Which air fryer is the best for you?

Fried food is delicious but it contains a lot of oil. Air fryers solve that problem by cooking with very little grease. Of course, the jury is still out whether air-fried food can ever match the genuine deep-fried variety. That said, you can definitely use air fryers to whip up some mighty tasty, crispy, crunchy treats right at home.

This guide spells out what to look for in a quality air fryer. And we’ll also help you find one that takes up less kitchen counter space if that’s a concern. Likewise, if having large cooking capacity is your priority you’ll find one that fits your needs here too. 

In recent years, the number of air fryer brands has exploded since demand for the products is at an all-time high. You can choose among personal fryers, large family-size models, and every size in between. There are air fryers with basic mechanical dials and controls, while others have fancy cooking options and presets, even smarts and an app connection.

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And unlike previous air fryers we liked from from DeLonghiKrupsT-Fal and Black & Decker, today’s modern fryers are more powerful, meaning quicker access to crispy fries, onion rings, chicken nuggets or anything else that you might typically make in a deep fryer that you can fit in its cooking basket. They also have higher capacity to cook more food, are lighter, quieter and easier to clean.

No matter how simple or complex though, what truly counts is how well they deliver the fried goodies. When it comes to air fryers, that can vary widely. Here’s what I learned after putting several top-rated models through their paces to find the best air fryer out there.

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When it comes to turning ingredients into delicious food, it’s tough to beat this air fry model from Cosori. Incredibly sophisticated, the air fryer boasts 11 preset cooking modes for preparing a wide array of food types. It also looks sleek and compact despite offering close to 6 quarts of capacity.

I put the Smart Air Fryer’s presets to good use too. Everything from frozen food like chicken nuggets and french fries, to onion rings, to mozzarella sticks tuned out golden brown and delicious. It even tackled Brussels sprouts with gusto, thanks to its dedicated root vegetable mode. You can also link the air fryer to your phone via mobile app. The software provides cooking alerts, plus reminds you to shake the frying basket (and its contents) if necessary.

The Cosori fryer is enjoyable to operate as well and isn’t too loud. All that adds up to a compelling air fryer pal if you’re on the hunt for one.

Amazon average rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars (2,355 ratings) 

Home Depot average rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars (59 ratings)

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It’s hard to turn down a plate of chicken wings. That’s especially so if they’re made by the Ninja Air Fryer. This air fry machine transformed humble frozen wings into something magical. They came out evenly cooked, with crispy skin, and were a real crowd pleaser. My kids snapped them up in no time.

The Ninja also whipped up batches of mozzarella sticks that were nicely done. They started out frozen and were transformed into crispy, crunchy and gooey cheese bombs in 8 minutes flat. And if you’re into fries, the Ninja won’t disappoint either. Frozen french fries were golden brown and delicious in 10 minutes.

The only time the air fryer stumbled was when I cooked Brussels sprouts. The Ninja lacks a special mode for vegetables so my fresh sprouts emerged overdone, even burnt in spots. 

Amazon average rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars (6,774 ratings)

Walmart average rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars (728 ratings)

Home Depot average rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars (159 ratings)

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Here’s an air fryer that’s easy on the eyes. While the Dash Deluxe is large and has a massive 6 quart capacity, its design is striking. The appliance I tested was colored in aqua, though also comes in red, black and white. Its controls are also all manual (no presets), but they’re simple to operate. The fryer even has an interestingly textured, patterned top. I’m a sucker for that stuff.

The air fry machine also fried up batches of wings, Brussels sprouts and french fries that were all evenly and well cooked. That said, it’s easy to overshoot when air frying a mozzarella stick if you’re not careful. I did which resulted in a cheesy explosion after just 6 minutes at 350 Farenheit. That said, the fryer’s cooking basket has a non-stick coating that’s a cinch to clean.

Amazon average rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (1,553 ratings)

Others we tested

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Instant Vortex

One popular option is the Instant Vortex. It’s priced in line with the other air fryers in this group. The Vortex is made by the same company that created the groundbreaking Instant Pot electric pressure cooker. Despite that though, I wasn’t blown away by the food I fried in this air fry machine.

Using the recommended settings, mozzarella sticks came out a tad soggy with exteriors not quite crispy enough. Chicken wings and fried chicken were acceptable, not incredible, and less juicy than what other fryers served. My Brussels sprouts ended up overdone too. And frozen fries were done but cooked unevenly.

Walmart review average: 4.6 out of 5 stars (762 ratings)

Target review average: 4.6 out of 5 stars (206 ratings)

Best Buy review average 4.6 out of 5 stars (74 ratings)

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Dash Compact Airfryer

The Dash Compact Airfryer is everything its bigger sibling isn’t. Specifically the cooker is small, underpowered and comes with a rock-bottom price tag. And while the Dash Deluxe is a powerhouse, the Dash Compact struggled while air frying almost everything I put inside it. Both french fries and Brussels sprouts were underdone and unevenly cooked.

Mozzarella sticks emerged from the air fryer basket hot, but weren’t all that crispy. The only bright spot was chicken wings. They took 30 minutes but I was treated to skin with some crunch. 

Amazon review average: 4.4 out of 5 stars (1,235 ratings)

Walmart review average: 4.4 out of 5 stars (131 ratings)

Target review average: 4.4 out of 5 stars (571 ratings)

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GoWise USA 8-in-1 Digital Air Fryer

You may not have heard of this brand but this offering from GoWise is a solid choice. It didn’t cook the skin of my chicken wings evenly. That said, french fries came out crispy, crunchy, with creamy interiors. The fryer also roasted Brussels sprouts well, no mean feat for this group of appliances. 

Amazon review average:4.5 out of 5 stars (185 ratings)

Walmart review average: 4.1 out 5 stars (241 ratings) 

Home Depot review average: 4.5 out of 5 stars (603 ratings)

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Chefman 2.1 qt. Analog Air Fryer

Another relatively affordable choice is the Chefman Analog Air Fryer. It’s tiny too, offering just 2.1 quarts of food frying capacity. The appliance did deliver tasty mozzarella sticks and decent chicken wings. However, it undercooked my test Brussels sprouts and frozen french fries. I also found the Chefman’s timer control confusing. This dial is labelled in numerical increases of 10. The numbers though are mysteriously separated by groups of four dots, not nine as you would expect.

Amazon review average: 4.5 out of 5 stars (761 ratings)

Target review average:4.6 out of 5 stars (96 ratings)

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PowerXL Vortex Air Fryer

You might consider purchasing the PowerXL Vortex. I recommend against it though due to its steep price and mediocre frying ability. I had satisfactory results cooking chicken wings in it. However the machine exploded my mozzarella sticks when I fried them as directed by the product manual. It also overcooked Brussels sprouts, and the french fries it prepared were merely OK not outstanding. 

Amazon review average: 4.3 out of 5 stars (75 ratings)

Target review average: 4.2 out of 5 stars (128 ratings)

Walmart review average: 4.9 out of 5 stars (30 ratings)

Philips Avance Airfryer with TurboStar

Even with a significant drop in price, the Philips Avance Aifryer isn’t worth your money. Sure, this appliance does a decent job of heating frozen convenience food like mozzarella sticks and pizza rolls. When it comes to fresh food like chicken wings, the results were on par with what you’d expect from a conventional oven.

Amazon review average: 4.5 stars out of 5 (1,106 ratings)

Best Buy review average: 4.8 stars out of 5 (157 ratings)

How we evaluated them

It’s certainly a surreal feeling to test multiple air fryers while a pandemic silently rages around the globe. Just like my colleague Ry Crist found with waffle makers, I found the busy work of cooking quite soothing. Perhaps that’s why so many people have embraced bread-making and baking during this time of uncertainty. 

At four runs per machine and eight air fryers in all, I performed a minimum of 32 separate test fries. I also washed each appliance thoroughly between each batch of food. That’s a lot of hand washing too, which is a good thing.

At the recommended settings, my mozzarella sticks resulted in a cheese explosion. Thankfully the Dash Deluxe air fryer has a non-stick basket that easy to clean. 

Brian Bennett/CNET

Ease of use

When frying items with each appliance, I made sure to record how my experience went. I paid attention to things like the labels, controls and displays or buttons if these machines had them. I also took note of how loud, or not, the air fryers were while they operated.

Chicken wings cooked in the Ninja air fryer were very tasty.

Brian Bennett/CNET

How they cook

To get a sense for how each air fryer in this test group handles, I ran a battery of four anecdotal tests on each product. Each test centered around one food ingredient. These were mozzarella sticks, chicken wings, Brussels sprouts and frozen french fries. 

Frozen french fries made in the Cosori air fryer were gold brown and delicious.

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Before I began, I consulted each model’s manual and supplied documentation for relevant cooking directions. If the manual didn’t provide specific instructions, I applied uniform procedures to each air fryer depending on the type of food I was preparing. For fries, I set the fryer for 380 F. After a five minute preheat, I cooked them for 12 minutes. I also give the fries a shake every 5 minutes.

For chicken wings, I preheat to 400 F then fry them for 30 minutes. I also make sure to flip them with tongs every ten minutes. For mozzarella sticks, I preheat to 350 F and cook for 6 minutes. For Brussels sprouts, I preheat to 375 F and cook for 15 minutes. Before cooking, however,I rinse and cut the sprouts in half, then toss them with 1 tbsp of olive oil.

At the end of each test I looked for several criteria. These included how evenly each item was cooked, how well (or not) they were in terms of doneness and, of course, whether they had a sufficient level of crispy, crunchy, fried deliciousness comparable to deep frying.

Roasting Brussels sprouts well is tricky for an air fryer.

Brian Bennett/CNET

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