Which Air Fryer Should You Buy? How to Pick Your Perfect Size and Type
Air fryers have been around for a few years now, so everyone is generally accustomed to what these convection oven-like appliances look like and all the tasks they are capable of completing. But suddenly, all kinds of new air fryer options have popped up!
Now, there are whole new categories of air fryers. While the original form remains available, there are air fryer toaster ovens, air fryer Instant Pots, and even dual-drawer air fryers. So the question becomes: Which air fryer is right for you?
Ultimately, the type of air fryer you need is all about what you are going to do with it. Some people with limited kitchen space may be using their air fryer as a replacement oven. It may be their only appliance, so they want it to do a lot.
For others, crisping up fries or chicken wings is the extent of their air fryer need. They have specific recipes in mind, and beyond that, they have other appliances they can use. In that case, a classic air fryer may be all you need; the fancy functions are only necessary if you are going to use them.
What Is an Air Fryer?
As popular as air fryers are, there's still a lot of misconceptions about what they are and what they do. Part of the issue is in the name. "Air fryer" suggests that the appliance is a fryer, but it's not.
Air fryers are most closely related to convection ovens. They circulate super-hot air over and around food, which helps it cook and crisp. So they're great for "fried" foods (though they aren't actually fried), but basically anything that would go in an oven can cook in an air fryer, as well.
Related: How to Use Your Air Fryer
Which Type of Air Fryer Should You Buy?
Both basket-style air fryers and air fryer toaster ovens do the job of air frying really well, so deciding between the two really comes down to counter space.
"Air fryer ovens take up more room, but they are more than just air fryers. They bake, broil, toast, warm, and some even have a rotisserie feature," says Meredith Laurence, also known as the Blue Jean Chef, known for her air fryer recipes and cooking videos. According to Laurence, that gives your counter space more bang for its buck. "Basket-style air fryers don't take up as much room, but they only do one thing and generally can't do as much at one time as an air fryer oven," Laurence adds.
If you're the type of person who likes having a toaster oven, an air fryer toaster oven is for you.
"If you have a tight space and want to maximize that small space, putting a multi-function appliance like an air fryer toaster oven in that space is probably a good idea," said Laurence.
On the other hand, if you think you'll only use your air fryer now and then and have room to store it away somewhere, you could try a basket-style air fryer.
Air fryer lids for Instant Pots may help you cut down on new appliances if you already have the multi-cooker at home. In addition to air frying, the Instant Pot air fryer lid can roast, dehydrate, bake, broil, and reheat. The only thing it's really missing? Toasting.
Air Fryer Toaster Ovens
So if an air fryer is like a convection oven and a convection oven is similar to a toaster oven, do you actually need an air fryer toaster oven? Maybe not, but it depends on if the air fryer toaster oven has any features that you aren't already getting from your air fryer — and if those are features you actually intend to use.
"Steer away from combo air fryers whose secondary appliance does repetitive functions," says Nick Drewe, CEO and founder of Wethrift.
If your biggest concern about purchasing an air fryer is devoting precious counter space to yet another appliance, then you might be a good candidate for a combination air fryer and toaster oven.
"While this appliance is bigger than the standard toaster oven, it does allow you to have one appliance on your counter that performs multiple functions quite well, including toasting, baking small foods, and, of course, air frying," says Emily Paster, author of Epic Air Fryer Cookbook.
The biggest difference between basket style air fryers and air fryer ovens is how they are configured. "With a basket style air fryer, you can shake the food around in the basket to flip things over. With an air fryer oven, you'll need to flip foods by hand," Laurence says. Often, however, you'll find you don't need to flip at all because they cook quite evenly with the air moving all around the food.
Another difference is capacity. "Most air fryer toaster ovens will hold more food at one time than the basket-style air fryers. That can be convenient for a large family," Laurence says.
One of Laurence's favorite things about air fryer toaster ovens is the fact that you can see how the food is cooking through the glass door without having to open it up. "Every time you open an air fryer to check the food, you lose heat," Laurence says. The glass door really helps you avoid that.
Instant Pot Air Fryers
If you already own an Instant Pot and are thinking about buying an air fryer, consider purchasing the air fryer lid for the Instant Pot instead.
Again: "No need to buy a whole new appliance when you can adapt something you already own, and it is less expensive than buying an air fryer," Paster says. (Make sure that the lid is compatible with your Instant Pot model before purchasing.)
Classic Air Fryers
From one air fryer to another, you may see different features, but the most important one to look for is the size of your air fryer basket. If you are one-person household, you may not need a machine that can feed a family, but if you have four kids who love chicken tenders, that larger basket matters.
"Air fryers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes," says Dan Zuccarello, executive food editor at America's Test Kitchen. "The good news is that we have found consistent success across models and brands. When purchasing an air fryer, consider the number of servings to plan to prepare regularly. We find that a 3- to- 4 quart air fryer can reliably fit enough food for 2 complete meals. If you are planning to serve more, look for an air fryer with at least a 6-quart capacity."
If you're ready to buy an air fryer, consider first how much space you have. A multi-function appliance like an air fryer toaster oven may do everything you want from an air fryer and much, much more. It just takes up significantly more space than the other two air fryer types.
If you have an Instant Pot, adding an air fryer lid to your collection of Instant Pot accessories saves you the space of storing a whole new appliance. The lid adds a few functions to your Instant Pot and is almost equal in capability to an air fryer toaster oven.
Finally, if you have room to spare or only want the faux-frying appliance to crisp up appetizers or dinner from time to time, the classic air fryer is all you need. Just make sure you get one with a basket that's large enough to accommodate how much you'll be cooking for yourself or for your family.
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