I used to be an air-fryer skeptic, believing them to be unnecessary, flashy appliances that were meant to make healthier versions of French fries, mozzarella sticks, and wings — and not useful for much else. But now, many interviews for this piece later, I finally understand their appeal.
Yes, the classic snack-y, crunchy foods were what people talked about most when air fryers started rising in popularity several years ago (“It’s akin to deep-frying without all the oil” is basically what I heard over and over again). But it turns out they also work magic on vegetables, proteins, baked goods, and, yes, toast. This is because they’re essentially small convection ovens, meaning they have a fan-and-exhaust system that blows hot air all around your food for more even cooking and browning (this is why professional bakeries use industrial convection ovens). It works just as well whether you’re making breaded onion rings from the freezer or roasting broccoli. And while some are lucky enough to have a convection setting on their full-size oven, many don’t. Besides, with an air fryer, you’re taking “that quality and putting it in a really small contraption, which magnifies it times ten,” explains Ben Mims, a Los Angeles Times cooking columnist and the author of a cookbook devoted to the appliance.
Air fryers can also be incredibly convenient. They cook foods way faster than a regular oven, with very minimal preheating time (if any at all), which is beneficial if you’re in a rush to eat, live in a small space and don’t want to make your kitchen unbearably warm, or need to reheat leftovers without a fuss. Air fryers are a breeze to wipe down after each use so you don’t end up with an eventual, terrible deep-cleaning project (as happens with your standard oven). And some come with more than one function so it’s easier to rationalize giving up the kitchen real estate (more on that below).
I’ve spent some time now comparing air fryers to standard ovens, and some of the people I spoke to really do use the former with much more regularity than the latter. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way to justify buying one. As Mims said to me, “I use it as a kitchen helper. I was never onboard with the air fryer fully replacing everything in your kitchen. I think of it as similar to the Instant Pot. You either take to it or you don’t (I have friends who love it, whereas I prefer to braise in a pot in the oven for four hours). It’s just about if it fits your cooking lifestyle.”
If you do in fact think an air fryer might work with yours, read on for recommendations from Mims and a handful of other experts.
Best overall | Best smaller | Best multifunctional | Best less expensive multifunctional | Best combination pressure cooker and air fryer | Best for kids
Single- or multifunctional: Perhaps the most important matter to decide on is whether you want an air fryer that is just an air fryer or one that also does … a lot of other things. Some on this list are one-trick ponies, while others have settings that allow you to broil, dehydrate, proof, and more.
Capacity: How you intend to use your air fryer should, of course, affect what size you buy. Are you planning to use it mostly for yourself to bake off the occasional single cookie or to reheat leftovers? Or is the idea to use it for regular family dinners? For this category, I’ve listed the capacity of each model. But it should be noted: Basket-style air fryers (the majority here) are measured in terms of how many quarts they hold, while ones with rack inserts (meaning they look more like toaster ovens) are measured in terms of their interior cubic inches.
Single-function | 5.8 quarts
The Cosori comes recommended by two women who have “lost count” of how many air fryers they’ve tried. Both Jennifer West and Rebecca Abbott, the writers and recipe developers behind Air Frying Foodie, turn to this one more than any other. (Fun fact: It’s also the model Vanderpump Rules star Lala Kent recently raved about to us).
“I’ve been using it for a couple of years now,” West says, “cooking for four to six people on the regular. I use it so often that I really know the way it cooks.” Abbott, who mostly makes food for herself and her husband, still finds that it’s the perfect size. “I don’t think I’ve come across something you can’t fit in the basket,” she says. “It has great presets for cake, meat, and fish. Also, the directions are very clear and easy. Some air fryers stress me out. You’re trying to set time and temperatures, and there are too many buttons — and I’m someone who air-fries every day.” Both experts say that they can imagine wanting an appliance with additional settings for something like RV living, but that they find the Cosori to be all they need for their day-to-day lives. “It does everything you want an air fryer to do,” says Abbott.
Single-function | 3.7 quarts
Mims has for years used and loved his Crux, which he discovered when he was testing all sorts of kitchen gadgets for Buzzfeed’s Tasty before air-frying became a phenomenon. (In fact, his is an older model the company no longer makes; the one listed here is its updated version.) “It cooks as great as can be,” he told me. “Still to this day, I use it at least once a week, if not more, mostly to roast veggies. A lot of them require you to preheat, but the Crux does not. I don’t own a dishwasher, and it’s really easy to clean. The basket pulls right out, it unclips, and you can rinse and wipe it out. Others have racks built in that can make cleaning a little more difficult. It’s the Goldilocks size, enough for me and one other person, which is perfect.”
For another recommended appliance about the same size, Gracie Bensimon of Gracie Baked ended up with the Ultrean Air Fryer because her roommate had one — but has now become a full-blown devotee herself. She calls using it “shockingly easy,” and waxed poetic to me about how it makes the best toast and cookies ever.
Multifunctional | 1 cubic foot
The Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro boasts 13 preset functions: toast, bagel, bake, roast, broil, pizza, cookies, proof, air fry, dehydrate, reheat, warm, and slow cook. You can toast nine pieces of bread at a time, roast a 14-pound turkey, and fit a five-quart Dutch oven inside. In other words, it’s really not fooling around.
Food writer and editor Alyse Whitney has been using hers for the last three years, and used Breville’s previous similar model for eight years before that. “This is like my ride-or-die appliance,” she says. “It is what will be buried with me.” It’s big, and not everyone has the counter space for that. But if you do, Whitney can’t recommend it enough. “I use this as my oven six out of seven days of the week,” she says. “And I use it as my second oven when I’m hosting a party. Two quarter sheet pans fit nicely in there because it has two levels. The basket ones seem simple, but also limiting. I love how many things this one does. Also, it has a clear window, so I can see what’s happening” As for the more difficult cleanup that Mims mentioned about racks? Whitney has a solution: “I put a piece of aluminum foil underneath.”
Multifunctional | 0.6 cubic feet
The Cuisinart is a slightly smaller (12” x 16” x 14” instead of 21” x 17” x 12”) machine with seven preset functions: air fryer, convection bake, convection broil, bake, broil, warm, and toast. Mims says that if you want an air fryer that can do more than just air fry, this one “does as good of a job as the Crux at cooking.” Like the Breville, it comes with a tray and a basket insert, though it will only hold one level at a time.
Multifunctional | 8 quarts
In fact, the Instant Pot Duo has 11 preset functions — but it’s the only one on this list that pressure cooks in addition to air frying. “For a long time, I was one of the most outspoken and vehement critics of air fryers,” says Courtney Kassel, co-founder and co-writer of the newsletter Sifted. “But after moving in with an air fryer-owning friend, I’m well on my way to converted. In our apartment, as is the case with many, using the oven takes more effort than a simple switch, and can often be unreliable both in preheating time and temperature. Our trusty air fryer, however, preheats in minutes and I’d argue outperforms the oven for various tasks: evenly roasted vegetables, cooking proteins quickly, or just generally existing on TikTok in 2022. Additionally, ours happens to be a combination air-fryer-Instant Pot, meaning I can further justify the space it eats up in our limited kitchen storage and it’s a lifesaver on nights when the ’What’s for dinner?’ conversation doesn’t even kick off until 7 p.m.”
Single-function | 2 quarts
Abbott originally bought the Dash Compact Air Fryer for herself and her husband, but it turned out the basket is too small for their needs. Instead, she says, her grandson has somewhat adopted it. “He calls it his,” she told me, “and knows how to use it, with my supervision. There are no fancy buttons — just knobs for temperature. I keep it between 380 and 400 degrees, and then there’s a little egg timer.” With a lower wattage than most others on this list, it takes slightly longer to heat up (but really, we’re talking about a difference of minutes). “We’ll stick a corn dog or chicken nuggets in there,” Abbot says. “Or if we want to bake off a few cookies or biscuits at a time.” Plus, it comes in cute colors, costs $50, and at less than a foot all around, can be easily stored in a cabinet.
• Rebecca Abbott, co-founder of Air Frying Foodie
• Gracie Bensimon, founder of and baker at Gracie Baked
• Courtney Kassel, co-founder and co-writer of Sifted
• Ben Mims, Los Angeles Times cooking columnist and cookbook author
• Jennifer West, co-founder of Air Frying Foodie
• Alyse Whitney, food writer and editor
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