Kids complain about dinner taking an hour, but can we blame them?
The agony of waiting for the oven to preheat on a nightly basis is reason enough to consider an air fryer. An air fryer’s compact size and unique heat bouncing method speed up the cooking process by up to 30 percent compared to a conventional oven.
What is an air fryer and how does it work?
Air frying is essentially glorified convection baking — but faster. Air fryers are outfitted with internal heating elements and high-powered convection fans that work to surround your food in hot air and achieve a crispy, golden result that’s similar to actual frying — without the oil. While your typical deep fryer needs enough oil to completely douse the food, an air fryer barely uses any (like, a tablespoon at most).
Most air fryers elevate food off the bottom of the device using a perforated tray, which allows for maximum hot air circulation. The overhead air bounces off of the bottom and back up across the underside of the food, quickly evaporating moisture and achieving a balanced, golden-browning in just minutes. The circulating heat in itself sets air fryers apart from a regular oven.
You might wonder how air fryers function any differently than convection toaster ovens, and the fact is that they’re pretty much the same. Some air fryers do offer higher temperatures and faster convection speeds to get food crispier faster.
One difference that does affect overall performance though, is size. Basket-style air fryers are smaller and rounder than your typical toaster oven shape, making them able to concentrate a high amount of bouncing heat onto a smaller area, meaning that your food will get crisp faster. Air fryers come in toaster-oven shapes too, which can still achieve max-crunch levels, but might take longer to preheat and cook than a basket-style fryer.
Whether you even consider air frying to be “frying” with the absence of hot fat or oil is up to you, but it does technically jumpstart the Maillard reaction — the phenomenon that gives browned or blackened foods that signature taste and texture. And many air fryer users don’t even use it for frying. They’re perfect for roasting summer veggies without heating up your kitchen, for example.
Is air-fried food actually healthy?
Taking the guilt out of guilty pleasure snacks is probably a main reason you’re looking to buy an air fryer. But let’s all take a moment to accept that an air fryer isn’t a magic wand that automatically turns french fries into carrot fries.
We will say that air frying is health-ier than deep frying. Manufacturers claim that air frying can reduce calorie intake by up to 80 percent — so yes, air frying is a better preparation alternative than drowning battered snacks in fat or oil. But let’s be real: The “fried food without the guilt” comparison only makes sense when compared to a legitimate deep fryer. If you’re using an air fryer as an oven replacement, remember that the amount of oil used won’t change much.
Oddly enough, though, air fryers could be the ticket to getting those greens in. Put a crispy twist on your Brussels sprouts or cauliflower wings by chucking them into the air fryer with some seasonings and a drizzle of olive oil. It’s an easy way to spice up a straightforward side dish, and could teach picky eaters that they don’t always have to run for cover when the veggies come out.
Which air fryers are best?
The pull-out basket is the shape often associated with the air fryer’s rise to fame. Oven-shaped air fryers typically afford more features outside of air frying (like broiling, baking, and dehydrating) due to the large, flat cooking space. Because they’re larger, cook times may be longer than the drawer design — but both will still kick your conventional oven’s ass.
The amount of food on the menu is a quick way to narrow your air fryer contenders. Couples or folks cooking for one could get away with a capacity as small as 4 quarts, especially if countertop space is a deciding factor. Families of four or a group of roommates should probably expand to at least 5.8 quarts, while hitting 10 quarts (or more, if you have the room) provides ample space for full households or entertaining enthusiasts who like to offer a variety of appetizers.
So, here’s what you need to know about the best air fryers of 2022 — we’ll keep it simple so your brain doesn’t get too fried.
Credit: Mashable photo composite/Magic Bullet
- Capacity: 2.5 quarts
- Extra functions: None
Not everyone wants an air fryer to replace their entire kitchen. For folks who would rather pass on gimmicky extra features, the Magic Bullet air fryer is about as straightforward as it gets — and it’s budget-friendly.
This air fryer is a compact choice. At 2.5 quarts, it’s best for feeding one to two people at a time. For larger groups, you’ll have to work in batches (which is also fine, since it cooks insanely fast). It heats food evenly with minimal hotspots, and is ideal for cooking frozen foods or reheating day-old leftovers to give them a second life.
The only real downside of this air fryer is the dial control, which is difficult to turn counter-clockwise, and isn’t the most accurate when it comes to timing.
Want to read more about the Magic Bullet Air Fryer? Check out our full review.
Best For Rotisserie
Credit: mashable photo composite
- Capacity: 10 quarts
- Extra functions: Roast, broil, bake, reheat, dehydrate, rotate
Instant Pot’s first deviation from the soup and pulled pork realm was the Instant Vortex Plus: An air fryer and toaster oven hybrid that’s just as versatile as its pressure cooking siblings. Its large 10-quart capacity is square-shaped and saves seven inches of space width-wise compared to Ninja’s similar model.
Functions like broiling, roasting, and dehydrating aren’t novel in air frying ovens that ditch the pull-out basket, but the Vortex Plus stands out with the space for a rotisserie basket that spins itself. Swap the trays out for a rotating cage to roast a whole chicken, toss wings, or make golden-brown fries without pausing to flip.
While this air fryer retails for $149.99, we see it discounted on Amazon pretty regularly to sub-$100.
Best For Two People
Credit: mashable photo composite
- Capacity: 4 quarts
- Extra functions: Roast, reheat, dehydrate
Ninja’s air fryer emerged as one of the best when air fryers first became a thing, and it’s still a solid choice today. The interface is modern without being overly spaceship dashboard-y, while the 4-quart capacity saves space without limiting each batch to a single baked potato.
Ninja’s classic fryer tackles far more menu items than its simplicity gives away. The press of a labeled button switches the method from air fry to roast, reheat, or dehydrate, and you’ll be able to set the temperature and time using the on-screen buttons. This model retails for $129.99, but we see it discounted to under $100 pretty frequently.
Best for teaching you to cook
- Capacity: 9-Slice Toaster, 13″ Pizza, 9″x 13″ baking pan, 12-cup muffin tray, 14-lb turkey
- Extra features: Smart app functionality, plus dedicated settings for toast, bagel, bake, air fry, broil, roast, pizza, cookies, proof, reheat, slow cook, keep warm, dehydrate
Whether you need help churning out fast weeknight meals or you just need to brush up on your cooking skills, the Breville Joule Oven is the kitchen gadget for you. It features a compatible smartphone app loaded with recipes and videos from top creators and food publications, plus smart functionality that can adjust your oven settings based on the recipe you pick. Just a heads up — you’ll need a good WiFi connection to use the smart settings.
Aside from the genius recipe formatting and instructional videos in the app, the Breville Joule Oven also features 13 different cooking settings, even heating, and a whole host of accessories. The only downside is that the accessories shouldn’t go in the dishwasher, and the oven itself is difficult to clean.
Read our full review of the Breville Joule Oven for more info.
Best Air Fryer/pressure Cooker Combo
Credit: mashable photo composite
- Capcity: 6.5 quarts
- Extra functions: Pressure cook, broil, bake, roast, steam, sauté, dehydrate, yogurt
The Instant Pot took the foodie world by storm with its ability to perform numerous appliance duties in a single machine — the only thing it couldn’t do was air fry. Ninja saw that as an obvious way in. Instant Pot has gotten its foot in the air fryer game now, but the Foodi is hard to catch.
The pressure cooking and the air frying are done in two different compartments for max precision. 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 cooking 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.
While this model is pricey at $249.99, we see it on sale at Amazon(opens in a new tab) between $160 and $180 pretty regularly, so wait for a price drop before you buy.
Best Kitchen Upgrade
Credit: mashable photo composite/Breville
- Capacity: 0.8 cubic feet
- Extra functions: Toast, bagel, bake, roast, broil, pizza, cookies, air fry, reheat, warm and slow cook
Our deepest apologies to your conventional oven and every other small appliance in your home, because the Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer will basically render them useless. This large capacity air fryer is perfect for families, and the most versatile on this list with 11 different functions.
The Smart Oven Air Fryer gives superior temperature control, thanks to smart Element IQ heating, and comes decked out with five different quartz heating elements, a high-tech LCD screen, and a super convection function for speedy air frying. It’s basically the Ferrari of air fryers and convection ovens.
The only things that are not-so-great about this air fryer are the steep-ish learning curve and the fact that none of the accessories are dishwasher safe.
Need more info on the Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer? Check out our full review.
Best Budget Fryer With A Touchscreen
Credit: mashable photo composite
- Capacity: 5.8 quarts
- Extra functions: Fries, pork, chicken, steak, shrimp, cake, fish, pizza
Touchscreens on appliances can make even the most ’80s kitchens look modern, and you don’t have to pay premium prices for an air fryer with one. The GoWise XL 5.8-quart air fryer features an LCD touchscreen and is probably the most customizable fryer you can get for under $100. While the retail price is technically set at $119.99, this air fryer usually sits between to the $60 to $80 mark.
Frying, baking, grilling, and roasting are all possible here, with eight built-in presets for fries, pork, chicken, steak, shrimp, cake, fish, and pizza. When your ingredients need to be stirred or shaken, the device will warn you in increments of five, 10, or 15 minutes. If you need to change temperature or time (or do a taste test), just use the stop/start button to make changes mid-cook.
Best Mid-Tier Air Fryer Oven
- Capacity: 4 pounds
- Extra functions: Bake, broil, warm, toast
Limited counter space and a limited budget don’t seem like as much of an issue when Cuisinart’s toaster oven nails both. The massive capacity takes care of a full house with 3 pounds of wings, while allowing you to ditch your toaster and massive Thanksgiving roaster.
Its stainless steel exterior blends seamlessly with a modern kitchen, with a minimalistic knob interface keeping cooking simple. Four dials across the top control the timer, temperature, and cooking functions like broiling or roasting.
While the retail price on this model is $229.95, we regularly see it discounted at Amazon for anywhere between $160 and $190.
Leah is a shopping reporter at Mashable, where she covers shopping trends, gift ideas, and products that make life easier. She graduated from Penn State University in 2012 and is watching horror movies or “The Office” when she’s not shopping online herself. You can follow her on Twitter at @notleah.
Jae Thomas is a Mashable Shopping reporter covering kitchen goods, pet products, and fitness gadgets. You’ll probably find them whipping up an elaborate meal, camping, or hanging out with their dog, Miso. Reach out to them on Twitter at @jaetaurina or by email at [email protected]
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