My Mother, My Air Fryer, George Foreman, And Me

The pandemic did a number on me. For the first few months, I was in the kitchen every other night spending at least an hour cooking dinner—and that didn't include prep time. By the time I would sit down and eat, I would be spent. I found that the labor it took to make great food was quite difficult to maintain, so on a whim and a nice discount, I purchased an air fryer from Target. At that moment, I realized I had turned into my mother.

"This air fryer is the new George Foreman," I told my husband when I walked in the door, air fryer in tow. He didn't get my statement, so I explained. The look he had in his eyes when he saw this gadget was the same gleeful twinkle my mom had when she looked at her George Foreman Grill.

Anyone who grew up in a Black household that had a George Foreman Grill at the height of its popularity in the mid-'90s and now has an air fryer has made the comparison between the two. This "debate" has even crossed over to Black Twitter, where comedian Roy Wood Jr. asked, "Air Fryer vs. George Foreman #verzus." He got nearly 4,000 replies.

Before she got her George Foreman, my mother spent hours in the kitchen every day making dinner for our family of six. Depending on the meal, I would join her as the sous chef who either secretly loved cooking or the whiny kid who had to make sure food traditions were passed on. Some of my favorite meals I would make with my mother were lasagna, whole Southern fried fish (usually whiting), and several soul food staples including baked macaroni, greens, and dressing. Everything we made together was elaborate and time-consuming. And that was the issue: it just took too much of my mother's time. So in came the George Foreman Grill.

We didn't stop the elaborate cooking immediately. At first it just slowed, and then it was relegated only to special days. As an adult, I see how my expectation of food labor on one person was rotten, but as a kid, I threw a fit. I vividly remember yelling out to my mom from the other room, "Mom, I'm hungry," and how she was quick to say, "Go make yourself a hamburger." What I didn't realize at first was that she didn't mean on the stove, she meant on the George Foreman Grill. I went into the kitchen, pulled out the all-white grill, and watched the fat roll off my beef patty into the grease tray and our bonding time along with it.

I was mad. It felt like my relationship with food changed in an instant. I'd lost quality time with my mother for the sake of convenience, and the food just didn't taste the same. I didn't like it. But I didn't have to, because my mother did.

While she thought the meat tasted the same, I felt that meat from the grill failed the texture and flavor test. The appliance couldn't fully replicate a hard sear and it definitely couldn't cook certain things effectively. But the grill wasn't made for that. Eventually I learned to let that go and appreciate the freedom it gave my mother. And we found another way to bond: through home improvement/renovation shows.

So, this brings me back to my air fryer. For the most part, I'm a kitchen gadget skeptic, so I just knew this air fryer was going to collect dust, like all the other gadgets I'd seen come and go: the toasters, the crockpots, the juicers, panini presses, and milk frothers that stayed in the back of the cabinet, never to be seen again. The only gadget in my family's history that ever stayed in use and reduced the time someone had to be in the kitchen was the George Foreman.

Well, I was wrong. After a week, I became an air fryer convert. I tested everything in it I could just to make sure it would have lasting power, and it passed every test.

The meal that sealed the deal was simple but effective: roasted chicken breast and pan-seared charred green beans. Usually, when I cook chicken breast, I'm waging a war with an unforgiving protein. But in the air fryer, all I had to do was set the time and press start, and in a few minutes, I would have a juicy, flavorful piece of meat.

Using the air fryer also taught me how, in the absence of a ton of butter or cooking oil for meat, I could taste subtle flavors again. This was a far cry from my childhood, when I thought that losing butter meant losing flavor altogether. What I found in my journey of using an air fryer was that removing butter and traditional frying can make you feel vulnerable as a home cook, but it can also challenge you to use flavor more intentionally. And when I used butter sparingly, my tastebuds were reintroduced to how great it tastes.

Even more important, I finally understood why the George Foreman Grill mattered so much. Once I started using my air fryer, I learned that the convenience of kitchen technology doesn't mean worthless, flavorless food simply because it wasn't made on the stove. Gadgets like these are ingenious because they save a significant amount of time even when you factor in prep. At the end of the day, I now see that the George Foreman Grill was to my mother what the air fryer is for me: a lifesaver.

Air Fryer Chicken Thighs

Prep: 10 minsCook: 30 mins

  • 5 small, mid-size chicken thighs (cleaning them with citrus beforehand is cultural, but if you don't do this, you can skip it)
  • 2 Tbsp. poultry seasoning
  • 1 Tbsp. black pepper
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Combine the seasonings together. Coat the chicken evenly with a bit of canola oil from a spray can and dredge it in the spices. Pop it in the air fryer set at 350-400 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for 30 minutes. Let it cool and serve with whatever else you've made.