We tried dozens of ovens to find the best air fryers to make healthier fries, chicken and more of your favorites in a flash.
If you're just now hearing about air fryers, we're happy to catch you up on the buzziest small kitchen appliance of the decade. First, I'll send you over to CNET's complete guide to air fryers. After you've decided you want one -- trust me, you want one -- we've done all the heavy lifting to match you with the right model. For most people, Ninja's 4-quart model is the best air fryer to scoop up with plenty of power, a user-friendly control panel and a price that's easy to swallow.
The answer depends on your needs, budget and space. There are simple and inexpensive pod-shaped air fryers, including tiny models, all the way up to massive dual-basket ovens to cook for large groups and families. There are also air-frying toaster ovens, which are typically heavier, more stationary and more expensive. There are even air-frying Instant Pots and microwave-air fryer combos to consider.
The air fryer remains a very buzzed-about kitchen gadget and is our absolute favorite way to fire off quick snacks using less oil and to reheat leftovers. We also did some math and it turns out that energy-efficient air fryers can even save money on your electric bill.
In testing to find the best air fryers, we've stumbled across a few in all of the above categories that we like. Depending on your cooking habits, space and budget, one might be a better fit than another. Ninja still makes our favorite pod-shaped air fryer overall, but we also tested some excellent small air fryers, large air fryers and air frying toaster ovens worthy of consideration. (You can also check out our picks for the nine stellar kitchen products that are worth a splurge.)
Ninja's sleek and simple pod air fryer continues to impress in our yearly testing and thus we see no reason to remove it from the top spot. The Ninja is powerful, easy to operate, looks great and clocks in at a reasonable price. We tested both the 4-quart model and the otherwise identical 5.5-quart model. There were no discernible differences in performance between the two.
The Ninja turned out the best chicken wings of any air fryer we cooked them in. It seems to run a little hotter than other models of its size, but I consider that a good thing. Air frying is about getting the outside crispy without drying out the middle, and you need a blast of hot convection to do it.
The Ninja's control panel is simple and intuitive. There are a handful of presets and cooking modes beyond just flicking on the air fryer including bake and reheat which are perfect for warming bread or reviving leftover pizza without burning them.
One thing to note is the Ninja lacks a special cooking mode for vegetables. So, much as in earlier rounds of testing, the fresh Brussels sprouts emerged a tad overdone -- even burnt in spots. This simply requires a little bit more checking when you're air-frying certain foods for the first time.
Editor's note: On Feb. 23 Cosori recalled over two million air fryer models for due to a potential fire and burn hazard. The below model was not affected by the recall.
It was a battle to the finish line between the Ninja and the Cosori. In truth, I would be happy with either one on my countertop. The Cosori Lite is 4 quarts -- a size I like, although the brand makes plenty of larger models. This air fryer has a max temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 50 more than the Ninja, but I cooked chicken wings on high in both machines for 25 minutes, and they emerged nearly identical.
Another thing I liked about this model is the placement of the LED controls, which sit directly on top of the oven, making them easy to see and program. The dishwasher-safe basket fits snugly into place and I was able to easily remove it without having to use force.
I liked the simple and straightforward cooking programs -- not too few and not too many. The Cosori is also a smart air fryer so you can control it from your phone via an app. This wasn't something I found particularly useful, but it's there if you want it. The app also has more than 100 recipes to try, which is great for air fryer inspiration.
As the award suggests, this air fryer is small. About as small as any brand makes them. But if you're only cooking for one, or even two, it very well may be enough capacity and will save you precious space on the counter. The Gourmia has good power to make eight or nine crispy chicken wings in about 25 minutes and a few servings of fries in about half that time.
The digital controls are easy to manipulate, and there are several modes to use. Air frying. Of course, but also broil, bake and reheat if you want to cook foods more gently. For an air fryer under $40, this model is solidly built and the basket fits snugly into the hull without any wobble. It's also easy to clean and quiet when running.
If you want a slight upgrade in size, I recommend the Magic Bullet 2.5-quart model. It has simple analog controls and 1,300 watts of power, which is more than enough for an oven this size. It runs about $20 more than the Gourmia but will give you more cooking capacity to play with.
A dual-basket air fryer allows you to cook most of an entire meal in one go without fear of burning one thing or undercooking the other. Smaller baskets net better results when air frying, so I suggest a dual-basket as opposed to an oven with one single, large cooking chamber.
While Instant also makes a formidable version, Ninja's 8-quart (two 4-quart baskets) is our top pick sporting tons of power at a great price. As with the single-basket Ninja, this machine feels rock solid and the baskets slide in firmly with no wiggle.
It has all the same settings and cooking modes as the single basket model as well but allows you to toggle between both baskets to set the time and temp accordingly. There is also a handy match cook setting if you're doing one huge heap of wings in both baskets. This model will take up the most space of any on the list, so keep that in mind before you decide. There is a smaller 6-quart model (two 3-quart baskets) and a larger 10-quart version (two 5-quart baskets) if you think you'll need it.
Need more info? Check out our full review on the Ninja Foodi Dual-Basket air fryer.
If you're eyeing an air fryer but also an Instant Pot or another multicooker, let me save you some money and kitchen space. The Instant Pot Duo does all the work of the popular multicooker -- pressure cooker, slow cooker, steam and saute -- but comes with a separate air fryer lid and cooking function as well.
I found the air fryer function worked as well or better than most of the solo air fryers I tested. One reason, and something you might consider a drawback, is that the cooking capacity is relatively small, which generally translates to better air fryer results since the hot circulating air hits the food harder, hotter and faster.
Instant Pot's Duo model made incredible crispy "fried" chicken, wings, veggies and other classics, but know that you'll likely have to cook in batches if you're making food for a group. It's also a solid deal considering all this machine does. The Duo Crisp can often be found for $150 or cheaper if you nab it on sale.
One thing I don't love about this model is the steel air fryer basket, which is trickier to clean than the pod-shaped models, most of which feature nonstick cooking baskets.
Breville's stylish Smart Oven Air is our favorite air fryer and toaster combo. This isn't just a proficient air fryer but a mini version of a smart oven that can handle a small chicken, as many as four filets of salmon or a tray of homemade cookies. Most likely because of its size, the Smart Oven Air took a little bit longer to get crispy chicken wings and Brussels sprouts, but only by a few minutes.
The Breville heats very consistently and has a wealth of cooking modes -- toast, bagel, bake, roast, broil, warm, reheat, air fry -- making it about as good a replacement for your big oven as any. If you have a toaster oven you like and are just looking for an air fryer, this probably isn't the pick. But if you want a countertop appliance that can do far more than wings and wedges, this is a whole lot of oven for under $300.
Ninja's $200 Foodi oven is another we tested and really liked. While it was the best toaster at actually air frying, its cooking chamber is very slim, making it impossible to fit certain foods. It's also more of a pain to clean than the Breville.
Crux Marshmello: This compact 3-quart air fryer did well in testing and the cooking basket was easy to clean. But I wasn't a fan of the control panels, which sport cutesy LED images in place of words, and it wasn't abundantly clear what each one was for.
Phillips Essential Compact Air Fryer: I didn't have any major complaints with this 4-quart model, and it's a good value at under $120. That said, it was less powerful when air frying chicken wings and other foods.
PowerXL Air Fryer: This is another small air fryer that did well in testing, but I prefer the controls and sleek design of the more budget-friendly Gourmia 2-quart.
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 its results. 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.
Dash Compact Air Fryer: We found the Dash Compact Air Fryer to be underpowered. While the larger Dash Deluxe is a powerhouse, the Dash Compact struggled to air-fry almost everything we put inside it. Both french fries and Brussels sprouts were underdone and unevenly cooked. The only bright spot was chicken wings. They took 30 minutes, but I was treated to skin with some crunch.
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.
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 decent chicken wings. However, it undercooked the Brussels sprouts and frozen french fries. We also found the Chefman's timer control confusing. This dial is labeled in numerical increases of 10. The numbers, though, are separated by groups of four dots, not nine as you would expect.
PowerXL Vortex Air Fryer: You might consider purchasing the PowerXL Vortex, but we recommend against it due to its steep price and mediocre frying performance. We had satisfactory results cooking chicken wings in it. However, this machine overcooked Brussels sprouts and the french fries were just OK.
DeLonghi Rapid Crisp: The DeLonghi Rapid Crisp was one of the most expensive models we tested, and it just didn't live up to the price tag. While I really liked the design, sturdy build and appreciated the small viewing window for watching cooking progress, I found the buttons and interface clunky. There was no way to set an actual cooking temp -- only presets -- and even those weren't very intuitive.
Beautiful Air Fryer by Drew Barrymore: This air fryer offering from the actor's new kitchen line performed well in the four rounds of testing. It showed good power and cooked chicken wings to a nice crispy outside and kept a juicy inside after about 25 minutes. The air fryer's interface is slick, although I liked the Ninja's simpler control panel more, which is one of a few reasons it edged out this unit for best air fryer overall. That said, this is a great option and clocks in at about $30 cheaper than the Ninja. It also has a pleasing design with smooth matte plastic (which does smudge a bit).
To date, we've tested well over a dozen air fryers to curate this list. Each air fryer is evaluated for its power, consistency, ease of use, design, features and overall performance. In total, we've logged over 75 hours of air frying.
There are hundreds of recipes that can be made with an air fryer but we stuck to the basics and focused on the most popular foods people associate with air fryers. Chicken wings are at the top of that list but French fries, frozen snacks and dense vegetables -- in this case, Brussels sprouts -- are tried and true air fryer food. Before we began, we consulted each model's manual for relevant cooking directions. If the manual didn't provide specific instructions, we applied uniform procedures to each air fryer depending on the type of food we were preparing.
For chicken wings, we followed a basic air fryer recipe. First, we preheated the air fryer 400 Fahrenheit and cooked them for 25 minutes in the basket with the included tray and checked on them and turned them every 8 minutes. Most of the air fryers we tested had a solid showing in the wing test although some, including the powerful Ninja and Cosori Lite models, got the wings a bit crispier in that amount of time.
For Brussels sprouts, we preheated the ovens to 375 Fahrenheit and cooked them for 15 minutes. Before cooking, we rinsed and cut the sprouts in half and tossed them with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. In this test, some ovens struggled to brown the outside of the sprouts but most got there eventually.
For the French fry test, we opted for Alexia's frozen crinkle-cut fries and cooked 1 cup, according to the air fryer directions on the bag. Quick note: Be careful when cooking fries in an air fryer as some types, especially thinner-cut fries, can dry out easily when hit with superconvection. We recommend heftier waffle fries, tater tots, crinkle cut or potato wedges over the shoestring variety.
At the end of each test, we looked for how evenly the items were cooked, if they were cooked through and whether they had a sufficient level of crispy, crunchy, fried goodness comparable to deep frying or pan frying.
Beyond cooking performance, how easy an air fryer is to operate and how intuitive the buttons and controls were something we observed closely during testing. Overly complicated settings, controls and presets didn't generally result in high marks, but certain features were appreciated. All air fryers have base-level control over the temperature and cook time, although some are controlled digitally while others require the crank of simple manual dials. From there, you'll find preset programs for various foods such as wings, fries, fish, veggies and even baked goods.
To get a sense of how each air fryer in this test group handles, we ran a battery of three tests on each model. Each test focused on one food: chicken wings, Brussels sprouts and frozen french fries.
In a word, cleanliness. While the idea of a toaster oven that doubles as an air fryer is a good one, and the air frying function on many of the hybrid machines is proficient, there are certain foods we love cooking in an air fryer that are too messy to cook in a toaster.
All pod air fryers have removable cooking baskets and most of them are nonstick. When you're cooking chicken thighs with a sauce or even veggies drizzled with oil -- a few favorites -- there is going to be some inevitable splatter. Air frying mode is intense, with high convection heat circulated at a fast pace. Do this in a toaster oven, which is markedly more difficult to clean, and you'll be dealing with some serious caked-on gunk after the first few dozen uses.
Pod air fryers, on the other hand, take very little effort to get clean. Most air fryer baskets are now thicker and also nonstick. But beware of thin wire baskets, which can be tougher to clean. Both types can be removed to soak in the sink and some can be run through the dishwasher. The same can't be said for the inside walls of a countertop oven.
If you're buying a toaster oven, however, there's no reason not to get one with an air fryer function. It can still be used for less splatter-prone foods such as potatoes, frozen empanadas and filets of salmon with too much risk of making a mess.
Despite the name, an air fryer doesn't fry at all. Rather, air fryers are more like a supercharged convection oven, circulating hot air with a fan and hitting food more rapidly than most ovens. That causes the outside of food to cook more quickly without drying out the inside and giving a crispy, fried-like outer shell to wings, fries and other foods. Most air fryers come standard with a grated rack or perforated basket so the air can travel through and hit the food on all sides.
For more, read CNET's complete guide to air fryers.
While there are several features to consider, the size of your air fryer is likely the most important decision you'll make. If you're typically cooking for one or two people, a 2- or 3-quart air fryer should be large enough. Consider adding another quart of capacity to your air fryer for every person that you're regularly cooking for. A family of four or five, for instance, should be fine with a 5-quart model. If you plan on regularly cooking full meals for a family including meat and veggies or sides, you might consider a larger, dual-basket air fryer like the Ninja DualZone that we've recommended above.
All that said, the smaller the air fryer you can get away with the better. I've found that smaller air fryers such as the Magic Bullet 2- to 5-quart model and Instant Pot's Duo Crisp net better results since food is going to get blasted faster and more often than inside a larger model. But smaller air fryers mean less overall capacity, so you may have to cook in batches.
Most air fryers are somewhere between 1,200 and 1,800 watts. Larger air fryers typically have more wattage and smaller models have less. Your midrange 4-quart air fryer should have about 1,500 watts. The small Magic Bullet and Gourmia air fryers have 1,300, but that's plenty of power to cook food in the petite basket. Larger air fryers should have about 100 more watts per quart to make sure they hit those hot temps of 400 to 450 Fahrenheit.
Some fancy models may come with extra accessories, but really all you need is an air fryer basket with wire or nonstick grates. They come standard with most air fryer models and help the superconvection to hit all sides of your food evenly. I prefer the nonstick variety as wire baskets can be particularly tricky to clean.
That depends on the type of cooking you'll do and what other appliances you already have. I personally like having a solo air fryer, but I'm also a fan of the Instant Pot Duo Crisp which functions as both an air fryer and a multicooker (also a pressure cooker and slow cooker).
The air fryer is a simple cooking machine that employs hot, fast circulating air to flash-roast food inside a contained frying basket. While there's generally no or very little oil used, the results can be similar to that of traditional frying in that food comes out crispy on the outside and (ideally) moist on the inside. Air fryers heat up fast, cook quickly and make healthier versions of traditionally fatty fried foods, so what's not to love? But they're not just for healthy versions of bar snacks.
The options for foods you can cook in an air fryer are vast, but some air fryer favorites include chicken wings, chicken tenders, french fries and mozzarella sticks. You can also make fish in an air fryer, including salmon, for a moist inside and roasted outer crust. Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs are great when made in an air fryer, as are certain vegetables like Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, onions, peppers and carrots. Frozen foods such as dumplings, potato skins, Hot Pockets and tater tots can be made in an air fryer for a quick and easy snack or side dish. Air fryers can also quickly reheat food, like last night's pizza or leftover fried chicken.
Yes. Generally speaking, air frying is a healthy way to cook. Cooking with an air fryer means you'll get foods that taste like they've been fried but with little or no oil. You can make healthier chicken wings, french fries and cheese sticks without deep-frying or pan-frying in oil. Some foods do best in an air fryer with a light coating of oil, but most don't require any. Air fryers have become popular in part because they allow people to eat snack-type foods but with far less fat, cholesterol and fewer calories.
Air fryers use convection heat similar to a standard oven but moving at a faster rate. There are no magnetic waves or experimental heat sources to worry about.
Power and size are the most important factors in finding the best air fryer for you. The Ninja air fryer that we liked best has 1,550 watts of power but you can expect an oven with slightly less oomph to also deliver solid results.
The best size for an air fryer is relative and will vary based on your personal requirements. A 4-quart model should be enough for most households and can easily hold five or six chicken thighs at once. There are also air fryers as large as 10 quarts that make cooking for large groups easier and some as small as 2 quarts that are perfect for singles and couples. Other considerations include how intuitive the interfaces, dials and controls are as well as the build and durability of each air fryer.