion, properly cooked deep fried fat foods consumed once and a while isn’t a health issue.

I would also suggest a dedicated outlet for this power hungry beast to plug into or curtail other high wattage appliances on the same circuit. The fan runs continuously on all functions and I notice a definite drop in fan speed by sound when the heater coil is in the circuit and the fan speed increases when the set temperature is reached. The oven is rated at 1500 watts and the heater coil consumes most of it. At 120 volts your reaching the rated capacity of a standard outlet.

The oven is not overly noisy in the kitchen as it emits a low tone that you would expect of a device that moves this amount of air. In an extremely quiet environment this is evident but not usually more noise than a microwave oven.

So far it’s an easy to clean cooking event, the trays are coated with a non stick like coating and go to the dishwasher if desired. The oven door is easily removed for cleaning, The oven cavity sides and bottom can be readily cleaned but the fact that the heater coil and fan blade is exposed may result in cooked on food spatter around the coil area and on the fan blade which is the oven ceiling.Cooking food like a steak on the top most rack position with the oven set to broil may result in cooked on residue. Cleaning is possible in this area but the removal of the heater coil and fan blades is the only way to access all of that area. The oven cavity doesn’t appear to have a non stick coating and is basically stamped metal. Other construction details are that this oven has a double wall, the inner wall is the oven cavity and the outer is the cabinet itself, plastic with the Vortex Pro model having stainless steel sheet metal over the plastic sides of the cabinet.The fan motor not only provides air flow in the oven but cooling the cabinet as a second fan blade not visible on the same motor axis is located in the space above the oven and the top panel. This provides airflow to keep the top and associated electrical , mechanical and sides of the oven cool and the air vented in the rear. I expected this oven to have some type of insulation surrounding the oven cavity but it relies and an air space for cooling as the oven cavity and inner door as basically all the metal used. The exterior cabinet and door has stainless steel, but it is over plastic, the stainless steel being aesthetic not a structural component. Due to the dual fan setup the plastics never get heated to the point of failure.

Safety wise all power on the neutral side get routed through a temperature limiter first. If the fan should fail, the resulting heat buildup from the heater coil will cause the limiter to open, stopping operation of the oven. If the temperature sensor fails to properly sense the cooking temperature the oven will display error codes, and won’t proceed to the cooking stage. Various other components such as fuses are on the main control board should a fan motor or other problem causes excessive current draw. The control board uses a mix of solid state and conventional relays for operation. (this may vary depending on your model as the Plus and the Pro versions are different.)The touch panel provides easy setting and eliminates actual buttons that could jam or stick to provide a easy to clean surface for control

As long winded as this post is I’ve only scratched the surface of cooking with this device. The instructions were downloaded as none was included and as far as recipes, only a few of the recipes on the Instant app are for the oven. There are many cookbooks available for the oven but I haven’t gotten there yet. Other functions are dehydrating, broiling and proofing but I have not used those functions yet. In my opinion so far it may be overkill to use this for dehydrating and proofing I question the size capacity of the oven to justify proofing a small amount of dough and most dehydrating devices have much more surface area and may use a lot less energy. As most baking pans have handles even a 8 inch square baking/cake pan may not fit in the oven. Other accessories other than supplied by Instant are available. I’m looking through what I have in the kitchen that can fit in the oven just to see the capabilities of this appliance other than air frying foods.

Having purchases 2 ovens at a deep discount as non working, provided insight to this method of cooking and the oven construction and operation and resulted in a working Pro model. There are more than enough you tube videos also on air fryer reviews for your consideration if you choose to reference before purchase.




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