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Best air fryer 2021: cook more healthily with these great kitchen appliances

Best air fryers
(Image credit: Tefal)

The best air fryers can transform the way you cook, allowing you to indulge in healthier versions of your favorite foods. We’re talking chips and roast potatoes without the huge amounts of oil needed to make them tasty and crispy – how can you say no?

The best air fryers, which are sometimes also known as health fryers, are handy gadgets that sit on your worktop and create super crispy results with much less oil than if you were to deep fry your dishes.  So, just how do air fryers work? They use a powerful fan to circulate hot air created by a heating element on the top of the device.

It’s not just stand-alone air fryers that offer this kind of hot air cooking, either. Some of the best Instant Pots and multi-cookers, which as the name suggests offer several different cooking methods in one countertop gadget, can air fry too. For example, the Ninja Foodi Multi-Cooker comes with a  3 quarts frying basket on the US model and a 3.2-liter basket in the UK, if you want to air fry in it. 

Air frying is becoming more and more popular. And it’s no surprise given it’s a healthy, and easy, way to cook, and there’s plenty of different dishes you can cook in an air fryer - it’s not just chips and chicken wings. So just what can you cook in an air fryer? Anything you could cook in a traditional fan oven because they work in the same way. This means the best air fryers can be used to roast or bake whatever you’d use your oven to cook, space permitting. 

As there’s more demand for air fryers, there are currently a lot of different options to pick from. But not all are created equal. Each air fryer varies wildly in price and size, which means choosing the best air fryer for you can be overwhelming.

Here’s what you need to know before buying one of the best air fryers on our list. Most air fryers are sold with baskets or bowls that you can pull out. Then you can choose between manual or digital controls. Some models also have separate compartments, which means you can cook multiple foods at the same time.

Air fryers with bowls, including those in Tefal’s Actifry range, offer greater capacities. They also have glass tops, which means you can keep an eye on your meal. This bowl design also means the cooking juices tend to remain in the air fryer and in contact with the food.

In comparison, basket air fryers tend to be healthier because they funnel the juices, as well as the fat, away from the food. However, because these baskets are on runners and tuck away inside the fryer, you can’t check on your food without opening it and letting in cold air – this defeats the whole point.

Another point to consider when choosing an air fryer is its capacity, as well as the machine’s size (and whether you have room for it). The largest air fryers, which come in at around 6.5 quarts (6 liters), are perfect for feeding a family of four, but air fryers with a capacity as small as 2.5 quarts (2.5 liters) can still cook a decent amount of food. 

You can pay up to $330 / £250 / AU$440  for popular air fryers. But as our tests show, this doesn’t always guarantee the best results. 

How we test air fryers

To compare each air fryer, we've spent a month testing how well they cook chips and chicken wings. As well as evaluating how, crisp, evenly browned and in the case of chicken wings, how moist and juicy the meat was, we’ve also compared how easy they are to use.

We rated each design on how many settings it offers, how durable and easy to clean the body and parts are, and how loud their fans are. For each model we wanted to know whether it was simple to use design and didn’t require reading a thick instruction manual before use, came with useful accessories such as frying baskets, or a recipe book for inspiration.

The best air fryers to buy right now

Tefal Actifry Genius XL air fryer

(Image credit: Future)

Tefal ActiFry Genius XL

The ActiFry Genius XL forgoes some of the health benefits of air frying in favour of incredible taste

Reasons to buy
+Makes crispy chips and moist chicken+Rotating paddle helps cook food evenly+Glass top lets you monitor your food  
Reasons to avoid
-Bulky body-Expensive

By making better-tasting chips and chicken wings than we’ve ever managed in our conventional oven, Tefal’s Actifry Genius XL is our king of air frying. The chips tasted so good we could have been convinced they were from a chip shop, and the chicken was moist, while its skin was crispy and retained loads of flavor. 

It has a deeper, flatter shape rather than the tall design of its rivals. The benefits of this are that it fits easily on worktops under kitchen cupboards and allows for a glass 'window' on the top of the machine that lets you keep an eye on what you’re cooking. The heat is also generated at the rear of the machine, meaning it doesn’t get too hot to touch. The downside to this design is that it won’t fit comfortably in a cupboard because of its depth.  

The improved taste of its chips and chicken wings is largely down to its bowl design and rotating paddle, as food cooks in its own juices, albeit as it's moved around the bowl by the detachable paddle. This increases the fat content, because it doesn’t funnel it away, but it also boosts the overall taste, and means you don’t have to clean a separate fat tray.

Read our full Tefal ActiFry Genius XL review

Ninja Foodi Dual Zone Air Fryer AF300UK

(Image credit: Emily Peck / Future)

Ninja Foodi Dual Zone Air Fryer

Cook two different dishes at the same time

Reasons to buy
+Highly versatile+Large capacity+Good range of settings
Reasons to avoid
- Bulky-Reheat function not as competent as a microwave 

 This is the only air fryer we’ve tested that has two separate compartments, so you can cook two different dishes so they’re ready to serve at the same time. As well as air frying, this hand kitchen gadget can roast, reheat, dehydrate and even bake. 

Different cooking methods can be employed in each compartment at the same time too, for example, you can roast meat on one side, and bake on the other side, making it a highly versatile gadget. We were impressed by the ‘sync’ feature that ensures both compartments finish cooking at the same time, so you’ll never be waiting around for one part of your meal to finish cooking. 

The two cooking drawers have an overall capacity of 8 quarts (7.6 litres) and are deep enough to hold a 500g batch of fries, 1kg of chicken wings or up to 12 cupcakes, for example. There’s a crisper plate within each compartment that ensures air can circulate around the food and make sure excess moisture is removed, creating a crispy, golden finish.

During testing we were impressed at just how quickly the air fryer crisped and evenly browned our fries, in fact following the suggested time, they were a little overcooked on the outside, but still fluffy inside. The more we used the machine, the more we got a feel for the exact timings for different dishes. 

It is one of the bulkier air fryers we’ve tested and it does take-up a significant chunk of space on a worktop but it looks pretty stylish combining a glossy black finish with silver accents.

Read our full review: Ninja Foodi Dual Zone Air Fryer 

Instant Vortex air fryer

(Image credit: Future)

Instant Vortex Air Fryer

A large capacity air fryer

Reasons to buy
+Large capacity+Crisp, even browned results+Handy presets
Reasons to avoid
-Bulky-Roast and bake results weren’t as successful 

Instant Pot is most well-known for its multi-cookers that let you pressure cook, slow cook, steam, and saute from one device, but the brand also makes an air fryer. The Vortex Air Fryer has a squared-off design and a square frying basket, as opposed to the circle or oval baskets and bowl found on most other air fryers. With a 6-quart (5.7-litre) capacity, it’s also the biggest air fryer we’ve tested to date - it offers enough space to cook a 1.8kg chicken.

During testing, we found the Instant Vortex Air Fryer was simple to use, thanks to the presets on the touchscreen, while the dial makes it easy to adjust the cooking time. We were impressed with the results - fries were evenly browned and crisp on the outside, with soft fluffy centers. 

The Instant Vortex Air fryer can also reheat, roast, and bake, although we found the results weren’t quite as effective as when using the air fryer setting. For example, cinnamon rolls cooked on the Bake setting were far too crisp after the allotted time.  

It’s worth noting, this is a relatively bulky appliance, so if you don’t have enough room to keep it on a counter top you’ll need to store it away when it’s not in use.

Read our full review: Instant Vortex Air Fryer

Princess Digital Family Aerofryer

(Image credit: Future)

Princess Digital Family Aerofryer

The Goldilocks of air fryers that offers something for everyone

Reasons to buy
+Intuitive digital controls+Classy design+Compact build
Reasons to avoid
-Average chips and chicken

If the Ninja Foodi offers too many settings, the Instant Pot Vortx is too bulky and the Tefal isn’t healthy enough for you, the Princess Digital Family Aerofryer could be just right. Out of all the models in this list, the Princess hits a sweet spot by offering a wide range of digital settings via its touchscreen without being overly complicated. It's also available in two sizes – 3.2L and 5.2L – and has a one-hour maximum timer setting. 

We tested the larger of the two models and, despite offering a similar capacity to the bulky Swan, the Princess was a better fit for our kitchen, both in terms of size – it’s marginally more compact than the Swan – and with its sleek black design. It wasn’t the quietest air fryer we’ve used, but nor was it the loudest, and it also scored highly for not getting too hot to the touch during cooking. 

The Princess Digital’s chips weren’t as fluffy as others in this list, but it did give them a tasty skin. Similarly, its chicken was crispy on the outside, but a little dry on the inside. 

Read our full Princess Digital Family Aerofryer review

Swan Manual 5L Air Fryer

(Image credit: Future)

Swan Manual 5L Air Fryer

A quiet, easy-to-use fryer

Reasons to buy
+Quietest on test+Easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-Inconsistent cooking results

The Swan Manual 5L Air Fryer is the quietest we’ve tested and thanks to its manual controls, it's easy to use, too.  Design-wise, it's relatively compact, even more so when you consider that its small design houses a large 5-liter bowl with a basket attachment, and could be stored in a cupboard if space is at a premium or it won’t be used regularly. 

The Swan failed to match the performance of rival air fryers on this list. Some of its chips were delicious, others were soggy. It was more successful in cooking the chicken wings, but, again, inconsistency let it down, with some of the wings being among the best we tasted, while others were dry and lacked a crispy skin. This is a shame, because the Swan is clearly capable of great things – it’s just a little hit and miss. 

The Swan air fryer still represents good value when it comes to performance versus price. It’s also available in black and cream, as well as a digital version, yet the latter two are currently showing out of stock on a number of websites. 

Read our full Swan Manual 5L air fryer review