I’ll admit that, if I could, I’d absolutely have a diet that consists exclusively of French fries and pigs in a blanket. While my palette hasn’t evolved much since I was a toddler, my metabolism, unfortunately, has devolved. And so, despite my preferences, I have to add in a few salads in between my beloved fried foods. However, I’ve found one kitchen gadget that makes it (almost) viable to reintroduce a plate of fries into my life on a near-nightly basis: an air fryer.
What Is an Air Fryer?
While deep fryers create that crispy, crunchy, golden goodness we all love by cooking submerged in oil, air fryers whip hot air around at a high speed to simulate a similar result with only a tablespoon or so of fat. This allows for a quick crisping method that is not only efficient but considerably healthier than the alternative—and they do it in a flash. (Psst…Need air fryer recipe ideas? Try one of these air fryer chicken recipes that make dinner a breeze or a low-carb dish from our keto air fryer recipes roundup.)
Is an Air Fryer Really Worth It?
Fleeting foodie trend or super nifty gadget? If you find cooking to be a chore, an air fryer won’t magically turn you into a chef. But if you’re looking for a way to give your meals a healthy and tasty upgrade, an air fryer is your answer. Plus, it’s versatile. Sure, you can fry up the usual stuff like veggie fries, but you can also get creative—this baby makes everything from fried pickles to sugary sweets. Another reason to give air fryers a try? There are plenty of models out there that fit within your desired price point. While the designs and features may vary, you’ll still get that drool-worthy crunch every time, regardless of how much—or little—you spend.
So you’ve decided that you need an air fryer, like, ASAP. Woohoo! We promise, your life is about the be changed. But with the hundreds of options out there—from mini fryers ideal for a party of one, to heavy duty options capable of cooking entire meals at once—finding the one that’s perfect for you and your cooking needs can seem a bit daunting. So as you embark on your air-fryer purchasing journey, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Price: Air fryers can cost anywhere from $40 to $500. You can probably guess that the higher the price tag, the higher the quality. But never fear, if you’re balling on a budget, there a dozens of wallet-friendly options that don’t sacrifice functionality for affordability.
Style: Air fryers can be broken down into two different categories: oven-styles and basket-styles. Typically, you can expect oven-styled fryers to take up more counter space, since they can handle larger portions of food and probably come with more more features. Basket-drawer-styles, on the other hand, take up less real estate and require you to be more hands on during the frying process, giving your food a good shake here and there for even heat distribution.
Size: It goes without saying that the size of your air fryer should depend on how much counter space you have and how many mouths you’re feeding. Big kitchen with ample room? Opt for a fryer that falls on the larger side of the spectrum. Cramped apartment that lacks extra wiggle room? Go for something compact that won’t clutter your tiny space. Are you cooking for the whole fam? The bigger the better. Party of two? Then a smaller fryer it is.
Cleaning: Unless you’re Monica Gellar 2.0, we doubt that you’re someone who actually enjoys doing the dishes. So if avoiding mess is a priority, go with a smaller basket-styled option. This type of fryer comes apart with ease, giving you access to every nook and cranny for a total breeze of a cleanup.
The Best Air Fryers at a Glance
Best Overall Air Fryer
The cult-favorite Instant Pot has expanded its lineup with the Instant Vortex Plus, a sleek air fryer that’s totally fool-proof and large enough to whip up a family-sized portion of fries (yes, we do measure everything in terms of French fries). It comes with six cooking settings and an easy to operate temperature dial. Its 10-quart basket is actually a square shape, so it’s able to hold more than some other options. This an ideal kitchen appliance if you want an occasional fried indulgence—without dropping a ton of money.
Best Multipurpose Air Fryer
Don’t be fooled by the name: This convection toaster oven is also a fryer that gets your jalapeño poppers popping. Not to mention, it will cook them more evenly than other air fryers on the market. It has 15 different cooking functions and room to fit a 13-inch inch pizza, so you can either make a meal from scratch, or crisp up leftovers in no time.
Best Small Air Fryer
Simple and straightforward, this smaller-capacity air fryer is ideal if you’re just whipping up dinner for one. It cooks quickly, thoroughly and is small enough that if you’re low on counter space, you won’t feel as though the fryer is adding any clutter. Chefman also makes a range of other smart kitchen appliances, and this air fryer keeps with the company trend in being both easy to use and durable. Plus, you just can’t beat that price tag.
Best Large Air Fryer
The GoWISE fryer is a Texas-sized fryer for, well, Texas-sized appetites. With its 7-quart capacity, it can handle even a whole chicken. Whereas most air fryer baskets are either squared or fully circular, this fryer has an elongated basket that makes it easier to spread out ingredients in a single layer, just like your favorite sheet-pan recipes. Plus, thanks to the brilliant stacking ability of the racks, you can air fry multiple layers at once.
Best Air Fryer Extras
An eight-in-one fryer that comes with all of the trimmings, this heavy-duty oven ensures you have all the tools needed to cook up your favorite recipes. Thanks to the cooking presets, you won’t need to worry about figuring out the right fry time for your different munchies and every snack will come out fried to perfection. Equipped with other handy features, like an inner rotating plate that makes roasting a turkey a total breeze and a digital touch screen that’s super simple to use, this pick offers an easy user experience with delicious results. And remember those extras I was talking about? It also comes loaded with a mesh basket, air-flow and skewer racks, a chicken fork, a cage tong and a drip tray, so you’ll be totally prepped to slay in the kitchen.
Best Air Fryer for Game Day
Why We Love It: Large basket, easy to wash
If you’re looking to dish up some buffalo wings, cauliflower bites or fries, the Ninja Max XL is certainly the way to go. It has a large basket that can handle big batches of game day grub for your hungry crowd, and the ceramic interior and removable tray make cleanup a breeze. Seriously, you can just toss the removable parts in the dishwasher. Frozen foods will be returned to their pre-frozen glory, and a timer will countdown your meal’s readiness to the second.
Prettiest Air Fryer
This (very) aesthetically pleasing fryer may be small, but it can conquer even the biggest of jobs. With an easy-to-use touch display and high-performance heat technology, you can use this cutie to air fry, reheat, dehydrate or roast to your heart’s content. Plus, it successfully provides even heat distribution, so each bite you take will be filled with light, crispy deliciousness. Oh, and did we mention that it reportedly heats food 50 percent faster than a traditional oven? See, I told you it was more than a pretty face.
Fastest Air Fryer
Why We Love It: Extra speedy, good for large meals
Besides being fully loaded with more than a dozen preset functions (think: broil, proof, dehydrate, fry, bake, toast and roast) this pick from Breville has enough space to accommodate even the largest of meals. Use this baby to whip up everything from frozen pizzas to dried fruit and jerky. Thanks to its multiple shelf levels, you can cook all elements of your meal at once and with its nifty dual convention mode, this fryer will cook food up to 30 percent times faster. Plus, it’s designed to automatically adjust the heat levels, ensuring you get evenly fried, yummy goodness every time you use it.
Best Smart Air Fryer
One of the more high-tech options comes from Cosori, whose large-volume air fryer has 11 preset cooking modes that can add crunch to anything from brussels sprouts to mozzarella sticks. The Cosori can be linked to your smartphone via mobile app, which provides you with cooking alerts, timers and reminders to shake up your frying basket when needed. And while it has a generous 6-quart capacity, it won’t take up too much precious space on your countertop.
Most Versatile Air Fryer
This pick from Elite Gourmet checks all the boxes. A 10-quart capacity that makes cooking for big family dinners a breeze? Check. Removable racks and pans that are dishwasher safe? Check. More than ten helpful preset options? Check. The ability to reheat french fries, fish and pizza leftovers that taste just as fresh as they did the day before? Yup, you guessed it, check. Need we say more?
Best Deluxe Air Fryer
If you’re looking for a pop of color in your kitchen, check out the Dash Deluxe air fryer, which comes in four bright colors (don’t miss out on the aqua), offering a retro take on the modern appliance. Rather than relying on digital displays and preset buttons, the Dash fryer leverages manual settings, which are very easy to use. The single knob design coupled with the rounded profile makes for an aesthetically pleasing appliance, but because it’s fully manual, you’ll have to pay extra attention to timing.
Most Unique Air Fryer
Ok, so we know this one looks a little…unusual, but when it comes to frying up your fave snacks, it does its job and does it well. Combining halogen heat, convection and infrared technology, this fryer keeps food flavorful on the inside while coating it with just the right amount of brown, crispy goodness on the exterior. So how does it work? Halogen heat works to perfectly brown, roast and add flavor, as convection circulates hot air for a perfectly cooked meal. Meanwhile, infrared heat cooks food, looking in juices and spices, for flavors that really pack a punch. Whether you’re craving light and crispy chick, steamed veggies, fried desserts or anything else in between, this little fryer has got your back.
Best Air Fryer With Grill
While we’ve established that I can (and do) eat fries as an entire meal, for folks who are interested in using their air fryers for a main dish, the Secura 3.4-quart air fryer has the multitasking abilities you need. It also has a grilling function, which allows you to make a juicy steak to serve alongside those onion rings you crisped to perfection. And until the weather warms up, being able to grill inside will become something to actually look forward to on a dreary Wednesday night.
Best Cheap Air Fryer
Getting a good air fryer on a budget is not a particularly difficult task, but the Bella 2-quart electric option doesn’t skimp on quality. It’s simple to use, quiet during operation, and it pays for itself with just a few uses. It’s also relatively compact, making storage a cinch—although it’s so sleek that you won’t be embarrassed if you have to leave it out on an open kitchen shelf.
Best Air Fryer for New Cooks
If the notion of an air fryer scares you, there’s no option less intimidating than this small Black + Decker air fryer that is about as straightforward as they come. Even if you’re completely new to the air frying game, it’s hard to mess up with this appliance. One dial controls temperature, and the other controls time. That’s it. In effect, if you know how to operate an oven, you can work this air fryer.
Most Convenient Air Fryer
Claiming to give you crispy foods with 80 percent less calories compared to traditional toaster ovens, this mighty air fryer does the trick and more. You can also enjoy the drip tray that prevents messes, and you won’t have to worry about burning yourself with its EZ handle. It’s also a PureWow favorite, as Commerce Editor Olivia Kappler swears by it. “My favorite thing to make in it is salmon, because the fish setting cooks it to perfection,” she says. “I also like how I can see inside the fryer without opening it to check on the state of my food. The racks are also really easy to slide out and clean when I’m done with it.”
Best Classic Air Fryer
Heating up to 400 degrees, this trusty device also comes with 11 food presets to make your air-frying journey a little easier for some serious flavor. Our assigning commerce editor, Nicole Briese, is also a big fan. When we tested [this] one, we found that it cooked efficiently and evenly, though you’ll want to leave dishes like chicken and salmon in a little longer than the presets recommend if you prefer your meat less chewy. The nonstick basket practically cleans itself, and the tall, square shape looks slightly more chic on your counter than other models. Our one complaint? Its buttons beep, and loudly—”This is not a quietly operating machine,” she says.
PureWow may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was created independently from PureWow’s editorial and sales departments.