Air fryer buying guide: sizes, features, prices and brands explained
Air fryers are a relatively recent invention, having only been on the market since 2010. The air fryer has been marketed as a healthier alternative to deep frying, using only a teaspoon of oil to cook crispy fries, chips and breaded foods usually loaded with oil and unnecessary fat.
Because they are relatively new, many people don’t know what to look for in an air fryer. What makes a $300 air fryer better than a $50 air fryer? What can be cooked in an air fryer, and what should be avoided?
How Does An Air Fryer Work?
Air fryers rely on a continuous circulation of hot air to make foods crispy without being submerged in hot oil. It is essentially a smaller, more intense convection oven and isn’t frying so much as baking at high, evenly circulated heat. It uses a tiny amount of oil to keep food from sticking.
Air fryers can reach temperatures similar to a traditional oven at around 450F, but it is the rapid circulation of air around the food basket that emulates the crispy texture of deep frying. Steam is able to escape, and the heat is fast and even, allowing for crispy perfection without the fats.
What To Cook In An Air Fryer
Air fryers are well suited for breaded and frozen fried foods, such as French fries, mozza sticks, nuggets and fish sticks.
Lots of people have found great ways to use their air fryer for baking cookies, or as an alternative to microwaving solid foods. You can even use it similarly to a dehydrator, making healthful veggie chips out of sweet potato or carrots, or even apple chips.
What Not To Cook In An Air Fryer
Remember that air fryers cook with the use of circulated air so anything loose will fly off, such as dry rubs, wet batter or loose greens such as kale. Raw vegetables don’t fry very well unless slices for chips. Don’t try to airfry anything that will melt easily, such as cheese. Anything melty MUST be battered and frozen before frying.
Air fryers are not able to cook large batches, as all individual items must have enough space for the air to circulate and crisp. If you’re cooking for a family, you may require a couple batches to get everyone a decent portion.
Here are the recommended fryer basket capacities for your family:
- 1 person: 1-2-quart capacity
- 2-3 people: 2-3-quart capacity
- 4 people: 3.5-5-quart capacity
- 5+ people: you’ll want a fryer that has a minimum 5-quart capacity
As you can see, you need approx. 1 quart per person. The most versatile size is 3-4 quarts, because the fryer won’t be overwhelmingly large but you won’t have to do too many batches for a full family.
The features of your air fryer will of course vary depending on your budget and brand, but most of the best air fryers have these features:
- Automatic shut off
- Precise temperature control
- Heat up to 400F in mere minutes
- Can reduce your use of oil in a recipe by around 70%
- No hot oil splatters, so reduced risk of injury
- No deep fryer/fried oil smell permeating your home
- Appliance cools off quickly
- Convenient dishwasher safe components
- Cook foods faster than a traditional home oven
- Won’t heat up your house in hot summer months
Cleaning & Care
Luckily, most air fryers come with detachable parts that are dishwasher safe. For general cleaning, ensure that the fryer is completely cool and unplugged to reduce risk of burns and electric shock.
Using a damp cloth, wipe any oil, crumbs or other debris from the basket, tray and pan. These parts are removable and can be cleaned and dried thoroughly. Wipe the rest of the air fryer with your damp cloth.
The heating coil can be wiped with a damp cloth much like the heating coils on your stove. Simply make sure the fryer is unplugged and the machine is completely cool.
Baked on grease or debris can be scrubbed off with a rough sponge (NOT steel wool), and detachable parts can always be soaked in hot soapy water if they have stubborn, stuck on messes.
Air fryers are not the smallest appliance out there. Typically they are similar in size to a microwave or large blender. If you are short on storage, you may want to consider if an air fryer is worth having for daily use, or if you’ll only use it occasionally.
When looking for an air fryer, you have some options as far as design and style go. Some brands feature colorful enamel options, or more sci-fi futuristic options, or some that are basic and utilitarian.
We recommend finding an air fryer that is designed with dishwasher safe, detachable parts for thorough and convenient cleaning.
Precise temperature control is another design element worth considering, as you may find certain foods get too crisp or not crisp enough, and will appreciate having the ability to shift the temperature by a few degrees rather than broad pre-set options.
The frying basket should also be metal for the most durability, though some air fryers have plastic baskets that will last for a couple years.
Keep in mind air fryers are a new invention, so the longest anyone has had one is about ten years. Longevity will be hard to judge based on reviews alone, but looking for sturdy, heat resistant quality materials will ensure your appliance lasts as long as possible with daily use.
When looking for an air fryer, we recommend finding one that is in the mid range for price. The more expensive, tech savvy models are impressive but since their longevity can’t be tested just yet they may not be a wise investment in the same way an expensive toaster or skillet is.
The cheaper end of air fryers will only set you back about $50, but you may find that they overheat or don’t cook as evenly as mid-range models.
Ideally, you would spend $100-$200 on a quality air fryer. This will ensure that it is sturdy enough for daily use and cleaning, and will heat your food evenly, ensuring a crisp, crunchy result.
There are some premium brands that will set you back $200-$300 dollars or more. Considering that an air fryer is less versatile than some appliances, it may only be worthwhile if you are brand loyal or are looking for a particular aesthetic.
These are some of our favorite air fryer brands:
Best Overall: COSORI CP358-AF, 5.8 quart
This Cosori air fryer is one of the largest, with an almost 6 quart capacity perfect for cooking for the entire family. Considering the capacity, it is still quite compact and will fit comfortably on your countertop. The fry basket is nonstick coated, releasing food with ease. Uses up to 85% less oil than traditional frying, and features 11 pre-sets.
Best Value: Nuwave Brio, 3 quart
This one is only 3 quarts, yet still weighs over 2lbs more than the COSORI 5.8 quart. It is less lightweight, but still an affordable and reliable air fryer. Nuwawe air fryer has 6 pre-sets, and at less than $60 it is great value if you are wanting to try an air fryer for occasional use. The nonstick coating on the fryer basket has a tendency to flake off, so be careful to wash gently without abrasive sponges.
Philips Avance Turbo Star Air fryer
This is by far the most expensive, but the best performing air fryer we have tested. It reaches a high temperature of 400F virtually instantly, though it has a smaller capacity ideal for 1 or 2 servings. It has dishwasher safe components that actually withstand going through the dishwasher without damage, so cleanup is convenient. Philips Air fryer has a sleek look and takes up less counterspace than other fryers on our list.