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Air fryers can create a plethora of tasty meals, such as chicken, french fries, wings, and other air-fried recipes. We thoroughly researched over 65 models before purchasing the best 18 available today; we then cooked more than 200 meals. We made the same chicken breasts, donuts, onion rings, sweet potato fries, and tater tots with each model and directly compared the results side-by-side. We also assessed how easy each model is to use and clean. We've included basket-style, oven-style, and toaster oven-style in our fleet; each model brings a unique level of versatility to your kitchen. Whether you're looking to make air frying a cornerstone of your weekly meals or want to cook some of your guilty pleasure foods in a healthier manner, our objective testing results can help you find the perfect model.
Editor's Note: This review was updated on April 28th, 2022, to include a variety of new models, including the Beautiful by Drew Barrymore — our new Best Buy winner. We've also added the Instant Vortex Plus XL, which gives you the capacity to cook two different foods — at two different temperatures.
The Instant Vortex Plus excels in every test, which lands it at the top of the pack as our favorite air fryer in the test suite. It fully delivers, cooking everything to near perfection, producing delectably crunchy onion rings and mouth-watering donuts — all with a minimal amount of oil. Perhaps most impressively, it achieves an excellent texture and slight crispness when making sweet potato fries, which is no easy feat. The Vortex Plus utilizes a smooth tray rather than a fry basket, making the cleaning process much easier. That simplicity extends to the user interface, as it allows for a pleasant user experience via the easy-to-navigate settings. This machine's temperature accuracy is near perfect, ensuring you achieve the same results, time after time. True to the Instant brand, this device is multi-functional — it can dehydrate, reheat, and do some basic baking.
The Instant Vortex Plus gives us very little to complain about. While we mention the price, we feel this product's performance is worth the cost. As long as you're willing to spend a little extra, the Vortex Plus is the best way to satisfy fried food cravings without going overboard on the oil.
The Beautiful Air Fryer by Drew Barrymore is a budget-friendly air fryer that doesn't slack in its performance. From crunchy onion rings to juicy chicken breast, this trusty kitchen appliance cooks a variety of foods within the manufacturer's recommended time. It has a smaller footprint than most, making it easy to store, but the black and gold look is sleek enough to leave on display — if you feel so inclined. The digital interface sports a touchscreen, and the controls are intuitive and not overwhelming to use. The temperature range is wide, accurate, and can be adjusted in increments of 5°F, which offers the user a solid amount of control. The four presets are easy to maneuver and can be modified in temperature and time. As far as cleaning goes, the basket is coated in non-stick material and comes apart easily, making clean-up a breeze.
There isn't much to complain about with the Beautiful as it performs extremely well for a low price. The main basket has a tray rather than an inner basket, which sometimes slips out while pouring your freshly fried foods onto a plate. The touchscreen, while convenient, occasionally does not register your touch, causing the user to tap the screen a few times. These cons are worth noting but hardly hinder your experience as a whole. If you're looking for a quality air fryer that won't break the bank, this is your best option.
You may have noticed that many high-end air fryers opt for a larger six-quart capacity. If you're short on counter or storage space or simply do not need the larger capacity but still want top-notch performance, the four-quart Ninja Air Fryer is our top recommendation. Our tests consistently churn out satisfyingly crispy foods with minimal fuss. We are also impressed by its temperature accuracy, which our thermometers indicate is spot on. Accuracy is important for this particular machine because it doubles as a food dehydrator, a process that is vastly improved by steady and precise temperatures.
The fry basket design is the biggest downside to the Ninja. Gunk tends to gather in the numerous nooks and crannies on the bottom of the basket, requiring extra elbow grease to get clean. The Ninja offers otherwise impressive performance as long as you don't mind some additional cleaning effort.
Capacity: 4 qt | Accessories: Wire rack, 13" x 13" nonstick sheet pan, 13" x 13" air fry basket
REASONS TO BUY
Easy to use
Good frying performance
Toaster oven and dehydrator functionality
Flips up for easy storage
REASONS TO AVOID
Fry basket can be awkward to handle
Multifunctionality is quickly becoming the name of the game for countertop kitchen appliances, and the Ninja Foodi Digital Oven is currently at the forefront of that trend. It effectively combines the abilities of an air fryer, a toaster oven, and a dehydrator into a single device that can flip upright when not in use, barely taking up any counter space. In terms of cooking functionality per square inch of counter storage space, it may just be one of the top kitchen appliances in the world. Our tests prove that it can back up all these flashy specs with real performance. We are able to make near-perfect onion rings and delicious donuts, and can also get a nice crispy skin-on chicken. It performs similarly well in our testing as a toaster oven and dehydrator.
Due to the oven-style design, the air fry basket must be handled with a potholder. This is much less convenient than the handles found on the baskets of most dedicated machines. Overall, this feels like a small sacrifice to gain the extra functionality of the Foodi Digital Oven. This appliance costs more than most competing fryers, but that extra cost isn't so significant when you consider that you are essentially getting three devices in one. If you're looking to kit out your kitchen with air frying, toaster oven, and dehydrating capabilities, this is a fantastic and space-saving option.
The Instant Vortex Plus XL comes with two separate baskets that can be operated completely independently from one another. The temperature of one does not affect the other, and their timers can be synced up to complete the cooking at the same time. The viewing windows and interior lights make it easy to keep an eye on your meal's progress, and the slightly angled interface is easy to read. The interface rocks a dial-digital combination and is generally very intuitive. While its cooking performance varies, the Vortex Plus XL never fails to produce a perfectly cooked chicken breast.
The temperature is accurate, but for some reason, the Vortex Plus XL struggles with cooking a crispy potato. Whether you are working with sweet potato fries or tater tots, the evenness and texture are just off. The same can be said for onion rings. None of these food items are inedible, but they don't completely satiate the craving for crunchy, crispy fried food.
Air fryers are having a bit of a moment right now, hailed as the next great kitchen appliance. So what exactly are they? At their core, they are small, efficient, super convection ovens that use a fan to circulate hot air around food to get it crispy. And they do this all while using much less oil than a traditional deep fryer. However, they still fall well short of recreating the taste of deep-fried food. Anyone hoping these devices will produce crispy and decadent fried chicken without the guilt will be sorely disappointed. That said, these fryers can add a delightful crisp to many foods more easily and efficiently than most other cooking methods.
So, does one of these machines deserve a place in your kitchen? If you like the approximation to frying that this cooking technique produces and would like to incorporate it into your meal rotation two or more times a week, it's worth investing in the speed and convenience of a dedicated air fryer. If you don't think you'll be air frying frequently, you might be better off using the convection or broil setting on your conventional, or better yet, your toaster oven for those occasional dishes you want to make crispy.
Why You Should Trust Us
Michelle Powell brings over a decade of professional food service experience to the table to design and carry out tests of kitchen appliances. She has a nuanced understanding of how an appliance should perform and what the highest quality result should look like. Max Mutter has been testing kitchen appliances for three years and has now reviewed more than 100 pressure cookers, toasters, toaster ovens, espresso machines, coffee makers, and coffee grinders.
Lead reviewer Jessica Riconscente has extensive experience in the restaurant industry and is also an ace in her own kitchen. She takes pride in creating everything from scratch, from homemade wontons to pickling her own vegetables. She enjoys making her own recipes based on what's available in her fridge and combines produce and spices to concoct a delicious meal. Hayley Thomas has lived and traveled all over the world, and her palette is rather refined. While dishes vary greatly with location, there is one thing that you can find everywhere: fried food. Whether she's ordering calamari in Italy or tempura shrimp in Japan, each dish requires the perfect crisp-to-moisture ratio; Hayley knows just what to look for after many taste tests.
We cooked dozens of batches of sweet potato fries, tater tots, onion rings, donuts, and chicken strips for this review, using the same ingredients, recipes, and techniques in each one of our air fryers. After some gluttonous side-by-side taste tests, we carefully evaluated each model's general user-friendliness and ease of cleaning. Finally, we plopped two calibrated oven thermometers into each model and set them to four different temperatures to assess heating time, and more importantly, temperature accuracy.
Though air fryers may seem like a niche kitchen appliance, they can be quite useful in some situations. Our testing parses out each model's specific pros and cons and aims to help you decide whether or not an air fryer will be a worthwhile addition to your kitchen.
The Beautiful 6 Quart by Drew Barrymore offers an amazing price to performance ratio. It is well rounded; it cooks most food items evenly, with the proper amount of crisp or crunch, and within a reasonable time. The Beautiful is sleek and small, making it an easy appliance to leave on the countertop or store away between uses. If you can stand to spend slightly more, the Instant Vortex Plus with Rotisserie offers high-end performance at a quite reasonable price. Though it's expensive, the Ninja Foodi Digital Oven is a great air fryer and offers about every other function you could ever want from a countertop oven. Thus, it's well worth the high price if you're looking for an incredibly versatile kitchen appliance.
For obvious reasons, the cooking performance has the largest impact on overall scores and is also where we spend most of our testing time. We cook onion rings, sweet potato fries, chicken breast, donuts, and frozen tater tots to find the best fryer for every dish during our testing. We prep all of these foods in the same way with the same ingredients, then simultaneously make them in each fryer. This allows us to compare freshly prepared treats from each appliance, one right after the other. We specifically score each model based on how well the insides are cooked and how evenly the foods' outsides are crisped. All models did a reasonable job, but some were clearly better than others.
The Instant Vortex Plus and its sibling, the Instant Vortex Plus with Rotisserie, perform very well in this metric. Both of these machines are able to get a better crisp on sweet potato fries than any of the others we tested. They also excel in making evenly cooked and crispy onion rings and produce tater tots so good you could almost believe they were deep-fried.
All of the Ninja products we tested perform similarly well in our cooking trials, producing fantastic onion rings, donuts, chicken, and tater tots. However, they yield slightly less of a crunch on sweet potato fries than the Instant Vortex plus and Rotisserie models. Still, we highly doubt anyone will be disappointed with the air frying performance of these models. Unfortunately, the Instand Vortex Plus XL does not perform as well as its siblings in the crunch department. It does, however, serve up some of the juiciest chicken we've had the pleasure of tasting.
The Beautiful by Drew Barrymore performs well across the board, cooking all our food items evenly and in a timely manner. The only thing it struggles with in this department is the texture of a select few items, like sweet potato fries.
Also earning a well-deserving higher score is the GoWISE USA Digital. It produces some of the crispier sweet potato fries in our testing and makes the best overall onion rings. It struggles a bit with more substantial foods, particularly chicken, but in general, it produces an appetizing dish no matter the contents.
The Cosori Smart and Dash Compact also produce some tasty treats. The Cosori earns its praise mainly due to its nearly perfect onion rings. It also does a better job at crisping sweet potato fries than many other models, and it creates juicy and tender chicken breasts and delightfully fluffy donuts. The Dash serves up very crispy and evenly cooked onion rings. It also makes some of the more tender chicken in our testing. However, it struggles a bit at getting sweet potato fries and donuts truly crispy.
The Black + Decker Purifry's onion rings earn all of the superlatives. It also makes incredibly moist and tender chicken, with the results about as close to perfectly roasted chicken as one could hope. The tater tots and onion rings are crispy, but its results in our sweet potato fry and donut tests are somewhat lacking.
Our tests prove that non-dedicated air fryers can also produce great air frying results, as both the Ninja Foodi Deluxe (pressure cooker) and the Breville Smart Oven Air (toaster oven) offer solid runner up performances in our cooking metric. The Smart Oven performs well across the board, falling short of earning "best of the best" accolades for everything from chicken to onion rings. The Foodi Deluxe makes excellent onion rings and donuts and adds more crispiness to sweet potato fries than most other machines. However, it struggles a bit with chicken breast, leaving things tasting somewhat dry and overdone.
The Ultrean and the Dash Compact are also worth mentioning. The Ultrean excels in making onion rings, achieving near-perfect results. Donuts and chicken breasts also come out with even cooking and good crisps. However, sweet potato fries and taters tots lack a bit of the crunch that some of the top models can produce.
To assess user-friendliness, we pay attention to a few things: the user interface's intuitiveness; ease of loading, unloading, and shaking the frying basket; and how much each model can adjust to different types of food (essentially, how many cooking settings are offered).
The very simple interface of the Nuwave Brio gives it a leg up in this metric. It also offers one of the widest temperature ranges in our test suite, making it extremely versatile. On top of all that, it comes with 100 presets and the ability to store 50 more of your own.
The Instant Vortex Plus and Plus XL provide a seamless user experience. The control panel is streamlined and intuitive, making selecting a temperature, cooking mode, and cooking time easy. The fry tray slides in and out easily so you can shake items mid-cook with a single hand. The Ninja supplies one of the most intuitive user experiences in our tests, largely thanks to a simple control panel adorned with an easy-to-read LCD screen. A frying basket that can slide in and out using just one hand is the cherry on top.
Several models fall just behind these top performers in our ease of use testing. For the most part, these models offer clear and intuitive interfaces but present one minor annoyance, like a fry basket that offers a bit of resistance when sliding in and out or that requires two hands to handle. This group includes the Ninja Foodi Deluxe XL and Digital Oven, the Instant Vortex Plus with Rotisserie, Breville Smart Oven Air Pro, and the Beautiful by Barrymore.
Most of the models that we tested receive runner-up scores for user-friendliness, like the Ultrean, Cosori, and the Black + Decker. For the most part, these machines offer intuitive user experiences with just one or two minor annoyances.
Ease of Cleaning
There are essentially two cleaning tasks with air fryers: wiping off any bits of food on the fry baskets between batches, so those bits don't become charcoal on the next go around and actually washing the basket and machine when you're done cooking. We completed both of these tasks multiple times for each machine.
The Beautiful by Barrymore and Instant Vortex Plus are top performers in the ease of cleaning metric. The Beautiful is a simple build that is coated in non-stick material and can be taken apart easily, while the Instant Vortex uses a frying tray instead of a basket. This is a unique feature amongst air fryers. The lack of any holes in the tray makes cleaning and scrubbing significantly easier and prevents greasy buildup.
The Black + Decker Purifry and GoWISE USA Digital vary a little in ease of cleaning, but all three perform well because they have fry baskets and inner baskets that shed grease well. The GoWISE, however, has some texture on the inner basket that catches fuzzies from a rag if you mistakenly wipe against the grain. You also have to wait for it to cool because the outer basket does not have a handle. The Purifry offers easy access to the basket for cleaning, and the non-stick material wipes down easily. However, it can start to gunk up and collect more grease if you cook a few batches in a row.
Like many top performers, the Amazon Basics 3.2 Quart and Ultrean are simple designs that come apart easily and are coated in non-stick material.
When frying foods with minimal oil and convection heating, as these devices do, a temperature that is 10-20˚F too low can make the food taste chewy rather than crispy. Conversely, just 10-20˚F too hot can push beyond crispy and into the burnt territory. To test temperature accuracy, we give each model 20 minutes to preheat to 300˚, then check the temperature using three calibrated oven thermometers. We then up the temperature to settings to 350˚, 375˚, and 400˚, with five minutes allotted to settle in at each new temperature. Then we recheck the thermometers. The closer each model gets to the set temperature, the higher the score.
The Instant Vortex Plus turns in a precise performance in our temperature accuracy tests, never deviating more than a degree or two from the set temperature. Its close relative, the Plus XL, also operates within a few degrees of the claimed temperature.
The Ninja Foodi Deluxe XL and GoWISE USA Digital score nearly perfect in this category. We were surprised at how many of the less expensive models didn't actually reach their claimed maximum temperature, but the affordable GoWISE easily reaches its max temperature of 400˚, though there was a small amount of variance at the lower temps.
Outside of the Ninja models, most of these appliances were at least somewhat inaccurate. The best of the rest was the Black + Decker Purifry. It runs about 20˚ hot at lower temperatures, though anything 350˚ and above is fairly locked in.
The Beautiful by Drew Barrymore is another model that offers accurate temps. Of the four different temperatures we test, the Beautiful is only off by a few degrees on one of them.
If you plan to air fry occasionally, we think it's worth purchasing one of these appliances. The quick heat-up times and ease of cleaning are excellent pros that will make a big difference for frequent users. An air fryer is also a great appliance to utilize in the summer, as using it won't heat up your house like an oven might. Keep in mind that a slightly less efficient but much more versatile toaster oven that includes a convection or air fry setting might be a better fit for your kitchen. Either way, we hope this review has helped guide you toward making a confident purchase decision.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.