We’re sad to say that after more than 35 hours researching and testing air fryers, we don’t recommend them for most people. The air fryers we tried didn’t cook food better than a regular convection oven or convection toaster oven. Though we were genuinely excited to test air fryers, we think they’re far too expensive for what they give you. However, if you’re determined to get an air fryer, the Philips HD9641/96 Airfryer was the best of the models we tested—but we still don’t recommend it.
As an alternative, convection toaster ovens are significantly cheaper than most high-end air fryers, and they offer more features and better cooking results. Thanks to their convection settings, the Breville Smart Oven and the Cuisinart TOB-260N1 produced crispier, more flavorful food than the tested air fryers did.
As a kitchen staff writer for The Sweethome, I have reviewed immersion blenders, food processors, and portable induction cooktops, among other kitchen gear and gadgets. For this guide, I spent over 35 hours researching and testing air fryers.
Despite what their name implies, air fryers are actually mini convection ovens that operate using a circulating fan—located above an electric-coil heating element—that blows hot air around food to cook it. This is the same basic technology found in regular full-size convection ovens or convection toaster ovens. “Air fryers” is a misleading marketing term, since these appliances actually bake food instead of frying it.
To be clear, air fryers can’t replicate the texture or flavor of foods that are traditionally deep fried. When food is completely submerged in oil, its direct contact with the oil dehydrates its surface, and it acquires the crispy brown exterior everyone knows and loves.
Companies that sell air fryers claim that they are a more healthful option because they use less oil than traditional deep fryers, which is true. But since air fryers are a form of convection baking, these companies are comparing apples to oranges. To demonstrate, we tried cooking traditional buttermilk-battered chicken—which would normally be shallow or deep fried—in an air fryer, and the results were disastrous. The chicken was cooked through, but sections of the batter were overcooked, while other areas had globs of raw wet flour. The lesson here is that battered foods need to be submerged (or partially submerged and flipped) in oil for even browning and texture. The mediocre food we prepared in an air fryer only left us pining for real honest-to-goodness fried food made the old-fashioned way.
That said, we realize air fryers are popular appliances right now, with astonishingly positive reviews. But we think that’s because they’re endorsed by celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Emeril Lagasse, and because they’re sold as a more healthful alternative to deep frying.
People are enthusiastic about air fryers these days, but we think that’s because they don’t realize they already have appliances in their home that will create the same (or better) results. Given that all air fryers do is blow hot air around, we don’t think any of the ones we tried are worth the money—especially if you already have a convection oven or toaster oven. Here’s a full rundown of air fryers’ flaws.
Even the best air fryers we tried prepared food that was unevenly cooked, soggy, and less flavorful compared with the same food we cooked in a convection oven or convection toaster oven. Most excelled at cooking frozen french fries only when preparing one or two servings at a time. When filled to capacity, even the best air fryers had a handful of undercooked, soggy fries mixed in (and in some cases the fries on top burned while the fries on the bottom of the basket were completely raw). Frozen finger foods came out soggy. Fresh, hand-cut french fries wound up dehydrated. Pork chops appeared pale and unappealing. In contrast, the food we prepared in the oven and toaster oven cooked more evenly, because we had placed it on sheet pans in a single layer.
Air fryers are expensive: The models we tested range from $100 to $300. But we think you’ll get more bang for your buck by spending $200 to $250 on a convection toaster oven, which produces better results—crispier finger foods, more flavorful fries—and is also big enough to cook a 12-inch frozen pizza, a whole chicken, or several slices of bread.
Air fryers are surprisingly large. One will hog almost as much real estate on your kitchen counter as a toaster oven but won’t offer the same versatility.
The “fryer” baskets on the models we tested have a nonstick coating. As we’ve learned from researching and testing nonstick skillets, the coating will eventually deteriorate with regular use and exposure to high heat. Additionally, our testers found each air fryer’s perforated basket and tray to be far more difficult to clean than the single sheet pan we used in the oven or toaster oven.
When you pile finger foods into the shallow basket of an air fryer, the food doesn’t have ample space to cook evenly. Most manufacturers recommend tossing certain foods once during the cooking process, halfway through. Realistically, to get the best results, you need to toss the food in the basket several times, which isn’t very practical. These small appliances also aren’t helpful for large families—if you need to cook more than two servings of anything, you can forget about having dinner on the table in a reasonable amount of time.
Inaccurate cooking guidelines
For best results, we had to adjust the time or temperature on every model we tested. In most cases, food took longer to cook than the manual indicated.
Most air fryers come with accessories that are sold separately, such as a cake pan or grill pan, but we found them to be gimmicky add-ons that didn’t prove useful. Most manufacturers, such as Philips, sell several accessories separately. However, we can’t justify spending $20 to $40 on additional pieces when each air fryer model is already exorbitantly priced.
On the plus side, an air fryer cooks food three to five minutes faster than a standard convection oven or convection toaster oven, though we still don’t think that slightly faster cooking time is worth the price. Another convenience is that an air fryer won’t heat up your kitchen as much as an oven will—but neither will a toaster oven.
Since we could find very few editorial reviews of air fryers online, we relied heavily on customer reviews as well as on the lists of highly rated models on Amazon.com. For this guide we tested six air fryers ranging from $100 to $300.
First, we prepared a batch of frozen french fries and timed how long they took to cook. We evaluated each batch to see whether the fries turned evenly golden brown and crispy or whether any pieces ended up under- or overcooked. After our initial round of testing, we prepared hand-cut fries in the finalists. We also cooked pork chops in each of the fryers to test how well they browned raw meat. And we “air-fried” frozen breaded chicken tenders and fish sticks.
While the machines were cooking, we felt the exterior of each model to see if they became too hot. We also took note of any off smells while the appliances were operating. We assessed how easy the controls were to use and how accurate the cooking guidelines were for preparing common foods. Additionally, our testers evaluated the cooking capacity of each model, and we noted any egregiously noisy fans or annoying beeps. After testing we washed all of the fryer baskets by hand to see how easy they were to clean.
The Philips HD9641/96 Airfryer was the best air fryer we tested, but we’re not wild about it—or any other air fryer, for that matter. But of the six models we tested, the Philips HD9641/96 did the best job of cooking food evenly when the basket was filled to capacity. The interface on this model was straightforward and easy to use, too. The Philips HD9641/96 also had the smallest footprint of all the air fryers we tested.
Cooking results ranged from acceptable to mediocre. When we cooked 28 ounces of frozen french fries at 350 degrees Fahrenheit in the Philips HD9641/96 for 25 minutes, most turned out evenly cooked, but a handful of fries were still underdone. However, the Philips air fryer fared better than others we tested, such as the GoWISE USA GW22621 and Avalon Bay Digital Air Fryer 220SS, which burned the fries closest to the heating element and left the ones on the bottom of the basket completely raw. The hand-cut fries we cooked in the Philips HD9641/96 using ½ tablespoon of oil were evenly browned, but they had a dried-out, dehydrated texture. Some of the fish sticks and breaded chicken tenders were soggy in places and not as crispy as we had hoped, even after we increased the cooking time. And though the pork chops we cooked in the Philips HD9641/96 had nice color around the edges, the centers were pale and unappetizing. The edges of the meat were browned, but the surface was almost completely pale, and the result didn’t hold a candle to the glistening, evenly browned pork chop you can get from cooking in a skillet. Is a device that cooks food so poorly worth $250? Nope, it isn’t.
Of all the air fryers we tested, the Philips HD9641/96 had the smallest footprint, measuring approximately 14¼ by 10½ by 11 inches, length by width by height. That said, it’s still bulky, and it takes up ample space on a kitchen counter. But it has the least offensive design, unlike the huge T-fal air fryer we tested, which at about 17 by 12½ by 8 inches looked like something out of an ’80s sci-fi movie.
The Philips HD9641/96 has an easy-to-use interface, with preset functions for french fries, chicken, fish, and chops. We didn’t find the preset functions very helpful, however, because the cooking times can vary depending on the quantity of food you’re cooking.
This model also has a 60-minute timer that rings twice to alert you when your food is ready, but in our tests it was so quiet we could barely hear it from an adjacent room. The fan on this model was quieter than those on some of the others we tested, but it was still noticeable.
The Philips HD9641/96 comes with only a one-year warranty, which isn’t very reassuring for something that costs $250. If you encounter problems with the air fryer under normal household use, contact Philips customer service.
All of the air fryers we tested have a pan and basket with a nonstick coating; you should avoid using metal cooking utensils or abrasive sponges, which could damage the surface. Though most manufacturers say you can wash the pan and basket in a dishwasher, we don’t recommend it. Washing the pieces by hand using hot water and dish soap will help the nonstick coating last longer.
Always unplug the air fryer and let the basket and unit cool prior to washing. It’s best to clean out the pan and basket after each use; otherwise any residual oil will smoke or cause the interior to smell a little funky. You can also clean the interior of the appliance with a damp cloth or paper towel. We think it’s best to store an air fryer with its basket slightly ajar to allow the interior to air out.
Also, never add oil (or any other liquids) to the fryer basket, or you may cause permanent damage to the unit. Avoid overfilling the basket past the max fill line. And while the machine is operating, be sure to maintain sufficient space around the air vents located on the back of the air fryer.
The Philips HD9240/94 XL Airfryer is basically a larger version of the Philips HD9641/96 Airfryer. In our tests, the two devices performed similarly, but we think the larger model is impractical for most people because it takes up a lot of counter space and costs $300. The booklet guidelines are not reliable, either: The directions say to cook 4 ounces of chicken breasts at 290 °F for eight minutes and then at 360 °F for six minutes. Unfortunately, 290 °F isn’t a temperature option on this model.
Although the analog Philips HD9220/28 Airfryer is a popular model on Amazon, we decided not to test it because the Philips representative we spoke with told us it would be phased out later this year.
The Black+Decker HF110SBD Air Fryer was the best budget model we tried (it was about $100 at the time of our testing), but it had the smallest max-fill capacity of all the fryers we tested. In most cases, we were able to successfully cook only about one serving of food at a time.
The T-fal ActiFry FZ7002 is unique in that it has a paddle that rotates food while it cooks. In our tests, however, the paddle mutilated and broke apart fish sticks and breaded chicken fingers. This model is also unnecessarily large and lacking in temperature controls.
The french fries we cooked in the GoWISE USA GW22621 turned out badly burned on top and undercooked on the bottom. Also, when you reinsert the basket, the air fryer slides across the counter, because it doesn’t have enough weight or grip to stay in place.
Like the GoWISE model, the Avalon Bay Digital Air Fryer 220SS burned the fries closest to the heating element and left those on the bottom of the basket raw. The Avalon Bay model was one of the few that came with accessories in the box. But we found the included cake pan to be so small (it measures just 6 inches in diameter and 1 inch high) that it was virtually useless.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
That dinner was delicious.