Guide to air fryers: Everything you need to know to choose your own

If you’re looking for a healthier way to cook your favorite fried foods, an air fryer might just be what you need. This guide to air fryers will take you to look at some of the most important factors to consider when buying an air fryer, as well as some of the best models on the market.

It also answers some common questions about air fryers, such as how they work and what types of foods you can cook in them. By the end of this guide, you’ll have all the information you need to make a smart, informed decision about which air fryer is right for you.

How does an air fryer work?

An air fryer uses a heating element and a fan to circulate hot air around the food (the same principle that a convection oven uses). Air fryers can be used to fry, roast, bake, or grill foods by using a much smaller amount of oil than what a deep fryer needs.

Air fryer vs deep fryer vs convection oven

Here is a comparison table of the main features and differences between an air fryer, a deep fryer, and a convection oven.

Air fryer vs deep fryer vs convection oven comparison

FeatureAir FryerDeep FryerConvection Oven
Cooking MethodConvection bakingImmersion in hot oilConvection baking
Oil UsageLittle to no oilHigh oil usageLittle to no oil
Heat SourceTopOilTop and bottom
Heat IntensityHigh (heats up quickly)High (oil is a good conductor of heat)Moderate

An air fryer has several advantages over a deep fryer and a convection oven. It uses less oil, which is supposed to be a healthier way of cooking. It is easier to clean up. It also heats up faster and cooks more evenly.

Factors to consider when buying an air fryer

Capacity

The capacity of the air fryer basket determines how much food you can cook at once. If you overcrowd the basket, the food will not cook evenly or crisply (frying a small amount of food in a big fryer will turn out fine though – if you don’t mind spending more oil and electricity than a small air fryer would take for the same job).

Most air fryers have a capacity between 2 and 7 U.S. quarts (1.9 and 6.62 Litres).

A good rule of thumb is to calculate about a quart per person. I.e: if you’re cooking for one or two people, a 2- or 3-quart air fryer should be large enough. If you’re cooking for a larger family or a party, you may want to go for a 5- or 6-quart air fryer.

Some air fryers also have multiple cooking zones or racks that let you cook different foods at different temperatures and times simultaneously. If you want to cook a main dish and a side dish at the same time, this is the function to have.

If capacity is important for you, take a look at Ninja Foodi Max Dual Zone Air Fryer AF400UK. It has two independent baskets that can hold up to 9.5 liters together. You can cook two different dishes at once, or sync them to finish at the same time. This model also has six cooking functions: Air Fry, Max Crisp, Roast, Bake, Dehydrate, and Reheat.

Power

The power of the air fryer affects how fast and evenly it can cook your food. Higher wattage means higher heat intensity and faster cooking times. Lower wattage means lower heat intensity and longer cooking times, but this is only true compared to the size of the air fryer. For small air fryers, lower wattage would still cook everything fine.

An air fryer with at least 1,400 watts of power is a good option. This will cook your food quickly and evenly, without burning or drying out. Some models have higher wattage, up to 1,800 watts or more, which can be useful for cooking larger batches of food or thicker cuts of meat.

But higher wattage also means higher electricity bills. You may want to balance the power and the efficiency of your air fryer, depending on your budget and cooking habits.

Cooking functions

Air fryers can also roast, bake, dehydrate, and grill foods, depending on the model and the accessories. Some air fryers also have pre-programmed cooking settings for specific foods, such as chicken, fish, or pizza.

Consider what cooking functions you want your air fryer to have, and look for models that offer them. 

Some models have removable inserts or trays that can be used for different cooking functions: a baking pan to make cakes or muffins, a grill rack to make steaks or burgers, or a skewer rack to make kebabs or meatballs.

Ease of use

The controls and displays of the air fryer should be easy to understand and navigate. Some models have digital displays and touch controls, which can be more intuitive and convenient than traditional knobs and dials. Others also have LED indicators or audible alerts that let you know when the food is ready.

The parts of the air fryer should be easy to clean and maintain:

  • Dishwasher-safe parts, such as the basket, the tray, or the accessories. 
  • Non-stick coatings on the basket and the tray, can prevent food from sticking and make cleaning easier.

Price

The price of the air fryer depends on the size, the power, the features, and the quality of the model. Air fryers can range in price from $50 to $400 or more.

Look for models that offer the best balance between price and quality, depending on your needs and preferences. 

In this sense, Instant Vortex Slim 5.7L Air Fryer gets high marks for performance, ease of use, and value for money. It comes with a power of 1,700 watts and a temperature range of 80 to 200 degrees Celsius, a digital touch screen with easy-to-use controls, and a dishwasher-safe basket. 

Features to look for in an air fryer

Here are some of the features you might want to have in your air fryer:

  • Temperature control
  • Digital timer
  • Automatic shut-off
  • Non-stick coating
  • Dishwasher-safe parts
  • Accessories
  • Multiple cooking zones
  • Cooking programs
  • Automatic stirring paddle
  • Free recipe apps

Temperature control

Look for an air fryer with adjustable temperature control, which will allow you to cook a wider variety of foods. Some models have a temperature range of 200 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (90 to 200 °C), while others go up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (230 °C). Make sure the temperature control is accurate and easy to adjust.

Digital timer

A timer is an essential feature in an air fryer. It allows you to set the cooking time and walk away, without having to worry about overcooking or burning your food. Look for a model with a timer that can be set for at least 30 minutes.

Automatic shut-off

An automatic shut-off feature is an important safety feature in an air fryer. It will turn off the machine when the cooking time is up, preventing overcooking or burning. Some models also have an automatic shut-off feature if the basket is removed during cooking.

Non-stick coating

A non-stick coating on the basket and tray will make cleaning your air fryer much easier. Look for a model with a high-quality non-stick coating that is durable and easy to clean.

Dishwasher-safe parts

Many air fryer models have dishwasher-safe parts, which makes cleaning even easier. Look for models with removable baskets and trays that can be easily removed and washed in the dishwasher.

Accessories

Some air fryer models come with accessories, such as a baking pan, grill rack, or skewers. These accessories can increase the versatility of your air fryer and allow you to cook a wider variety of foods.

Multiple cooking zones

When looking for an air fryer, one feature you might want to consider is multiple cooking zones. This feature allows you to cook different foods at different temperatures and times simultaneously. Some air fryers come with multiple racks, while others have a divider that separates the cooking area into two zones.

Having multiple cooking zones can be especially useful if you want to cook a main dish and a side dish at the same time. For example, you could cook chicken wings on one rack and Brussels sprouts on another. This feature can save you time and make meal prep more efficient.

Some air fryers with multiple cooking zones also come with pre-programmed settings for each zone, allowing you to easily select the right temperature and time for each dish. This feature can be especially helpful if you’re new to air frying and aren’t sure how to cook different foods.

When shopping for an air fryer with multiple cooking zones, consider the size and capacity of the unit. You’ll want to make sure it can accommodate the amount of food you plan to cook. Additionally, look for models with easy-to-use controls and a clear manual or digital display.

Some popular air fryer brands that offer multiple cooking zones include Cuisinart, Ninja, and Gourmia. Keep in mind that air fryers with this feature may be more expensive than those without, so it’s important to consider your budget when choosing an air fryer.

Cooking programs

One of the key features to look for when choosing an air fryer is the availability of cooking programs. These pre-set programs allow you to cook various foods with just the touch of a button, eliminating the guesswork and ensuring perfect results every time.

Most air fryers come with pre-set programs for popular dishes like chicken wings, french fries, and pizza. Some models even have programs for specific vegetables like Brussels sprouts or salmon. Look for an air fryer that has pre-set programs for the foods you love to cook most.

When using pre-set programs, it’s important to note that cooking times and temperatures may vary depending on the size and quantity of the food you’re cooking. Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for specific cooking times and temperature recommendations.

Some air fryers also come with the ability to customize and save your own cooking programs. This is a great feature for those who like to experiment with their cooking and want to save their favorite settings for future use.

Automatic stirring paddle

If you’re looking for an air fryer that can cook your food evenly without requiring you to shake or stir the basket, then an air fryer with an automatic stirring paddle might be the perfect choice for you. This feature is especially useful for foods that require continuous stirring, such as french fries or chicken wings, as it ensures that the food is evenly cooked on all sides.

With an automatic stirring paddle, you can enjoy perfectly cooked food without having to constantly monitor and shake the basket. The paddle will rotate the food inside the basket, ensuring that it is evenly cooked and crispy on all sides. This feature is especially useful if you’re cooking a large batch of food, as it saves you time and effort.

When choosing an air fryer with an automatic stirring paddle, look for models that allow you to remove the paddle for easy cleaning. Some models also come with multiple paddles or stirring arms, which can be useful for cooking different types of food.

However, keep in mind that air fryers with automatic stirring paddles tend to be more expensive than those without this feature. If you’re on a budget, you may want to consider a simpler air fryer that still offers excellent cooking performance without the automatic stirring paddle.

Free recipe apps

If you’re looking to get the most out of your air fryer, you’ll want to find some great recipes to try. Luckily, there are plenty of free recipe apps available that can help you get started.

Here are some things to look for when choosing a recipe app:

  • Easy to use: Look for an app that is user-friendly and easy to navigate. You don’t want to waste time trying to figure out how to use the app when you could be cooking!
  • Wide variety of recipes: Make sure the app offers a wide range of recipes, from appetizers to main dishes to desserts. This will help you get the most out of your air fryer.
  • Healthy options: If you’re using an air fryer to cut down on oil and fat, look for an app that offers healthy recipes. Many apps will have a section specifically for low-fat or low-calorie options.
  • Customizable: Look for an app that allows you to customize recipes to your liking. This can include adjusting cooking times or temperatures or adding or removing ingredients.

Free recipe apps with recipes for air fryers

App nameDescription
Healthy Air Fryer RecipesThis app offers a variety of healthy air fryer recipes, with 70-80% less oil required for each recipe. The app is easy to use and features tasty yet easy-to-prepare recipes.
Air Fryer RecipesThis app offers a variety of vortex easy air fryer recipes for free. You can enjoy having a variety of recipes for appetizers, main dishes, and desserts.
Air Fryer CookbookThis app offers a wide range of air fryer recipes, including appetizers, main dishes, and desserts. The app also allows you to customize recipes to your liking.

By using a free recipe app, you can make the most out of your air fryer and try new recipes without having to spend any extra money. Just make sure to choose an app that fits your needs and preferences.

Air fryer attachment for your Instant Pot

A combination of an instant pot and an air fryer 2 in 1, or if put differently, a way to convert one into the other. This becomes possible with an Instant Pot brand’s Instant Pot Air Fryer Lid, which is compatible with the Instant Pot you likely already own. 

The lid fits onto your Instant Pot’s base, turning it into a mini convection oven that can air fry, roast, bake, broil, reheat, and dehydrate. 

This seems like a great option if you already have an Instant Pot, or want to save some countertop space (and money).  But is this option worth going after? 

Check out this Six Sisters’ Stuff review and see for yourself:

Types of air fryers

There are three main types of air fryers:

Solo (basket-style) air fryer: best for most people (and most budget-friendly)

Basket-style air fryers are the most common type of air fryer — they have a basket that you fill with food, and then you place the basket in the air fryer. These air fryers are generally more affordable than other types, and they’re great for cooking small to medium-sized portions of food. They can be a bit difficult to clean though, and they don’t always cook food evenly.

An illustration of a solo (basket-style) air fryer

Toaster oven air fryer: bake, broil, roast, and toast

Toaster oven air fryers are a combination of a toaster oven and an air fryer. They’re great for cooking small to medium-sized portions of food, and they often have multiple functions, such as baking and broiling. Toaster oven air fryers are also more compact than other types of air fryers, so they’re a good choice if you have limited counter space. 

The downside is that they can be more expensive than other types of air fryers, and they may not be as effective at air frying as other types.

An illustration of a toaster oven air fryer from Hamilton Beach

Multicooker (oven-style) air fryer: an air fryer that does it all

Oven-style air fryers are larger than basket-style air fryers, and they often have multiple racks that allow you to cook more food at once. They’re great for cooking larger portions of food and often have more features than other types of air fryers. However, they can be more expensive, and they take up more counter space than other types.

An illustration of an oven-style air fryer

Analog air fryers vs digital air fryers: simpler and cheaper vs more convenient and expensive

Analog air fryers

An analog air fryer, or a manual air fryer, is an air fryer that you can control manually with only two dials. One is responsible for the cooking temperature and another for the cooking time. Usually, it doesn’t have any other functions; it’s lighter and cheaper. 

Analog air fryers are the most basic models you can find.  They usually have two settings: temperature and cooking time.

Some issues with them are that they don’t have a temperature sensor, plus there can be uneven heat distribution. As a result, the food might turn out overcooked or undercooked. 

Digital air fryers

Digital air fryers use digital controls for cooking food. They have a digital LED control panel and usually have pre-built presets and smart functions like pre-heat, keep warm and shake reminders. These controls allow you to set cooking temperatures, timer settings, and other cooking functions. 

If you are often cooking in the air fryer, pick the digital air fryer. It will save you much more time and will make the cooking process a lot easier. But, if you plan to cook occasionally, you might as well pick the manual air fryer and save a bit of money.
Digital air fryers are often more expensive than analog.

Top air fryer brands

  • Cosori
  • Instant Pot
  • Ninja
  • Philips
  • Instant Vortex

Conclusion

Air fryers are a great addition to any kitchen. They offer a healthier alternative to traditional frying methods and can be used to prepare a wide range of dishes.

Questions & Answers

Q: What are the benefits of using an air fryer?

A: Some benefits of using an air fryer include healthier cooking, faster cooking times, and easier clean-up compared to traditional frying methods.

Q: What kinds of foods can be cooked in an air fryer?

A: Many types of food can be cooked in an air fryer, including vegetables, meats, fish, and even desserts.

Q: Do I need to preheat my air fryer?

A: It is recommended to preheat your air fryer before adding food to ensure even cooking and crispy results.

Q: How do I clean my air fryer?

A: Most air fryers have dishwasher-safe components and can be easily cleaned with soap and water. It is important to clean your air fryer after each use to prevent buildup and ensure optimal performance.

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