An Air Fryer Is A Kitchen Game Changer: Here Are 3 We Love

An Air Fryer Is A Kitchen Game Changer: Here Are 3 We Love

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Shopping for an air fryer — the small kitchen appliances that claim to recreate the crispy, crunchy taste of fried foods, without the oil and fats used in traditional deep fat frying — can be a confusing endeavor when you consider all the options out there. Not to mention the sheer number of opinions on whether or not they’re actually as convenient as they say they are.

So to see which air fryers perform the best, and which might be best for certain users, we put nine models to the test, running them through a comprehensive evaluation process. We selected three top choices that did a great job with our test recipes and impressed us with their features and construction, so regardless of your cooking needs, budget requirements, or storage space, you should find an option that works for you.

Best air fryer overall

Its heavy-duty feel, combined with the reasonable price tag, convenient controls and standout cooking results made it easy to declare this fryer the best overall.

Best affordable air fryer under $100

If you don’t need the bells and whistles of a higher-end model, and your priority is hassle-free air frying, this affordable model could be just what you’re looking for.

Best air fryer toaster oven

This fryer was extremely easy to use, and allows you to air fry, bake, reheat or roast just about anything, thanks especially to its comparatively large fryer basket.

Best air fryer overall: Ninja AF101 Air Fryer ($89.99, originally $119.99; amazon.com, bestbuy.com and target.com) Alex Rennie/CNN Ninja has a great reputation for providing well-made, durable products — including their blenders — and this air fryer is no different. Right out of the box, we appreciated its sturdy, solid feel, and the sleek black finish makes it look like it’s right out of a professional kitchen.

It’s not especially heavy (10.58 pounds), but the solid construction and rubber feet give it a sturdy feel that was even more noticeable after several days of handling less rugged models. Unlike some of the lower-quality machines we tested, the tray of the Ninja wasn’t flimsy or loose, and settled into the fryer body with a satisfying clunk. So we were never concerned that the entire unit would slide around or tip over if we pushed the basket in too hard.

We found the control panel of the Ninja AF101 Air Fryer extremely straightforward to use. It has four functions to choose from — all with their own button so no need to scroll through options — alongside timer and temperature arrows. This minimal layout provided a great balance of convenience and functionality, and the buttons were responsive and had a good tactile feel to them as well.

The Ninja AF101 Air Fryer performed nearly perfectly in our food tests, and produced evenly cooked, crispy french fries and shrimp. The Brussels sprouts also came out with a nice crispy exterior and moist crunchy interior.

As with the other basket-style fryers, the non-stick basket and tray insert were simple to clean — either run them through the dishwasher or just wash them in the sink with a sponge and warm soapy water. The smooth layout of the control panel is also convenient to clean, and since there are no knobs, dials, cracks or crevices to deal with, we were able to simply wipe the entire panel down as well.

The most notable issue with the Ninja AF101 Air Fryer is how loud it is — in fact, it was the loudest of all models we tested. In our opinion it’s not a dealbreaker, but some might find it irritating.

If you don’t mind a little noise, and are looking for a fryer that can effectively tackle a good range of cooking tasks (it even has a dehydrate setting!), for a price that won’t break the bank, this model is a great choice.

Alex Rennie/CNN The Dash Tasti-Crisp doesn’t have the presets, settings and modes that higher-end options have, but if you just want to air fry quickly and easily, this is a great option.

We quickly found the fryer’s basic controls — a timer wheel and temperature dial, with no type of LCD display — to be a benefit. With no additional settings to think about, it was extremely convenient to just toss the food in the basket, turn the dial and set the timer. Granted, you will need to know what temperature and time your food needs, but that can easily be found in the instruction manual or on the bag of food itself.

This simple timer also made it extremely simple to add a couple extra minutes to the cooking time. More complex fryers typically require you to wait until the time is up, or have you reset the air fryer mode altogether, but with the Dash Tasti-Crisp all you have to do is keep cranking the timer knob as much as you like.

Despite these basic controls, or perhaps because of them, the Dash Tasti-Crisp ended up cooking all of our food items really well. The fries turned out crispy and evenly cooked, with a nice soft interior; the shrimp were perfect and crunchy; and even the Brussels sprouts came out great after a little trial and error with recommended cooking times.

It’s got a nice compact footprint, too, and although it’s small, it was still easy to pull and push the tray into place. It wasn’t as sturdy as other fryers, and we usually needed to use two hands to insert the basket, but because of its small size, that wasn’t really a big deal.

The biggest difference between the Dash Tasti and more expensive fryers is its lack of presets, and if that’s what you’re after you should probably consider a more versatile model. But, if you just want a small appliance to quickly and conveniently cook small batches of food, the Dash Tasti-Crisp is a perfect choice.

Alex Rennie/CNN If you prefer the versatility and extra space that comes from having an oven-style air fryer, the Cuisinart TOA-60 is a great option. We loved the square shape and compact size of this oven (just 15.5 x 16 x 14 inches). The large knobs were straightforward and easy to use and although this is subjective, we appreciated the lack of LCD screen. There was something about the tactile feel of using separate knobs to select the cooking mode, temperature and timer that made us feel in total control over the cooking process.

One of the primary reasons we chose this model over other oven-style fryers is that its fryer basket is just a little bit deeper than the other ones we tested. It’s not by much, but just enough to make it noticeably easier to shake up fries or other loose items you may be air frying. We found shallower baskets are more likely to either send a few fries flying off, or just not allow you to shake them up effectively. The interior light was a nice perk as well, and made it easy to keep an eye on the food inside without opening it up and losing heat.

Performance-wise, the Cuisinart TOA-60 cooked food to near perfection — and even resulted in our favorite fries of the bunch.

The Cuisinart TOA-60 also comes with an oven rack, baking pan and air fryer rack/basket, so you’ll be prepared for a good range of cooking projects. Although its mesh basket created the same cleaning issues as other oven-style units — thin wire and lack of non-stick surface shredded our sponge — the Cuisinart TOA-60 does provide a removable crumb tray that makes the unit as a whole relatively easy to clean.

One of the most valuable features of the Cuisinart is its 3-year warranty, the longest (most only have a 1-year warranty) of any oven-style version we tested. That Cuisinart stands behind this product should address any concerns with the relatively high cost of this model.

Although all of the models we tested are capable of “air frying”, they also differ quite a bit in terms of how they perform, their usability and their overall design.

Our testing group consisted of a wide range of fryer types, sizes and styles — from compact, single-serving models to large oven-style options. To ensure we got the most out of our testing process, we judged each fryer across a series of categories, from how easy they were to set up and use, their versatility in other cooking areas, their overall design and how convenient they were to clean and maintain. Most importantly, we chose a range of cooking items to judge their air frying abilities, and had each fryer cook a batch of frozen french fries, battered frozen shrimp and halved Brussels sprouts.

We ran each model through the same testing process, evaluated and compared the results to finally choose the fryers we felt were the best overall.

These are the criteria we used to evaluate and compare each model.

Installation and Setup

We paid close attention to how easy or difficult the fryer was to get set up. Was it ready to go right out of the box, or did it require any extra steps to make it operational? Did the basket require any special assembly or use any additional trays or wire inserts? Usability

User Interface/Ease of Use: While some options had basic, analog controls like a timer and temperature knob, more complex fryers featured a variety of buttons and dials. These control panels can be a bit intimidating, and we made note of how difficult or easy it was to get straight to the mode we wanted. Versatility: How many other cooking modes and settings does the fryer offer? Does it feature presets or other helpful controls? Most importantly, are these additional cook modes convenient, or too much hassle for their own good? Operation: Is it simple to remove, fill up, and replace the fryer basket, tray, or pan? Were these components comfortable to handle and maneuver? Does it have an annoying beep? Is it loud? Does the timer have a tick-tick-tick-tick? Performance

French fries: We cooked a serving of frozen fries in each fryer, taking note of how evenly they were cooked, as well as how crispy they came out. As per the instructions of each fryer, we shook each batch about halfway through the cooking time (which is recommended with any items that aren’t able to be laid flat in the tray). Battered Shrimp: We cooked seven frozen, butterflied battered shrimp in each fryer, again taking note of how evenly they were cooked. Brussels Sprouts: We cooked a batch of halved Brussels sprouts in each fryer, with a tbsp of olive oil. These were also shaken halfway through, like the french fries. We took note of if they were easily dried out or were cooked unevenly. Design

Capacity: How large is the basket or tray of the fryer? Does the basket/tray size justify the overall size of the entire unit? Is it too clunky or bulky to be convenient enough to store when you’re not using it? Quality of Materials: How does the unit feel, in terms of sturdiness and durability? Did any knobs, handles, or dials feel like they might snap or crack over time? Do any components feel flimsy, like they might snap or crack over time? Overall Appearance: How does it look? Would it feel out of place in a modern kitchen full of stainless appliances and artisanal knifes, pots and pans or would it be more appropriate for an informal dorm room or studio apartment? Accessories: Are there any additional components like pizza pans or crumb trays that might be beneficial? Warranty/Support

If something goes wrong with the fryer, will the manufacturer replace or repair it free of charge? We reviewed each fryer’s warranty, including time period and specific limitations. Maintenance:

Ease of Cleanup: How convenient is it to clean the baskets and trays, as well as the unit as a whole? We noted how easy or difficult this was, as well the post-cooking cleaning process was. Dishwasher Safe: Are the trays and other accessories dishwasher safe? Depending on the size and quantity of the pieces, having to hand-wash them all could substantially lower the convenience factor of an air fryer. What is an air fryer?

Despite their name, air fryers don’t actually “fry” food, at least not in the way a deep fat fryer does. That being said, they do provide similar results. Instead of submerging food in hot oil, air fryers use a heating element and powerful fan to circulate extremely hot air around the food. This allows all sides of the food to be cooked evenly, and produce the crispy, crunchy and delicious food items that you’d typically only get from a deep fat fryer, or at least cooked with a lot of oil on the stovetop.

Air fryers usually come in two different types: the pod-shaped options that use a drawer ba

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