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Best air fryer for 2021: Ninja, Philips, Dash and more

Best air fryer for 2021: Ninja, Philips, Dash and more

Editors’ note, April 19: We are suspending our recommendation of the Cosori 5.8 Quart Small Air Fryer after a report from the Cisco Talos Intelligence Group of a potentially dangerous software vulnerability. We will update this story as we investigate further.

You can’t deny that fried food is delicious, but the amount of oil used isn’t the healthiest. Fortunately, there’s a great workaround: air fryers. These delightful machines don’t use any oil or grease, can produce similar crispiness to frying in oil and are easy to clean.

These days, demand for air fryers is at an all-time high. That’s no surprise — after a year of pandemic-related restrictions that had more people eating at home, an appliance that can quickly and easily cook up culinary favorites was sure to be popular. This means there are more air fryers on the market than ever before. You can choose among personal fryers, large family-size models and every size in between. There are air fryers with basic mechanical dials and controls, while others have fancy cooking options and presets — some even have smarts and app connections.

Here we explore what to look for in a quality air fryer if you’re itching to try that air-fried chicken recipe you found on Pinterest. We’ve also taken into consideration things like counter real estate and whether or not you’re feeding an army. This list will help you find the best air fryer, so grab some frozen french fries and chicken nuggets and prepare to fry up a storm.

Our test cohort.


Brian Bennett/CNET

Unlike previous air fryers we liked from from DeLonghiKrupsT-Fal and Black & Decker, today’s modern air fryers are more powerful, meaning quicker access to crispy fries, onion rings, chicken nuggets or any other frozen food that you might typically make in a deep fryer that you can fit in an air cooker’s basket. They also have more capacity so you can cook more food, and are lighter, quieter and easier to clean.

No matter how simple or complex, though, what truly counts is how well they deliver goodies straight from the fry basket. When it comes to air fryers, that can vary a lot, whether you’re frying up a frozen bag of tater tots or cooking from a recipe book. Here’s what I learned after putting several top-rated models through their paces to find the best air fryer out there. So that I can be sure we don’t miss any amazing air fryer updates, I’ll be revisiting this list periodically.

The best air fryer overall (Update: Not currently recommended)

Cosori 5.8-Quart Smart Air Fryer

Brian Bennett/CNET

When it comes to turning ingredients into delicious food, it’s tough to beat this air fry model from Cosori. Incredibly sophisticated, the air fryer boasts 11 preset cooking modes for preparing a wide array of food types. It also looks sleek and compact despite offering close to 6 quarts of capacity.

I put the Smart Air Fryer’s presets to good use too. Everything from frozen food like chicken nuggets and french fries to onion rings and mozzarella sticks tuned out golden brown and delicious. It even tackled air-frying Brussels sprouts with gusto, thanks to its dedicated root vegetable mode. You can also link the air fryer to your phone via mobile app. The software provides cooking alerts, plus reminds you to shake the frying basket (and its contents) if necessary.

The Cosori fryer is enjoyable to operate as well and isn’t too loud. All that adds up to a compelling air fryer pal if you’re on the hunt for one. However, we don’t currently recommend it for security reasons — see the note at the top of this roundup.

Brian Bennett/CNET

It’s hard to pass up a plate of chicken wings. That’s especially so if they’re made by the Ninja Air Fryer. This machine transformed humble frozen wings into something magical. They came out evenly cooked, with crispy skin, and were a real crowd pleaser. My kids snapped them up in no time.

The Ninja also whipped up batches of mozzarella sticks that were nicely done. They started out frozen and were transformed into crispy, crunchy and gooey cheese bombs in 8 minutes flat. If you’re into fries, the Ninja won’t disappoint either. Frozen french fries were golden brown and delicious in 10 minutes.

The only time the air fryer stumbled was when I cooked Brussels sprouts. The Ninja lacks a special cooking method mode for vegetables so my fresh sprouts emerged overdone, even burnt in spots.

Read more.

 

Brian Bennett/CNET

Here’s an air fryer that’s easy on the eyes. While the Dash Deluxe is large and has a massive 6-quart cooking capacity, its design is striking. The appliance I tested was colored in aqua, though it also comes in red, black and white. Its controls are also all manual (no presets), but they’re simple to operate. The fryer even has an interestingly textured, patterned top. I’m a sucker for that stuff.

The air fryer also fried up batches of wings, Brussels sprouts, tater tots and french fries that were all cooked evenly and well. That said, it’s easy to overshoot when air-frying a mozzarella stick if you’re not careful. I did just that, resulting in a cheesy explosion after just 6 minutes at 350 Fahrenheit. That said, the fryer’s cooking basket has a nonstick coating that’s a cinch to clean.

Read more.

 

Others we tested



Brian Bennett/CNET

Instant Vortex

One popular option is the Instant Vortex. It’s priced in line with the other air fryers in this group. The Vortex is made by the same company that created the groundbreaking Instant Pot electric pressure cooker. Despite that, though, I wasn’t blown away by the food I fried in it.

Using the recommended settings, mozzarella sticks came out a tad soggy with exteriors not quite crispy enough. Chicken wings and fried chicken were acceptable, not incredible, and less juicy than what other fryers produced. My Brussels sprouts ended up overdone too. And frozen fries were done but cooked unevenly.

Amazon review average: 4.5 out of 5 stars (30,879 ratings)


Brian Bennett/CNET


Dash Compact Air Fryer

The Dash Compact Air Fryer is different from its bigger sibling in important ways. Specifically, the small air fryer is underpowered and comes with a rock-bottom price tag. While the Dash Deluxe is a powerhouse, the Dash Compact struggled to air-fry almost everything I put inside it. Both french fries and Brussels sprouts were underdone and unevenly cooked.

Mozzarella sticks emerged from the air fryer basket hot, but weren’t all that crispy. The only bright spot was chicken wings. They took 30 minutes but I was treated to skin with some crunch. 

Amazon review average: 4.5 out of 5 stars (1,047 ratings)



Brian Bennett/CNET

GoWise USA 8-in-1 Digital Air Fryer

You may not have heard of this brand, but this offering from GoWise is a solid choice. It didn’t cook the skin of my chicken wings evenly. That said, french fries came out crispy, crunchy, with creamy interiors. The fryer also roasted Brussels sprouts well, no mean feat for this group of appliances. 

Amazon review average: 4.6 out of 5 stars (771 ratings)

Home Depot review average: 4.5 out of 5 stars (730 ratings)



Brian Bennett/CNET

Chefman 2.1 qt. Analog Air Fryer

Another relatively affordable choice is the Chefman Analog Air Fryer. It’s tiny too, offering just 2.1 quarts of food-frying capacity. The appliance did deliver tasty mozzarella sticks and decent chicken wings. However, it undercooked my Brussels sprouts and frozen french fries. I also found the Chefman’s timer control confusing. This dial is labelled in numerical increases of 10. The numbers, though, are separated by groups of four dots, not nine as you would expect.

Target review average:4.5 out of 5 stars (430 ratings)



Brian Bennett/CNET

PowerXL Vortex Air Fryer

You might consider purchasing the PowerXL Vortex, but I recommend against it due to its steep price and mediocre frying performance. I had satisfactory results cooking chicken wings in it. However, the machine exploded my mozzarella sticks when I fried them as directed by the product manual. It also overcooked Brussels sprouts and the french fries it prepared were merely OK, not outstanding. 

Amazon review average: 4.6 out of 5 stars (235 ratings)

Target review average: 4.2 out of 5 stars (485 ratings)


Philips Avance Airfryer with TurboStar

Even with a significant drop in price, the Philips Avance Airfryer isn’t worth your money. Sure, this kitchen appliance does a decent job of heating frozen convenience food like mozzarella sticks and pizza rolls. But when it comes to fresh food like chicken wings, the results from the Philips air fryer were on par with what you’d expect from a conventional oven.

Amazon review average: 4.6 stars out of 5 (1,188 ratings)


How we evaluated them

It’s certainly a surreal feeling to test multiple air fryers while a pandemic silently rages around the globe. Just like my colleague Ry Crist found with waffle makers, I found the busywork of cooking quite soothing. Perhaps that’s why so many people have embraced bread-making and baking during this time of uncertainty. 

At four runs per machine and eight air fryers in all, I air-fried a minimum of 32 separate test batches. I also washed each appliance thoroughly between each batch of food. 

At the recommended settings, my mozzarella sticks resulted in a cheese explosion. Thankfully the Dash Deluxe air fryer has a nonstick basket that’s easy to clean. 


Brian Bennett/CNET

Ease of use

When frying items with each appliance, I made sure to record how my experience went. I paid attention to things like the labels, controls and displays or buttons if these machines had them. I also took note of how loud the air fryers were while they operated.

Chicken wings cooked in the Ninja air fryer were very tasty.


Brian Bennett/CNET

How they cook

To get a sense for how each air fryer in this test group handles, I ran a battery of four tests on each product. Each test focused on one food ingredient. These were mozzarella sticks, chicken wings, Brussels sprouts and frozen french fries. 

Frozen french fries made in the Cosori air fryer were golden-brown and delicious.


Brian Bennett/CNET

Before I began, I consulted each model’s manual for relevant cooking directions. If the manual didn’t provide specific instructions, I applied uniform procedures to each air fryer depending on the type of food I was preparing. For fries, I set the fryer for 380 F. After preheating for 5 minutes, I cooked the fries for 12 minutes. I also gave them a shake every 5 minutes.

For chicken wings, I preheated to 400 F, then fried them for 30 minutes. I also made sure to flip them with tongs every 10 minutes. For mozzarella sticks, I preheated to 350 F and cooked for 6 minutes. For Brussels sprouts, I preheated to 375 F and cooked for 15 minutes. Before cooking, I rinsed and cut the sprouts in half and tossed them with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

At the end of each test I looked for several criteria. These included how evenly each item was cooked, how well done they were and, of course, whether they had a sufficient level of crispy, crunchy, fried deliciousness comparable to deep frying.

Roasting Brussels sprouts well is tricky for an air fryer.


Brian Bennett/CNET

More cooking coverage at CNET and Chowhound

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