My family is weird about toasters. My stepmom and I long insisted that the toaster is a redundant and unnecessary appliance — you can toast bread under the broiler — while my father and boyfriend would much prefer access to the dedicated unitasker. My parents now have a toaster, however, and I’m not far behind. (The boys win this round.) Though I’ve been toasting all my bread in the air fryer, I recently had to admit to myself that it makes terrible toast.
A toaster is a simple appliance that works by browning a slice of bread on both sides with direct, radiant heat. If it’s a decent toaster, this results in evenly toasted bread. An air fryer also uses direct, radiant heat, but only from the top down. This means that only one side of your toast is seeing that heat at any given moment. This is obviously solved by flipping the bread halfway through, which is a minor inconvenience, but not my main issue with air-fryer toast. My big gripe is those darned whipping winds.
Air fryers are great at getting food crispy because they are great at drying. The hot, circulating air efficiently removes moisture, which is why it’s such a good appliance for re-heating french fries (or making SPAM fries). It is, however, not great for toast, as those same hot gusts remove moisture from your bread, leaving it dry and cracker-like, instead of tender but toasted.
If you are determined to toast bread in your air fryer, slice it thick, choose a fairly moist bread, and keep a close eye on it. You can also lean into the textural aspect and make one giant crouton. No one could be mad at a giant crouton. I, however, will be purchasing a toaster. (What about the broiler, you ask? Well, flipping halfway through really is inconvenient if you’re cooking something in addition to the toast.)