- While an air fryer can’t exactly mimic deep-fried food, it can quickly roast, crisp, and bake.
- The Philips Turbostar is the best air fryer we tested because it works fast and doesn’t dry out food.
- We also love multitasking appliances from Instant Pot and Breville that let you air fry and much more.
Air fryers are wildly popular small appliances, but their name betrays them a bit since they do not truly fry food. An air fryer uses an electric heating element paired with convection, the process of cooking something by blowing very hot air across its surface. That hot air heats the fat on the surface of the food – you still have to lightly coat your food in oil for best results – cooking it to a nice light crisp.
The results are more like oven roasting at a high heat – still a delicious end result, but you won’t fool anyone into thinking you just pulled those chicken wings out of a deep fryer.
The advantages of an air fryer are still huge. It’s one of the quickest-cooking appliances out there aside from a microwave, making it a real time-saver, especially for weeknight meals – and you’ll get a much higher quality cook than a microwave. It’s also incredibly versatile in its ability to cook pretty much anything you’d normally roast in an oven: vegetables, fish, whole chickens, and more. Think beyond chicken nuggets and the possibilities are endless.
I’ve tested seven air fryers for this guide so far, using each to roast broccoli and cook frozen and fresh-cut French fries. While results varied by air fryer, I was consistently able to get a respectable finished product way more quickly than with an oven.
Because air fryers and healthy eating concepts are so often intertwined, I spoke to nutrition expert, Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, who shared that she is a fan of air fryers for their convenience. Meredith Laurence, owner of Blue Jean Chef and prolific air fryer recipe developer, also weighed in on how to get the most out of your air fryer. You’ll find their full advice below.
Here are the best air fryers in 2021
- Best overall: Philips Premium TurboStar Airfryer
- Best on a budget: Dash Compact Air Fryer
- Best multitasking air fryer: Instant Pot Duo Crisp + Air Fryer
- Best large capacity air fryer: Ninja Foodi Two-Basket Air Fryer
- Best upgrade air fryer: Breville Smart Oven Air
The Philips Premium TurboStar Air Fryer heats up within seconds, turning out evenly cooked, crispy food with greater efficiency than an oven and other air fryers.
Pros: Heats quickly, “fat removal technology” removes excess oil, cooks evenly, most food stays moist
Cons: Many parts to clean, only adjustable at 15-degree increments, may dry out more delicate foods
Efficiency is the name of the game when it comes to air fryers, so those with long preheat times were docked points during my testing. The Philips Premium TurboStar exceeded expectations in efficiency with virtually no preheat time whatsoever. It came up to temp within seconds, faster than any other air fryer I tested. It also won the frozen fry test outright and was only just edged out in the fresh-cut fry cook test by the Breville Smart Oven Air.
It had a bit of trouble with broccoli, drying the florets out a bit, but it was by no means the worst batch and a couple of recipe tweaks could fix that. The user interface is intuitive with a knob you twist to cycle through presets and adjust your time and temperature.
The TurboStar also features Philips’ “fat removal technology” which employs a cyclone of hot air to blow excess oil off your food and trap it in a specially designed base under the fryer basket. And I did notice some excess oil collected in the base of the air fryer after cooking. I noticed it the most after my batch of broccoli, and I wondered if it would’ve dried out less had that oil stayed put. But if staying low-oil is your main motivation for buying an air fryer, this feature could be a bonus for you.
The one downside to the TurboStar is how many parts there are to clean. The base and basket disassemble into four parts instead of the usual two — five if you use the splatter shield — though all these components are dishwasher safe.
The best air fryer on a budget
The Dash Compact Air Fryer could not be more straightforward to use, and it takes up very little precious counter space.
Pros: Simple interface, compact design, even cooking
Cons: No additional modes or cooking presets, can only control time and temperature, only fits single serving of food
The Dash Compact Air Fryer boasts the simplest design of all the air fryers I tested, making it very user-friendly and virtually plug-and-play. While you won’t have the advantages of presets for commonly cooked foods, there are also no menus to cycle through and not a single button to press. The interface consists simply of a temperature dial and a time dial, and as soon as you twist your dial to the desired time, the air fryer kicks on.
And just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s a slouch. It exceeded expectations in my cook tests and even produced the most successful batch of broccoli. It’s a bit less powerful than the other air fryers we recommend, but I think that works to its advantage. It’s not hammering food with hot air and high heat in the same way that some other air fryers are, which can lead to overdrying. It’s just a bit gentler on food. That doesn’t make it slower though — it met expected cook times in every test.
Its compact size can be a plus or a minus depending on your needs. It’s great for those with limited counter space or those who are cooking for a couple or just themself, and it’s even small enough to tuck into a cabinet when not in use. But if you need to cook for a large family, you’ll likely find yourself making batch after batch with this petit appliance.
The best multitasking air fryer
The Instant Pot Duo Crisp is a pressure cooker, slow cooker, and air fryer all in one, making it one of the most useful and economical small appliances I tested.
Pros: Multiple functions; doesn’t dry out delicate foods; can perform multiple steps in a recipe in the same appliance
Cons: Food on lower level of fryer basket cooks more slowly, many pieces to store, difficult to agitate food mid-cook, removing lid exposes heating coil
Air fryers often get a bad rap for being unitaskers, but Instant Pot has bucked the trend by adding air fryer functionality to its already quite versatile multicookers. The Duo Crisp comes with two separate lids — a traditional Instant Pot lid you’ll use for all your pressure and slow cooking and another equipped with an electric heating coil and fan that you’ll use for air frying, broiling, dehydrating, and more.
If you’ve used an Instant Pot, you’re already familiar with about half of the Duo Crisp‘s features. It works just like any other Instant Pot and is great for a batch of pressure-cooked beans, slow-cooked stew, or simple steamed veg. The only major setting you’ll sacrifice in favor of air frying functionality is the yogurt setting, which isn’t present on the Duo Crisp.
The air fryer function excelled in all of my tests, producing tender broccoli and crisp frozen fries, though the tall cylindrical basket presented some small downsides. The basket allows you to stack two layers of food to make up for the lack of horizontal space, but because the heat comes from above, the food on the bottom layer is often less crisp than the top. The air fryer basket also lacks a handle, so it’s tough to agitate food mid-cook, and there’s no way to get to the bottom layer to flip food without unloading everything on top of it.
The heating coil’s presence in the lid also means you’ll expose it when you lift it off to check or retrieve your food. If you’re not careful, it could be a burn hazard. The unit comes with a special plate that serves as a trivet when you need to place the hot lid somewhere, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind in terms of safety.
All told, this is the air fryer I reach for most for personal use, because it has earned the space it takes up in my kitchen by being so versatile.
If you already own an Instant Pot, you can purchase an air fryer lid separately for your 6-quart model. The only difference is that instead of the cook settings being built into the pot itself, they’re built right into the lid.
The best large capacity air fryer
The Ninja Foodi Two-Basket Air Fryer lets you cook two separate dishes at once, and you can time them to finish simultaneously to take the guesswork out of planning dinner.
Pros: Two independent cooking zones, can time food to finish at the same time, largest capacity air fryer we tested, can copy settings across zones
Cons: Cooks more slowly than other air fryers, different cook times depending on whether you’re using one zone or both
Most air fryers can only cook one thing at a time, meaning you’ll likely have to batch cook or lean on other appliances for a full meal. But the Ninja Foodi Two-Basket lets you double your output. It features two independent zones that can be programmed to different cook times and temperatures, increasing this air fryer’s versatility in a big way.
The Smart Finish setting is one of my favorites which lets you program the Foodi to stagger each basket’s start time so they finish cooking simultaneously. And if you’re cooking two baskets of the same food, just hit the Match Cook button, and it will apply your settings to both baskets so you don’t have to program it twice.
The Ninja Foodi wasn’t as efficient as some of the other air fryers I tested, and I often had to add a few more minutes to my cook times, but it’s worth the couple extra minutes for the convenience of being able to cook multiple batches at once. If you’re really in a hurry or only need to cook one thing, the air fryer is a bit more efficient if you just use one basket at a time, though still slower than many of its counterparts. You’ll have to remember to adjust your recipes accordingly.
The best upgrade air fryer
The Breville Smart Oven Air handles a variety of kitchen tasks with aplomb, from your morning toast to a roast chicken to air fried everything.
Pros: True multitasker; takes the place of several small appliances including an air fryer, toaster, roaster, dehydrator, and more; produces oven-quality food quickly; two convection settings for greater customizability; comes with air fryer basket, two racks, pizza pan, roasting pan, and broiling rack
Cons: Takes up a lot of counter space
Any air fryer is simply a miniature convection oven with more focused heat, but the Breville Smart Oven Air takes full advantage of its convection capabilities and toaster oven shape to expand the tasks it can handle. I’ve been impressed by everything I’ve gotten out of this countertop oven.
It excelled in our broccoli test, producing a result that was still moist and tender with gently crisped florets, and it was the only air fryer that made fresh-cut fries that were even remotely crisp without being totally overdone. And outside of that, I’ve used it for morning toast, dough proofing, roasting sweet potatoes, and more. There are still plenty of settings for me to explore, and I’m particularly intrigued by the “cookies” and “pizza” modes.
The interface is intuitive with two knobs that let you cycle through cooking modes, time, and temperature. You can even tell the Smart Oven Air you’re cooking something from frozen, and it will automatically adjust to the optimal time and temperature. It’s also large enough to fit a small Dutch oven, so you can slow cook, bake, and even braise in it.
The two caveats are the price and size of the Breville Smart Oven Air. There’s no getting around the fact that it’s an expensive appliance, but it will entirely replace your toaster oven, pop-up toaster, air fryer, and dehydrator, making it one of the most useful small appliances I’ve ever tested. If it were any larger, it could probably replace your entire oven. That said, it is very large for a countertop appliance, so it’s likely not for apartment-dwellers or those with limited counter space.
Our testing methodology
One thing I discovered early in my testing process was that air fryers tend to vary wildly in their cook times. Set at the same temperature, one unit charred broccoli to an undesirable crisp in six minutes, while another took 13 minutes to just reach al dente. So I cooked three different recipes with each machine, evaluated how quickly each one cooked, whether or not it dried out the food, and how evenly each batch came out.
I also assessed each machine for ease of use, noting how intuitive the user interface was. I tracked how many component parts there were to disassemble and clean. A unit with dishwasher safe accessories got big bonus points. These were the three cooks I performed with each machine:
|Broccoli||I cooked a basket-full of broccoli in each unit, assessing for doneness and even cooking. Each batch was air fried for 8 minutes at 375 degrees after being sprayed with olive oil spray and seasoned with salt and pepper. Additional cooking time was added if necessary.||Overall, the air fryers struggled with fresh vegetables, but a few units managed to produce tender broccoli with crisp florets. More often, the result was incredibly dry.|
|Frozen French fries||I cooked a basket-full of Ore-Ida Extra Crispy Fast Food French Fries in each unit, assessing for doneness and even cooking. I cooked them for 8 minutes at 400 degrees, jostling them halfway through, per the air fryer-specific instructions on the French fry bag. Additional cooking time was added if necessary.||This was, by far, the most successful test. In fact, I didn’t get a single bad batch of frozen fries. If you eat a lot of frozen finger foods, you should absolutely buy an air fryer.|
|Fresh-cut French fries||I cooked a basket-full of hand-cut French fries in each unit, assessing for doneness and even cooking. I soaked the cut fries in cold water for 30 minutes prior to cooking, patted them dry, sprayed them with olive oil spray and seasoned them with salt before cooking. I cooked them for 15 minutes at 375 degrees, adding additional time if necessary (which often was).||Overall, the air fryers had trouble getting fresh potatoes crispy, and a few units created a leathery exterior on the fry by the time it was cooked in the middle. But most units produced a satisfying baked-style fry.|
What else we tested
What else we recommend and why:
Cosori Max XL Air Fryer: The Cosori was able to produce some of the best broccoli during our testing but it struggled with fresh-cut fries, drying them out. The five minutes it takes to preheat also adds some time to your cooking process. That said, it’s packed with presets for everything from root vegetables to steak to bacon, so if you’re looking for a user-friendly air fryer, this is still a good buy.
What we don’t recommend and why:
Instant Vortex: If you undercook something, you can always throw it back in for a few more minutes, but there’s no coming back from overcooked food. The Instant Vortex consistently overcooked food no matter which recipe I followed. I’m sure you could take the time to learn this air fryer and tweak your recipes, but it’s much easier to just buy a more reliable one.
Air fryer FAQs
Is air fried food healthy?
The short answer is that it depends what you’re cooking and how you define “healthy.” You can make fried Oreos in an air fryer and they certainly won’t be low in calories, but they will be lower in calories and fat than their deep-fried alternative.
Cassetty explained that deep-fried food is typically considered “unhealthy” because you’re often coupling a breading of refined grains with a dunk in a low-quality oil. The breading then absorbs oil as it’s fried, adding calories to your food. With an air fryer, you’ll use a fraction of the oil, cutting down on calories. But you still need a thin coating of oil to maximize the efficacy of the hot air as it blows across your food. That oil conducts heat and helps create that crispy exterior.
The reason air fryers and healthy eating are so often coupled is because air fryers have been marketed as a deep fryer alternative. While I can’t stress enough that you won’t be fooling anyone into thinking the food you made in an air fryer was deep-fried, you are going to get something that tastes oven-fried in a fraction of the time. And that efficiency is, I think, even more of a selling point.
Is an air fryer worth it?
If you’re interested in an air fryer as an alternative to deep frying, you’ll probably be disappointed. But an air fryer is an incredibly versatile appliance if you know how to take advantage of it. Both Cassetty and Laurence praise air fryers for their ability to cook pretty much any food quite quickly.
But Laurence, who has written two cookbooks dedicated to air fryer recipes, acknowledges that they have a bit of a learning curve. “You can’t just stick this egg-shaped thing on the counter and expect people to know how to use it,” she said. But she encouraged home cooks to keep experimenting and think beyond frozen French fries and chicken wings. She said her favorite thing to cook in an air fryer is a steak, and when she first did it she was shocked at how well it turned out.
Laurence and Cassetty both also emphasized the speed and energy efficiency of air fryers. Air fryers take very little, if any, time to preheat, so you’re saving both time and electricity. The location of the heating element — placed directly over the food — creates more efficiency, explained Laurence. “You can create similar results in an oven, but it’s going to take longer because your oven is way bigger and the [air flow] is not as direct,” she said. They also expel much less heat, which is especially handy during hot weather when you’d rather avoid turning on your oven.
An air fryer is also very simple to use and is great for amateur cooks and even teens just developing their skills in the kitchen. It’s not much of a step up from a microwave as far as safety is concerned. The exception here may be a model like the Instant Pot we recommend above where the heating element is much more exposed.
In a nutshell, an air fryer is worth it for its versatility and efficiency in roasting and baking if you have the counter space to spare, but it’s not going to fool anyone into thinking your food is deep-fried.
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