We're calling it now: Air fryers are the Instant Pot of 2019.
We're always on the lookout for new kitchen gadgets that will make cooking easier and more fun — so pumped was an understatement we first heard claims of a countertop appliance that can make our favorite greasy foods less unhealthy, all with speed similar to an Instant Pot. Air fryers started popping into mainstream eye in Spring 2017, and now that they've had their chance to marinate in the market (food pun intended), it feels like an appropriate time to compare the best ones.
If you thought you were overwhelmed with all of the different Instant Pot models, just wait until you see the air fryer market.
Before we dive into the different devices, let's answer some lingering questions.
What is an air fryer and how does it work?
Simply put, it's deep frying without the oil — AKA deep frying without the unhealthy part. Some may tell you to just cut back on fried foods all together, but is that really the only option?
Deep fryers flash heat foods and take them from frozen to ready-to-eat in minutes by dunking them in a bath of super hot oil. This process jumpstarts the Maillard reaction, which is when food gets brown and crispy and delicious — and drenched in fat.
While your typical deep fryer needs enough oil to completely drown the food, an air fryer barely uses any (like, a tablespoon at most). Other than that, air fryers basically use the same method, using a convection fan to surround the food with hot air instead of oil. The air bounces off of the bottom of the air fryer and back up through the food, cooking it all over to create that crisping effect in just minutes — something that was previously only possible with deep frying. Not only are you getting that coveted taste and texture without the part that makes it unhealthy, but you're getting it in half the time.
Air fryers can also cook a hell of a lot more food than a deep fryer and can be used for things like grilling a steak or baking a pizza. It's like having a combo oven and deep fryer, except it fits on your counter and doesn't require frozen food to be thawed before cooking.
But is it actually healthy?
Taking the guilt out of guilty pleasure snacks is probably the main reason you're looking to buy an air fryer, right? We will say it's health-ier: Manufacturers claim that air frying can reduce calorie intake by up to 80% — so yes, air frying is certainly a much better preparation alternative. However, scientists aren't bullshitting with the whole "moderation is key" thing, and calories aren't the only factor to measure health. Having an air fryer does not mean that a diet consisting of french fries and pizza rolls is a good path to take, and making sure you get those plant-based oils and vitamins from fruits and veggies should still be worked in somehow.
Got a picky eater at home? Air fryers are a bomb way to crisp up zucchinis, carrots, squash, and more to give them some added taste and crunch, teaching kids that they don't always have to run for cover when the veggies come out.
Which air fryers are best?
As with any beloved appliance, there are various sizes, features, and physical interfaces from all of the major kitchen brands you'd expect — and some don't. We'll keep it simple and fill you in on the need-to-know details and differences, so your brain doesn't get too fried.
1. Philips Digital Air FryerPricey but worth it, Philips offers a stellar combo of size, user-friendliness, looks, and even cooking.
- Capcity: 2.75 quarts, 4 quarts
Even cooking seems like it should be a given with air fryers, but it's not as easy to find as you'd think. Luckily, that's not a worry with here, as customers in the Amazon reviews rave about how their consistent turnouts. All you need is a little practice, and you (and your food) will be golden.
The HD9641's straightforward interface is a mix of sleek and simple, with a QuickControl dial for temperature and time, five cooking presets for popular dishes, and a large screen. (It's rare to get a screen at all, and most with screens are borderline overwhelming). Also included are a grease tray and food basket, both dishwasher safe.
This is the second generation of the HD9641 model and is 20% smaller than the original so it frees up counter space, but still has the same 1.8-pound capacity inside. While that's enough room for a chicken breast or a good amount of french fries, it probably won't be enough if you're cooking for more than two. Luckily, Philips also makes a 2.65-pound as well.
2. GoWISE USA Air FryerThis colorful device takes the guesswork out of cooking with a touch screen menu and eight cooking presets.
- Capacity: 2.75 quarts, 3.7 quarts, 5.8 quarts
- Color options: Black, white, red, purple, mint, red, mustard yellow, blush
This all-inclusive puppy takes the guesswork out of cooking with the built-in touch screen menu featuring a whopping eight cooking presets: Cook fries, pork, chicken, steak, shrimp, cake (), fish, and pizza without fear of under or overcooking. And if those aren't enough, you'll also get a GoWISE recipe book that features 50 yummy ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Food options aren't the only versatile thing here: Choose from a smaller retro model in an assortment of adorable pastels (1950s home aesthetics, anyone?), or opt for the extra capacity and get a futuristic touch screen. There's truly one for every decorating style.
3. T-fal ActiFry Multi-CookerGet even, golden brown cooking without the effort with T-Fal's unique ring shape and built-in stirring paddles.
- Capacity: 2.2 pounds (around 2.75 quarts)
- Colors: Black
Unlike most of the competition, the Actifry does not sport a pull-out food drawer. Instead, the overhead lid opens to reveal a (dishwasher-safe) ring-shaped basket that can hold up to 2.2 pounds. Once turned on, the Actifry's built-in stirring paddle will rotate your food under the hot air, so you don't have to depend on stirring or flipping for even cooking, which is the hardest part. Can we get a hell yeah?
The transparent lid allows you to look in on how your food is coming along. But if you don't have time to check in (or just don't feel like it), don't worry — a buzzer will go off once the timer is done. Along with your purchase, you'll also get a 38-recipe cookbook and a measuring spoon.
4. Black+Decker 2-Liter Air Fryer
- Capacity: 2 liters (2.11 quarts)
- Colors: Black/stainless steel, white/black
The best part? There's next to no learning curve. Once you perfect the flipping action, it's one of the most straightforward on the bunch — so even if toast is the furthest you've been able to make meal wise, this machine is nothing you can't handle. With no screen and only two dials to control temperature and time (with two lights to show preheating status), it's a basic approach that's nearly impossible to mess up.
Quick bites are the name of the game here: An eight cup capacity gives wiggle room for 10 chicken nuggets or onion rings, 15 pizza rolls, or a half pound of french fries — it's also been said to be one of the best models to tackle frozen foods. Frying up a main course (like an actual chicken) probably isn't likely, but it's clutch for those side dishes or meals for one.
Bonus: It's also one of the most aesthetically pleasing options. Its stainless steel accents make it a seamless addition to any modern kitchen — but if you're more of a traditional decor person, there's a white model as well.
5. Secura 3.4-quart Electric Air FryerIt air fries, it lets you grill indoors, and it's totally affordable. Sign us up!
- Capacity: 3.4 quarts
- Colors: Black
At a pretty hefty 3.4 quarts, Secura's basket is more than enough to hold a decent amount of appetizers like quiche or ingredients for shish kebabs, as well as main entrees like falafel, three patties at once, or even a five pound turkey.
Though the Secura fryer doesn't have a screen, its complexity is upped by six preset food settings (fries, steak, chicken wings, cake, bread, and other meat) to do the work for you, as well a temperature dial and a timer dial. Its stainless steel interface allows it to blend seamlessly with the rest of your stainless steel appliances.
6. Cuisinart Air Fryer Toaster OvenAir fry, bake, roast, and broil in this versatile 2-in-1 that's clutch for families or large groups.
- Capacity: 4 pounds
- Colors: Stainless steel
If you live in a full house or host a big group often, the 4-lb capacity of this 2-in-1 device ensures that everyone can be fed on the first batch (whether that's a 4-lb chicken or 4 pounds of fries). The 16-inch baking tray allows for the hot air to circulate and hit your food evenly, so stirring or flipping probably isn't necessary.
Its totally stainless steel exterior makes it a perfect addition to a stainless steel kitchen (while most other options are black with a stainless steel handle), using four dials across the top for temperature, function, time, and a special toast timer. This particular bundle also throws in a free five-piece knife set and a bamboo cutting board (ooh, fancy) to cross even more kitchen necessities off the list.
7. Dash Compact Air Fryer
- Capacity: 1.6 quarts
- Colors: White, black, grey, red, aqua
This no-frills fryer offers the bare minimum of features — and when you're a newbie or only planning on using it sparingly, there's no point to paying for extras. Set your temperature and time using their respective knobs, stir or flip once if you're feeling ambitious, and come back in a few minutes to a hot, crispy snack. Dash's model is the scrawniest of the bunch, offering a 1.6-quart capacity to fit personal batches of fries, hot wings, fish, cinnamon rolls, and more — perfect for a college dorm, apartment, or camping RV. (Just don't expect to feed more than one at a time.)
There aren't many negative reviews, and most that do exist speak to the manufacturer quality. Unfortunately, you can't expect restaurant-grade longevity in a model that costs so little, but if you use it sparingly, it'll get the job done.
Dash always shines in the looks department: Offering a handful of adorable colors to match any decorating style, this little fryer makes an easy gift.
Just released in fall 2018, the Ninja Foodi (fitting, right?) is coined "the pressure cooker that crisps." Here's the thing, though: It also does so much more.
For max precision, the pressure cooking and the air frying are done in two different compartments. The top crisping lid is where Ninja's TenderCrisp technology works its magic, with options to air fry, bake, broil, and roast. Underneath, the Foodi's pot does the tenderizing, sautéing, and pressure cooing for juicier parts of the meal like soups, dips, and more. They can't be used at the same time, but it's still nicer than having to buy two separate appliances.
As you can probably guess, two compartments don't make it the most compact thing in the world. This thing is big, awkwardly shaped, and heavy, so if you're short on counter space (or muscles), you might want to opt for a smaller machine.