Air fryers have soared in popularity over the last few years but before you splash out on Black Friday, there are some things you should know.
The point of an air fryer is to cook food that tastes fried without actually doing any frying in a pan or in a deep-fat fryer. They use significantly less oil – just a couple of sprays or even none at all.
Imagine chips cooked with barely any oil that have fluffy insides, crunchy skins, a brown coat, and a delectable fried taste. This is the goal – but do air fryers deliver?
Our testing has taught us a lot about these up-and-coming appliances, so read our tips before you buy.
1. Air fryers are just glorified convection ovens — but make food taste fried
There’s a lot of marketing hype around air fryers and how unique they are. In reality, they just use old technology in a new way.
An air fryer is essentially a convection oven that sits on your kitchen counter. Inside its cooking chamber, it blows around searing hot air with a fan to quickly cook your food in just a small amount of oil.
In theory, the food tastes as if it was deep-fried in oil even though it’s only been cooked with dry air, hence the name ‘air fryer’.
We find that foods made in an air fryer, and chips in particular, do have a fried quality. But if you’re used to deep-fried food, then you won’t be fooled: most people can taste the difference.
But for great tasting chips cooked in a lot less oil than conventional frying methods, an air fryer is a good investment. Our experts rate every air fryer we test on the quality of the chips it makes, giving the best air fryers top marks for texture, crispness, browning and taste.
Which? subscribers can find air fryer Best Buys and models that are great value for money by reading our air fryer reviews.
2. Air fryers are sometimes enormous
Air fryers can be really big and heavy. If you use yours regularly, it’s likely to be a permanent fixture on your counter, taking up space you could otherwise use to prepare food or store something else.
For reference, some of the bigger air fryers we’ve recently tested have these dimensions:
But it’s more than just the body of the appliance, you also need to consider all of the accessories you get.
When we unboxed several air fryers to test them recently, we ended up with a lot of paraphernalia to store away. For example, every air fryer-pressure cooker hybrid had two big lids as well as baskets and racks to find a place for.
Another measure to be aware of is the length of the power cord. We always list this in our reviews because it can determine how close you’ll need to site your air fryer to the mains.
3. Air fryers can cook just about anything, even cake
The last time we surveyed Which? members about air fryers, most hadn’t heard of them. And of those that had, the consensus was pretty clear: air fryers are mainly for cooking chips, and everything else is a bit of a novelty.
We don’t dispute that air fryers excel at cooking chips, and since these are one of the nation’s favourite foods, they tend to be the primary use of air fryers. In fact, in our testing, how air fryers cook batches of chips is a major decider in our test scores.
But you can cook a lot of things in an air fryer. It’s common for them to come with presets for poultry and fish, as well as other things like cake, pastry and vegetables. In fact, you can pretty much do anything in an air fryer: if you can oven-cook it, you can air fry it.
Some air fryers, like the Ninja Foodi Dual Zone and the Tefal Actifry Genius XL 2in1 YV970840 come with two cooking zones for this purpose, so you can cook two components of a meal alongside each other.
To find out more about shopping for an air fryer, read how to buy the best air fryer.
4. Some pricey pressure cookers and multicookers can air fry too
The home appliance market changes over time and new trends emerge. Right now, countertop cooking appliances are becoming bigger, bulkier and more feature-laden as they take on a multitude of cooking tasks, from air frying and pressure cooking, to steaming and slow cooking.
This year, we’ve tested pressure cookers and multicookers that also work as air fryers, like the Ninja OP350UK and the Instant Pot Duo Crisp & Air Fryer. These have separate lids for pressure cooking and air frying, and do a number of other jobs, too.
All this versatility comes at a premium though, so if you’re tempted by fancy features, consider whether you’ll really use them all. If you just want batches of chips and the odd chicken drumstick cooked, a simpler, cheaper air fryer will do the job just as well.
If you’d like to buy a pressure cooker first and other features are secondary, read how to buy the best pressure cooker.
5. Most air fryers cost over £100, but there are a few bargains
Air fryers can be expensive, and in the world of small cooking appliances, they’re certainly not a budget option.
But chips-lovers can rejoice. Though many air fryers do come at a high cost, there are some cheap models on the market.
- The average air fryer cost £133 in October 2021.
- We’ve tested three air fryers that scored 70% or over in our tests which cost under £100.
- In the 70%+ score range, only two air fryers cost over £200.
There is a correlation between price and quality with air fryers, but this does not mean that all expensive air fryers are good, nor the opposite.
Black Friday and the festive sales periods are an opportunity to take some of the sting out of the cost, as long as the bargain you find is genuine and on a decent model.
See the top five air fryers according to our rigorous lab tests to find out which models are best and which to avoid.
6. Bad air fryers undercook or burn food and are hard to use
We put air fryers through rigorous comparative tests to sort the best from the rest. And in our time, we’ve found some disappointing air fryers.
The hallmarks of a bad air fryer are:
- Uneven cooking, with parts of the food burnt and other parts undercooked
- Programmes consistently giving poor results, an issue that’s compounded when there’s no visibility into the air fryer
- A poor user experience, with complicated and unclear controls, parts that aren’t dishwasher-safe, and issues with the construction of the appliance
- Poor temperature accuracy, with massive differences between settings and actual cooking results
- High energy consumption
We’ve tested 11 air fryers (all currently for sale) that have low scores. One of them, a Don’t Buy, cooked up such a bad batch of chips, that our expert remarked that they couldn’t eat a whole serving.
A serving of chips you couldn’t stomach is best avoided, so it’s important not to buy a dud model.
We compare the most popular air fryer brands in our guide: Philips Airfryer vs Tefal Actifry vs Ninja Foodi – which one should you buy?
Our latest air fryer tests
We’ve been publishing air fryer reviews over the last month with more coming. The models we’ve just tested are:
Make sure you know what guarantee you get with your Black Friday purchases. Read about the fine print worth checking in the Black Friday sales.