You are thinking about purchasing an air fryer. But which one should you get? What options do you need, and which ones would you never use? What size air fryer is the best fit for your family? And how much do you need to spend – can you afford one on a budget? Can an air fryer replace an oven?
Questions abound, and the sheer number of makes and models available can make the decision-making process seem impossible. Currently, there are over 100 air fryer models available, spread across more than 20 brands. But you don’t have to examine them all to find the right fit.
Consider this helpful guide – we’ve done the research for you. We’ll examine reasons why you might consider purchasing an air fryer, air fryer types and sizes, branding and prices, as well as accessories you may need. Our mission: to help you make an informed purchase that you can be proud of.
Why Buy an Air Fryer?
Air fryers are all the rage, but are they worth the hype? Consider the following reasons why an air fryer might be right for you.
- Speed of cooking – the air fryer’s small convection oven preheats and cooks more quickly than a conventional oven. You’ll have tasty meals in haste, with less wait!
- Healthy cooking – everyone loves the taste of deep-fried foods, but many people must avoid these for health reasons. If you’re looking to lower cholesterol or lose weight, your doctor may thank you for using an air fryer. Air fryers use around 75 percent less oil than deep fryers, providing a healthy alternative without sacrificing flavor.
- Green cooking – have you “gone green?” Cooking with an air fryer can help. Most air fryers are energy efficient, and shorter cook times translate to less overall power usage.
- Simple and easy – Air fryers utilize simple controls, typically two knobs for cook time and temperature, or an easy to read digital display. You simply toss the food in oil (if desired), place it in the basket, and the air fryer does the rest.
- Clean up is a breeze – the baskets and pans of most air fryers are dishwasher safe for easy clean up. Also, the enclosed nature of the air fryer prevents the splatters and spills associated with deep frying and pan frying.
- Safe – Lacking the large oil vats of traditional deep fryers, air fryers eliminate the risk of serious burns from spilled oil. Also, air fryers are designed so that the exterior does not become dangerously hot to the touch.
Types of Air Fryers
Since becoming available to commercial consumers circa 1990, a number of air fryer types have graced the market. These include basket, oven, paddle, and halogen air fryers, as well as so-called “multi cookers” and counter top convection ovens. What is the difference between each type, and which type is right for you? Consider the following.
Basket Type Air Fryers
Basket type air fryers are by far the most popular on the market. Their applications and features make them well suited to everyday use in cooking at home.
How do these air fryers work? While there are differences from model to model, air fryers act as a small convection oven. An upper heating element heats the air, and a fan moves the air around in imitation of the convection currents of oil within a deep fryer. The air fryer is controlled either by manual knobs or using a digital display. Some models have presets of time and temperature for specific foods.
Cooking with a basket style air fryer is a bit more hands-on than when using some other models. Some foods will require a toss with oil before transferring to the fryer. Some foods will need to be turned one or more times during the cooking process to ensure even browning and crispiness. The basket’s handle allows for easy tossing.
Basket style air fryers are ideal for making “real” fried foods, those that are dipped in batter prior to cooking – onion rings, fried tomatoes, or chicken wings, anyone?
When using the basket alone, only solid foods (no liquids or sauces) may be prepared in the air fryer. However, accessories – such as small cooking pans – are available to fit some models that allow you to prepare “runnier” or “juicier” dishes, such as small cakes or lasagnas.
Basket type fryers typically represent the most affordable models. Because they have few moving parts, basket type fryers are reputed to have a longer life span than some other models.
Oven Type Air Fryers
Oven style air fryers are a relatively new design, and as such can be difficult to find. Like other models, the fryer circulates air heated by an element. The difference is in the design of the cooking surface.
Rather than utilizing a basket or pan as do other fryers, oven style air fryers have a number of horizontal racks, just like a traditional oven. The advantage of this is that different types of food can be cooked simultaneously on the various racks. For example, you could place chicken strips on one rack, tater tots on another, and roast corn on still another.
A number of accessories can be used with this type of air fryer, including small baking dishes and kabob skewers. Uniquely, a rotisserie spit is also available to cook small chickens or other carved meats.
Paddle Type Air Fryers
First released in 2006, the paddle design is sometimes considered the “original” air fryer. Paddle type fryers contain a rotating paddle that stirs and turns the food while it cooks. Oil is added to the cooking pan, eliminating the need to toss the food in oil prior to cooking. Paddle type fryers can be used to prepare saucy or liquid infused dishes as well, such as sauced pastas.
However, the paddle design also presents limitations to use. The rotating paddle may strip the batter coating from some fried foods.
Paddle type air fryers are typically more expensive than other styles.
Halogen Air Fryers
Halogen air fryers differ from standard basket types in the type of heat source used. While most air fryers possess a heating element similar to that of a conventional oven, halogen models rely on halogen bulbs instead. This is reminiscent of the heat source in the classic Easy Bake Ovens for children.
The use of halogen bulbs is a major drawback in some such models; the bulb may be hard-wired into the fryer, preventing replacement of a spent bulb. In this case, the entire appliance must be replaced.
Due to this defect, and to a lack of interest from consumers, the air fryers you find at your local retailer are not likely to be of this type.
Advertised as the appliance that can do it all, multi cookers purported to “grill, bake, steam, saute, pan fry, stew, stir fry, slow cook, roast or make sauces.” Like the paddle style fryers, multi cookers feature a paddle or stirring wand, and air is circulated.
Because this device is not a dedicated air fryer, however, do not expect the same crispy results. Consumer reviews note a number of design flaws across models, and only time will tell whether this appliance will improve to become the air fryer of choice.
Counter Top Convection Ovens
Technically an air fryer in design, counter top convection ovens can be used for a range of cooking and heating purposes, such as steaming, baking, roasting, grilling, and dehydrating. Some are designed to stir or turn the food while cooking, similar to the paddle style fryer.
The primary difference is in the appearance of these ovens. Rather than being compact and self contained, as are basket air fryers, the counter top convection ovens typically consist of a transparent bowl with a lid, a stand, and an upper heating and control device.
These ovens are less generally expensive than some other models, but also are reputed to have shorter life spans. Many use halogen bulbs for heating, eliciting the same complaints as with halogen air fryers. Another downside is that the glass cooking bowls become very hot; these must be handled with oven mitts to avoid burns.
What Size Air Fryer Should You Purchase?
Should you exercise restraint and opt for a small, affordable air fryer, or is it go big or go home? How can you tell how much food a particular air fryer can handle? And how do measurements in quarts compare to measurements in liters? Read on to find out.
Generally, North American consumers think of food volume in terms of standard measurements, such as quarts. It can be very confusing when product manufacturers use metric measurements, such as liters. A good rule of thumb is, a quart and a liter are roughly equal. If you want to get technical, a liter is about 1.1 quart.
What does this mean for you? How many liters will feed your family? Small air fryers of 2 to 3 quarts are generally recommended for feeding individuals or groups of up to 3 people. Large air fryers have capacities of 5 to 6 quarts, and are recommended for groups of 2 to 4 people.
The largest air fryers have capacities of more than eight quarts, and can easily sate the hunger of large groups of people.
So, what size is best for you? While working within your price range, remember that bigger is always better. Why? Because even the largest of air fryers can cook a single serving. Even if just one or two people will use the air fryer on average, expanded capacities are good for entertaining.
How Much Will My Air Fryer Cost?
Air fryers are available to fit nearly every budget. Small air fryers typically range in price from $59.00 to $129.00 – sometimes even less. Large air fryers typically cost between $89.00 and $159.00.
Do you have your eye on an upscale model, such as the Philips AirFryer? Depending on the size and retailer, this model ranges in price from around $150.00 to $399.00. Is owning a Philips AirFryer worth the extra cost? We tend to think so. Why?
The Philips AirFryer sports the highest available wattage, allowing for intense temperatures up to 390 degrees Fahrenheit. The patented “starfish” design on the bottom of the fry basket is said to aid in air circulation. This helps the food to cook more evenly, avoiding burnt outer edges and under cooked centers.
The Philips AirFryer is also superior in terms of accessories. The baskets are replaceable, and multiple accessories are available direct from the manufacturer. This ensures a better fit than purchasing universal accessory kits for your air fryer.
The product comes with a manufacturer warranty, even though it is one of the most reliable air fryers on the market. In fact, many users report a product life of five years or more.
Factors to Consider When Buying an Air Fryer
Size and Capacity. Are you feeding two people, or twenty? Small air fryers are recommended for three people or less, while large models are better for preparing multiple servings. Bigger is better – if you have a large air fryer, you can still cook just one or two servings. In fact, extra space in the basket can aid in crisp cooking and in flipping the food during cooking.
Digital or Manual Controls. Should you spring for an air fryer with a fancy digital display? With either style of controls, you will be able to set the temperature and cook time; some manual models even offer presets.
What advantages are there to digital displays? Large lighted displays are easier to see, even without your glasses. Digital controls usually offer more options, such as pre-programmed cooking for specific foods, or “favorites” options that allow the machine to remember times and temperatures for foods you cook often.
Basket Style. Different models offer different accessory options, such as replacing the basket with a pan, rack, or skewers. A few models are known for easier one-touch removal of the basket and drip pan. And, if you are adamantly against shaking the basket to turn the food yourself, air fryers with an internal paddle are good options for “fix it and forget it” style cooking.
Wattage. Lower wattage models use slightly less electricity, while higher wattage models may cook more efficiently.
Warranty. Especially if purchasing an air fryer known to have a short life span, such as a halogen air fryer or counter top convection oven, be sure to opt for an extended warranty. No matter which model you purchase, be sure it offers a warranty of at least 1 year.
Extra Accessories. If you only plan on preparing French fries in your air fryer, accessories may not be a big deal. But if you have a streak of gourmet, accessories can open up a whole new world of cooking possibilities.
Universal accessory kits work with most, but not all, air fryers. Other small, oven safe baking dishes may also be used. If accessories are important to you, however, purchase a model that offers accessory kits directly from the manufacturer. These will have a better fit.
Common air fryer accessories include additional baskets, baking dishes, spring form pans, dividers, racks, and skewers. At least one model can be fitted with a rotisserie attachment.
Beware of Generics
Everyone wants a piece of the air fryer pie – pardon the pun. There are unscrupulous companies out there who offer inferior products, untested and constructed of lightweight materials.
While such air fryers may look like a bargain, the product itself may not last long. You may be able to identify such a product by a large number of negative product reviews. If most of the reviews say that the appliance worked for only a few days, weeks, or months, or if it does not offer a warranty, that air fryer may be a dud.
Do your research. If you’ve never heard of a certain “generic” brand, look it up. If you can’t find adequate information about the company and the quality of their products, opt for a brand you already trust.
Most Popular Brands
Philips released the consumer basket air fryer in 2010. It is still considered one of the best brands on the market.
Tristar is the original “as seen on TV” air fryer, the producers of the Power AirFryer Oven.
T-fal released the first ever consumer air fryer – a paddle style model – in 2006.
NuWave, GoWise USA, and Cooks Essential each produce affordable air fryers with a variety of options, including digital or manual controls.
Cheap Versus Expensive Air Fryers
Are you saving your pennies for an air fryer? If so, how many pennies do you need to save?
The truth is, you don’t have to have the most expensive air fryer to get the job done. One example is the 3.2 quart low noise air fryer produced by Stove & Brick. At just $69.99, this air fryer is on the low end of the price spectrum. Yet, it offers a large, colorful digital display, a dishwasher safe basket and drip pan, a square design that allows for more capacity in a small package, and a good warranty. And, it will cook your food just like the big guys.
The bottom line: you can cook outstanding, crispy, juicy meals with either expensive or affordable air fryers. Simply choose the best air fryer available within the bounds of your budget.
Should You Choose Digital or Manual?
Whether you select an air fryer with digital or manual controls is simply a matter of personal preference. Either design will allow you to set the temperature and cook time. One advantage of digital displays are the pre-programmed cook times and memory features. However, some manual air fryers sport these as well.
Air Fryer Accessories You May Need
Common accessories include:
- An oil sprayer – used to lightly coat fresh meats and vegetables with olive, peanut, avocado, or other cooking oils. This misting technique uses less oil than tossing the food in a large amount of oil, then draining.
- A Universal accessory kit – allows you more versatility in the use of your air fryer. Universal kits are designed to fit many brands of air fryers; opt for the kit provided by your product manufacturer, if available. Typical kits include deep cake pans, shallow pizza pans, multi purpose cooking racks, kabob skewers, and silicone heat mats.
- Parchment paper – prevents food from sticking. You can either acquire rolls of parchment and cut it to size, or purchase pre-cut circles of parchment meant for use in air fryers. These mats typically have holes punched in them to accommodate air circulation.
Favorite Recipe Books
If you are new to the air frying community, you will likely welcome a few tried and tested recipes to help you get started. Here are a few of our favorites.
- Air Fry Everything: Foolproof Recipes for Fried Favorites and Easy Fresh Ideas by “the Blue Jean Chef” Meredith Laurence (2016). Would you like to have restaurant quality fried foods at home? This cookbook is filled with over 130 recipes for such delectable favorites as blooming onions, salmon, steak, cheeseburgers, beer battered onion rings, and egg rolls.
- The Complete Air Fryer Cookbook: Amazingly Easy Recipes to Fry, Bake, Grill and Roast With Your Air Fryer by Linda Larsen (2016). How do “mixed berry muffins for breakfast, tuna zucchini melts for lunch, or spicy thai beef stir-fry for dinner” sound to you? This book includes over 100 recipes that both adults – and their kids – will love.
- Air Fry Genius: 100+ New Recipes for Every Air Fryer by “the Blue Jean Chef” Meredith Laurence (2017). If you enjoyed Laurence’s first air frying cookbook, this is the sequel for you. With beginner recipes and expert tips for long time air fryers, this book includes over 100 recipes for snacks, appetizers, breads, breakfast entrees, meats, seafood, vegetarian dishes, and desserts.
- The Vegan Air Fryer: The Healthier Way to Enjoy Deep-Fried Flavors by J.L.
Fields (2017). Many air fryer recipes are focused around chicken, pork, and steak, but this new cookbook allows health conscious vegans and vegetarians to rejoice. Each of the 80 recipes has been individually tested by the author to help you quickly and simply enjoy your plant based diet.
New Air Fryers
One of the hottest air fryer advances of 2017 is the Power AirFryer Oven. This large air fryer has a unique cooking cavity that is designed to accept a number of exclusive accessories. A highlight of this oven is the ability to roast a small chicken, a turkey breast, or other cuts of meat on a rotating spit. Three oven racks allow you to bake or air fry three different foods at once, and make using additional tools, such as muffin tins, a breeze.
The Power AirFryer Oven includes 3 air flow racks, 10 stainless steel skewers, a rotating mesh basket, a rotating rotisserie spit, an oil drip tray, 3 different recipe books, and grocery coupons.
The Dash Compact Personal Air Fryer is the perfect air frying solution for individuals. One of the smallest models on the market, this compact air fryer has a capacity of 1.2 liters. It has a smaller footprint than many of its peers, making it a great space-saving fit for any dorm room or efficiency apartment.
This model is designed to complement any kitchen decor. It comes in four vivid colors, including black, white, red, and aqua.
Recommended Air Fryers
What air fryers on the market today are the absolute best in terms of value, user reviews, and overall efficiency? Consider this the Academy Awards of air fryers. And the winners are…
If you are looking for the best bang for your buck, the Stove & Brick 3.2 quart low noise air fryer can’t be beat. It features a large digital display.
Best of the Best
The Philips XL Airfryer gets the award for all around best product. It’s big, it’s powerful, it has a comprehensive warranty, and it is reputed to be among the most reliable on the market.
There are definitely a lot of air fryers out there. No matter which model you pick, you’ll have crunchy French fries, but we hope that this guide has given you the confidence to make an informed decision.