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This air fryer is the best to buy on Cyber Monday

There are many air fryer deals this Cyber Monday, but most aren't worth your time -- except this one.

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My search for the perfect air fryer has come to an end.

Screenshot by Dashia Starr/CNET
This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2021, our list of ideas, by topic, by recipient and by price, to help you discover the perfect gift.

Cyber Monday has arrived with some great deals on air fryers. But how can you decide which appliance is best to buy when so many are on sale? Don't worry, I can help you decide thanks to my long and, at times, bumpy history with them. I love the idea of a kitchen appliance that circulates hot air to cook food nice and crisp in a matter of minutes without the oil needed for deep frying. But I had one problem. While most of the countertop appliances work the same, every air fryer I bought somehow managed to let me down, except for one: the Ninja Foodi 8-quart, 4-in-1 Dual Zone Air Fryer. And it's worth every penny.

Read more: Best air fryer deals for Cyber Monday

My fiancé and I started out with a $50 Dash Compact Air Fryer that was perfect for small spaces, but it didn't hold enough food to have leftovers. I used a Bella air fryer next, and it didn't have the settings we needed for our cooking preferences. We later upgraded to a Chefman air fryer that's no longer available. Despite cleaning it the right way, the grill plate clips came off and the finish started to peel. We knew it was time for an upgrade that would last. 

Cyber Monday update: While this story describes the author's experience with the $139 8-quart, 4-in-1 Ninja Foodi, we're linking the newer, $130 8-quart, 6-in-1 model. It's a similar but updated model that is widely discounted this holiday season. 

When the Ninja Foodi 8-quart, 4-in-1 Dual Zone Air Fryer popped onto my radar, I was a new mom with a full-time job, and it's no exaggeration to say the Ninja Foodie changed our lives. With time being a premium and healthy food a necessity, this turned out enough hot food fast for our growing family. 

Best yet, the Ninja Foodi isn't just an air fryer -- it's also a food dehydrator, a roaster and the best way to reheat leftovers that stay crisp and not soggy (unlike microwaves). Read on to find out what features really sold me. While you're here, here are extra tips to keep in mind when using an air fryer.

Ninja Foodi Dual Zone Air Fryer upshot: 2 baskets are better than one

Again, this Ninja Foodi is more than just an air fryer. If you're looking to dehydrate fruits for a good trail mix or reheat leftover fries, there are settings just for that. You can also roast chicken without heating up your home with the oven (perfect for summer days). And the temperature goes up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and you can set the timer for up to an hour at a time. Most air fryers only have timers for up to 25 minutes. 

But here's the thing: Depending on what you're cooking or heating, you may be able to do two of these things at once. That's because while most air fryers come with one basket, Ninja's dual air fryer has two. That means you can cook two foods with completely different settings at the same time. You can roast a chicken in one basket while air-frying potatoes in another. Being able to cook almost an entire whole dinner with one gadget is a game-changer for my family.

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Remember this summer's air-fried pasta chips? You can make them in a snap.

Allyza Umali/CNET

Smart Finish is the best way for food to finish at the same time

I hate it when my food finishes cooking at different times. Smart Finish is the solution to my problems. Let's say the chicken takes longer to cook in one basket than your vegetables. I just press Smart Finish for the air fryer to finish cooking both baskets at the same time -- regardless of the time or temperature. When it's done, I have hot food I don't have to reheat before getting it on the table. Here's how it works: 

1. To start, press Smart Finish

2. Press 1 and choose your cooking preference: Air fry, Roast, Reheat or Dehydrate. 

3. Select the time and temperature for the food in the first basket.

4. Press 2, then repeat steps 2 and 3.

5. Press Start/Pause.

Match Cook gives you more space 

You've probably heard about the deliciousness of air fryer chicken wings. They're the perfect wing that's crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The only problem is that wings can take up a good amount of space in your air fryer. The best solution I found was using my Ninja Foodie's Match Cook setting as a way to spread out my food in the baskets for even cooking without cramming. Here's how it works:

1. To start, press Match Cook. Both numbers 1 and 2 will light up. 

2. Choose your cooking preference, Air fry, Roast, Reheat or Dehydrate. 

3. Select the time and temperature.

4. Press Start/Pause

If you're ever curious about what settings to use when cooking, Ninja includes two stickers on the air fryer to give you recommended times and temperatures for poultry and vegetables when using Smart Finish and Match Cook. These air fryer recipes can help, too. 

You'll want to keep the space in mind 

The only downside is that this 8-quart Ninja Foodi air fryer takes up more space than other options, but it's still compact for its quart size. It's about 13 inches wide. We also considered the 4-quart Ninja Air Fryer, which has the same settings but only has one basket. For us, the two-basket option won out -- and I'm glad it did.

It's easy to clean, too 

After my Chefman air fryer started peeling, I decided to be very careful when cleaning my Ninja baskets. So far, I've had the air fryer for a year and it's been easy to clean with soap and water. Even though the baskets are dishwasher-safe, I've been using the hand-wash method to preserve the finish. If damage to the baskets does occur, you can buy replacement plates on Amazon.

Hands down, this Ninja Foodi is my favorite kitchen gadget, especially for a fast, easy way to eat healthily (it's a toss-up for the best appliance in my house, alongside our cordless Dyson vacuum). 

Finally, here's the difference between air-frying versus oven-baking your food and an air fryer that doubles as a microwave that I have my eye on.