As you remember, CSN Stores asked me to review one of the products they sell. Their various online stores sell everything from dining sets to cutlery, and I pondered a few different options before settling on a deep fryer.
There are a few reasons I chose a deep fryer:
1: I don't have a deep fryer, but I know how to use one and have plenty of applications for one. I had no plans to buy one in the near future, for a simple reason: I didn't think you could find a deep fryer worth having at this price point. Deep fryers get a bad rap - people think of them as creators of greasy food, but the food is only greasy if the oil cools down too much when you add the food. Harold McGee and other food science writers can explain it to you better, but basically, if the temperature is right, you have enough water escaping from the food that it doesn't soak the oil up like a sponge. But if your oil loses significant temp when you add your food, that's when you soak up all the grease.
2: So basically I thought this was a product where there would be plenty of cons to point out. You know, I'd be able to say 'it does X, Y, and Z fine, but if you want to be able to do Q and P, save your money and get one of the $300 fryers instead.'
The fryer I settled on was the Presto Cool Daddy Cool Touch Deep Fryer. Presto makes plenty of fryers at higher price points. Many of their fryers get quite good reviews - I checked, compared some other options, looked around, before settling on this one.
Here's the thing:
Honest to God, I can't find anything wrong with it.
Look, it's not a magic machine. Just like a microwave or an oven, if you try to make it things it's not designed to do, it won't perform well. You don't want to drop three pounds of frozen chicken into the fryer, and my attempt at a chili-stuffed donut didn't work because the donut simply opened right up and the chili floated out. But that had nothing to do with the fryer. Any time I attempted something I knew was possible, something I knew a deep fryer should be able to do, it did it, and it did it well, and it was easy.
The plug is held on with a magnet. If the fryer is accidentally knocked off the counter, the plug will pop out. On the other hand, you're still knocking hot oil all over, so I don't know how much of a godsend this is.
The fryer is indeed not-hot to the touch. It's not cool, but it's not more than warm - you won't burn yourself touching the outside of this fryer.
There's a lid. I didn't find that the charcoal filter did much, but my concern is simply that the food cooks properly, and the lid helps to keep the heat in so that when you add food, the oil -- which inevitably loses some heat as a result, that's just physics -- comes back up to temp quickly.
It preheats pretty quickly. There's a temperature dial, which is critical. This, in fact, is the main benefit a deep-fryer has over filling a cast-iron pot with oil. Cast-iron holds heat so well that adjusting the temperature of your oil in a cast-iron pot is a very slow and imprecise process. With a dedicated deep fryer, it's simple. I don't know how accurate the dial is, because I don't have an accurate thermometer to check it against. I do know that any time I fried something at a given temperature, it came out the way it was supposed to.
Among the things I've fried in this:
French fries. Here's how to make French fries: use good potatoes (I love Kennebecs), don't cut them too thick, put them in a bowl of cold water, rinse the surface starch off, and chill them for a while. Drain and fry at 340-350 for five or six minutes, just to cook them through. Then remove the fries, bring the temperature of the oil up to 375, and fry for another few minutes until golden. This makes fries that are crispy and stay crisp. It's potato season here right now, so I've been making fries a couple times a week.
Fried chicken. I'm not fully willing to say this yet, but I think the deep-fryer might actually make better fried chicken than my cast-iron method that I've spent more than a decade fiddling with. It's certainly not worse, and it's faster and easier.
Doughnuts and beignets.
Deep-fried Oreos. Make beer batter (1 cup beer, 1 cup flour, whisk them together), dip Oreos in batter until covered on all sides, fry at about 350 until they cook through. The Oreos inside the batter come out soft and fudgey. Really crazy good.
Boiled peanuts. Shell boil peanuts and fry them so that they crisp up. They don't taste like roasted peanuts ... they taste like fried boiled peanuts.
Seriously, everything came out great. I have no reservations whatsoever about recommending this deep fryer. Clean-up is pretty easy, just let it cool and pop out the bowl -- always save a little of the old oil (frying oil has a life cycle - it doesn't fry as well when it's perfectly clean, straight out of the jug; add a little old oil to the new oil when you're filling up a fryer).
The only weak spot is that it's small enough that I don't think I would want to fry three or more servings of an entree at once. Three servings of French fries would be fine, but putting six pieces of chicken in there, for instance? I think the temperature of the oil would drop too much. But a bigger fryer would need a ton of oil even when all you want is French fries for one person. If you have a big group to cook for on a regular basis, you just weigh your options - do you mind doing things in two batches, or would you rather get a more expensive bigger fryer? It's not a flaw so much as deciding what's the right tool for the job.
As far as whether it's worth the money: if I had known a $50 deep fryer (just under $60, with shipping) performed this well, I would have bought it years ago.
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