In this air fryer explainer and buying guide, I'll explore the best uses for the trendy air fryer, and break down the various types of air fry ovens along with average costs to help you make a more informed purchase.
Contrary to the name, an air fryer doesn't actually fry at all. Instead, the air fryer works more like a convection oven, circulating hot air with a fan. The main difference between a regular convection oven and an air fryer is that the air fryer fan blows faster and the compartment in which food is cooked is often (but not always) smaller. Because of these two things, all that hot air hits food more rapidly and so it doesn't lose as much heat in transit. Most air fryers come with a grated rack or perforated basket so the air can travel through and hit the food on all sides.
It all depends on what you're making in your air fryer but cooking something in an air fryer is almost universally healthier than deep-frying or pan-frying it in oil. Less oil means less fat and fewer calories too.
If you think about the best fried foods -- chicken wings, fried chicken, french fries, mozzarella sticks -- those are all great candidates for an air fryer. You'll get similarly crispy and browned outsides with insides that don't overcook.
An air fryer can actually do quite a bit more than a solo air fryer since it's really an oven. You can cook fish (salmon is a popular air fryer pick), vegetables, pizza and bread. You can also warm food or reheat leftovers and much more.
Some of my all-time favorites to cook in an air fryer include "fried" chicken with the skin on; just a quick dredging of egg and seasoned flour and then 25 minutes on high. I also love potato wedges in the air fryer as well as Brussels sprouts, dumplings (with a light coating of oil), and seasoned mushrooms with chopped garlic.
Short answer: No, you don't need oil. But some foods do well with a light spray or coating of cooking oil. Vegetables including green beans, broccoli, asparagus, and even potatoes will dry out if you blast them in an air fryer so a light spritz of avocado or olive oil can go a long way.
Like anything else, you can pay a whole lot for an air fryer but in our experience, the most expensive air fryers aren't necessarily the best. A basic air fryer is actually not a terribly complex machine so you really needn't break the bank. Small no-frills air fryer models start at $25 or $30 and I've found they will do a serviceable job. That said, if you bump up another $30 or $40 you're going to get a better build, sharper look and generally a bit more power too.
If you're cooking for one or two people a 2- or 3-quart air fryer should be large enough. From there, I would suggest adding a quart of capacity for every person that you're regularly cooking for. So, if you plan to air fry for five people on a regular basis, spring for a 5-quart model.
Size matters when it comes to air fryer prowess but maybe not in the way you expected. A smaller air fryer means food is going to get blasted faster and more often than inside a larger model where the air has further to travel and more time to lose heat. I've found that small and powerful air fryers including the Magic Bullet 2-5-quart model and Instant Pot's Duo Crisp (which actually has a small air frying capacity once you load the air fry basket in) work exceptionally well and very quickly.
Using medium chicken thighs as a unit measurement, a 2.5-quart air fryer can fit three thighs. A 5-quart model will comfortably fit six thighs and so on. If you spring for a hybrid oven with multiple racks, you can cook as many as 10 or 12 chicken thighs at once, but it will take longer than with a smaller air fryer
The most basic of air fryers looks like a small robot. They are generally just a cylindrical base with a basket to hold the food that pulls in and out. These come as small as two quarts and can be as big as six or seven. These models come with digital controls or manual dials. There are also air fryers with dual compartments so you can make two types of food at different temps simultaneously. Ninja makes a particularly good one with two 4-quart cooking baskets (8 quarts overall).
Solo air fryers are the least expensive too, and they can be had for as little as $30. I'd say if you just want to try air frying but don't want to commit a lot of money or kitchen space, opt for one of these.
These models look and function much like a standard countertop toaster oven but they have an air fry function as well. An advanced version is almost like adding a second main oven to your kitchen since they can broil, roast, bake, toast and much more. Some even come with a rotisserie function. For someone who hosts Thanksgiving or big family gatherings, the extra oven space these provide may feel like a godsend. Plus, they air fry; although due to their larger size, these models usually don't cook as quickly or quite as intensely as smaller solo air fryer ovens.
These are the most advanced and versatile air fryers and they do a whole lot more than air fry. Think Instant Pot but with an air fryer function as well. Ninja's Foodi multicooker and the Instant Pot Duo Crisp are two popular models, and if you want an air fryer and multicooker or pressure cooker but don't have a lot of kitchen space to relinquish, one of these is a great option. I've used the 6-quart Duo Crisp a bunch and find it works really well, turning out some of the most delicious fried chicken ever (with no frying at all.) These models generally retail for about $175 to $250
If you already have an Instant Pot, you can buy an Instant Pot air fryer lid ($90) to attach or a Mealthy ($60) which will clamp on top and air fry food down below. I found the air fryer lids work exceptionally well, although they don't have a large capacity for cooking.
This depends on your personal preference but the controls don't have much to do with the performance or end result. Digital air fryers have presets for things like chicken wings, french fries, fish and such, but I find that even if the presets exist, it takes me just a few runs to learn how long things need and the correct temperatures, and I end up bypassing them anyways. Digital air fryers tend to cost a bit more and you run the risk of the panel shorting out, but having a digital readout of the temp and cook time can be nice.
Another question that depends on your needs and budget. Fortunately, we've tested the best air fryers in 2022 and the best air frying toaster ovens with picks in various sizes, styles and prices to help you decide.
Getting foods cooked faster and crispier than ever without cranking up your full-sized oven is pretty hard to resist. No wonder these compact convection ovens are becoming indispensable to so many home cooks.
So pay close attention to how you plan to incorporate your new air fryer into the daily cooking routine of your kitchen. Is this new appliance going to be used for snacks only or for family meals too?
Always choose an air fryer that is bigger than you think you need. Once people realize how versatile an air fryer is, most of them will upgrade from small air fryers to larger models within one year of buying one.
Select an air fryer that is shaped and sized right for cooking the types of foods you plan to cook the most. A snacks-only air fryer is going to be different from an air fryer that will be used for regular meal preparations.
There is also the circle versus square problem when it comes to air fryers. Many square shapes or air fryers with racks will allow for pans to be placed in them. Circles are better for snacks or smaller foods that can be cooked quickly and evenly.
Think about how large or small the meals are that you usually prepare and serve in your household and how many people you will be cooking for. Cooking capacity will greatly influence which size air fryer you need to purchase.
Evaluate how much physical space you have for an air fryer in your kitchen. Will this appliance sit out on the counter all the time or will it need to be stored away in the cupboard or closet? Your appliance needs to be big enough to cook food for your entire household, yet compact enough to fit in your kitchen.
Take a look at my article on the Best Large Air Fryers for some excellent tips and information when shopping for a bigger model air fryer and my Best Small Air Fryers post for those looking for something smaller and more cost-efficient.
The bottom line is that you get to decide which air fryer size will fit your family cooking needs the best. Pay attention to the things you like to cook and the number of people in your family. Also important is your available kitchen space and budget. Please check out my air fryer articles and recipes and please let me know if you found this article useful. Happy cooking!
Hello, the USA where I am located uses a quart system and does not measure their air fryers in liters. Most things are not measured in liters here at all. I recommend educating yourself before claiming you know everything.
Most air fryer models are small enough to keep out on your worktop (depending on the size of your kitchen), with others offering space-saving features, such as cord storage. As for what you can cook with them, air fryer chicken breasts, halloumi, doughnuts, buffalo cauliflower wings and, of course, air fried chips can all be made using air crisp functions.
New to the world of air fryers are dual drawer air fryer models, which are designed to cook different dishes on different functions in sync, or rotisserie fryers for that supermarket chicken and chips experience at home.
When we review air fryers, each model goes through several tests: making chips, roasting chicken, grilling halloumi and aubergine, and even baking cake, where possible, to test all functions. Evenly browned chips with a crisp exterior and good flavour before seasoning are what we look for from each model tested. 59ce067264