The Best Air Fryers, According to the EatingWell Test Kitchen

We put several air fryers through their paces when we recently developed a batch of 30 air-fryer recipes. These three were our favorites.

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Photo: Courtesy of Brand

The craze around air fryers just won't quit—and there are many reasons why. Air fryers use a minimal amount of oil to achieve hot, crispy and delicious food, from chicken to onion rings and so much more, making them healthier alternatives to their deep-fried counterparts. It seems like there's an air-fry function in just about every modern-day appliance—toasters, multifunction countertop cookers and even standard ovens.

We dug deep into what this appliance can do (and cannot do!). Here's everything you need to know to get the most from your air fryer.

How Do Air Fryers Work?

Essentially a mini convection oven, an air fryer has a heating element along with a fan that circulates the hot air around your food. The food goes into the air-fryer basket or on the tray that is placed inside the appliance. Because the basket or tray are suspended and accessible to heat from all sides, this results in a crispy texture similar to deep frying. And because the appliance is relatively small, it doesn't take long to preheat or to cook food.

About the Oil

Most air fryers don't require oil to work, but using cooking spray or tossing your food with a teaspoon or two of oil before air-frying will improve the texture and flavor. If you use more than a tablespoon, however, you risk drips that can smoke. Here's what you need to know about using oil with your air fryer.

  • A neutral-tasting oil with a high smoke point, such as vegetable, grapeseed or canola oil, is best. Beware of extra-virgin olive oil. Its low smoke point and an air fryer's high temps can spell trouble. If using EVOO, make sure your air fryer's temperature isn't much above 350°F.
  • Coat or spray low-fat foods like lean meats (such as skinless chicken), potatoes and vegetables with cooking spray or oil right before cooking.
  • For foods coated with flour, breadcrumbs or other dry coating, coat with cooking spray or mist with oil immediately before cooking.
  • Some recipes call for lightly coating the basket to keep food from sticking, but cooking spray could damage a fryer's nonstick surface over time. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Naturally fatty foods, such as red meat or skin-on poultry, likely don't need additional oil. Let the recipe be your guide.

Health Matters

There's a clear winner when it comes to deep-frying and air-frying (hint: it's air-frying!). Air-frying significantly decreases the amount of oil absorbed by foods, reducing calories (a teaspoon of oil has 40) and saturated fat, and thus potentially contributing to decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.

The little bit of oil you do add when air-frying helps brown and caramelize everything for extra-crispy and delicious results. In addition, using less oil helps minimize the inflammatory compounds that can be produced when cooking oil is heated. Fewer inflammatory compounds in the food we eat may translate to a reduced risk of some chronic diseases.

Choosing an Air Fryer

There are so many different models out there that it can be overwhelming to choose. Keep these points in mind when shopping:

  • Size: "When buying an air fryer, the biggest factor to consider is size. Make sure the basket is large enough for your serving needs, whether you're cooking dinner for one or a family of four," says Alex Loh, EatingWell's associate food editor. "Air fryers can also take up lots of counter space, so consider buying one that's multifunctional to make the most of precious storage."
  • Features and Price: There isn't much difference among air fryers in terms of how well they cook. But the options and features do differ (and can bump up the price). Less-expensive models often have dials for temperature and cooking time. Higher-end models have digital displays and presets that allow you to choose precise temps and times.
  • Space: If you don't have much space, a countertop toaster oven with an air-fry setting is a good option. If portability is a priority, look for a model that's lighter and easier to transport.

To help you find the best air fryer, we tested five different air fryers as we developed a batch of 30 air-fryer recipes. Spacious design, multipurpose functions and simplicity for the standard household were all considered, so here are our three favorites that are worth the cabinet space. And once you choose your favorite, start making our Healthy Air-Fryer Recipes, ranging from Air-Fryer Crab Rangoon to Air-Fryer Buffalo Wings!

Cuisinart AirFryer Toaster Oven

Cuisinart Airfryer
Courtesy of Brand

This 1,800-watt combo toaster oven and air fryer also has five other functions: convection bake, convection broil, bake, broil and warm. It has simple, intuitive dials, and the crumb tray slides out for easy cleaning. It can air-fry up to 3 pounds in one batch, and its spacious 0.6-cubic-foot interior is large enough to toast six slices of bread at once. Other features include a nonstick interior for easy cleanup, an adjustable thermostat and a whisper-quiet operation, making it friendly to use any time of the day.

We liked that the air-fry basket is big enough to fit four portions of eggplant Parm, french fries or even a small chicken (yes, you can even use an air fryer to cook a whole chicken!). In fact, this is the model some of us in the Test Kitchen use in our very own homes.

Buy it: Cuisinart, $230

Instant Vortex Plus 6-Quart ClearCook Air Fryer

Instant Airfryer
Courtesy of Brand

At first glance, this looks like any other traditional basket-style air fryer, but this one boasts a large edge-to-edge window, which means you can keep an eye on your food as it cooks without opening the basket and losing heat. Its multipurpose 6-in-1 design allows you to air-fry, roast, broil, bake, reheat or dehydrate. With space for six servings and built-in safety features like auto-off and protection from overheating, this air fryer is perfect for growing families. The cleanup process will be especially easy, as a dishwasher-safe nonstick cooking basket and cooking trays are included.

It also comes with OdorErase technology—replaceable filters that zap unwanted odors, a huge plus when we tested (over and over) Air-Fryer Beer-Battered Fish.

Buy it: Instant, $130

Ninja Foodi 6-in-1 10 Quart XL 2-Basket Air Fryer

Ninja Airfryer
Courtesy of Brand

One of the biggest drawbacks with many air fryers is there's only enough space for two servings, so you'll often need to work in batches. The Ninja Foodi's answer to that is this double-basket fryer. You can use them for a four-serving recipe, and each basket can also cook at different temperatures, and even different functions, like broil, roast, reheat or even dehydrate. This makes it ideal for dinner, since you can whip up a main dish and a side at the same time. Promising frozen-to-crispy meals in 30 minutes, the Ninja Foodi air fryer is practical with its roomy compartments, easy-to-clean baskets and dishwasher-safe crisper plates and its wide temperature range.

Though it takes up a lot of counter space, its sleek design makes you want to keep it on display. We appreciate that we can cook dinner for a family of four fast (another plus: in our tests there was no extra time to preheat!). Try it out by making Air-Fryer Cod with Air-Fryer Zucchini Fritters.

Buy it: Ninja, $230

Updated by
Danielle DeAngelis
portrait of Dani

Danielle DeAngelis is a rising journalist and current Fellow for Through her previous experiences as a news writer, she has focused on covering sustainability and human interest stories. Her passions of reading, writing and eating local all guide her in her position at EatingWell.

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