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Commentary Appliances

Instant Pot's Vortex Plus proves 2019 really is the year of the air fryer

Commentary: Combination cookers are popping up everywhere, but are they worth your money?

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Gourmia's booth at IHHS 2019 sums up the feelings of nearly every small appliance brand at the show.

Molly Price/CNET

Earlier this year, my colleagues and I scoured the aisles of the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago looking for the hottest kitchen innovations. What we found were air fryers. Everywhere.

Now, Instant Pot has released its own air fryer (with six other functions, of course), called the Instant Vortex Plus. Looks like the combination cooking trend isn't going away anytime soon. 

Air frying is moving from a dedicated special appliance to a mode on your toaster oven or even your full-size oven. Other cooking functions might soon follow, too.

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Cuisinart's newest toaster oven includes an air fry button. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

Combining multiple cooking functions in one device isn't new. We've seen products like the Thermomix TM5 attempt it in years past. Adding an air fryer to a toaster oven isn't breaking news, either. Breville was the first to introduce the air fryer-toaster oven concept in 2018. 

But the trend is exploding this year. At the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas, Frigidaire and Bosch both announced air fryer buttons on their newest full-size ovens. Cuisinart, Galanz Americas, Hamilton Beach and De'Longhi all showed off new air fryer toaster ovens for 2019 at IHHS. 

And of course, there's Instant Pot. The brand known for its countertop multicookers released the combination air fryer in early July. The $119 Instant Vortex Plus is only available at Walmart and has a seven-in-one design with air fry, roast, broil, bake, reheat and dehydrate. There's also a rotate option for rotisserie cooking.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

It's sensible enough, given that many toaster ovens already perform a myriad of heating tasks such as baking, broiling, reheating and even rotisserie-style cooking. Most models we saw included the classic wire frying basket in one form or another, and other specialty functions like modes specifically made for pizza and cookies. 

Combining (or as I affectionately call it, "Frankensteining") multiple functions in one device is more popular than ever before. Some companies are taking a simple approach. Black & Decker is releasing a sous vide-slow cooker combination device this year that's fine-tuned for those two functions. 

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Others are more ambitious when it comes to how many tasks one appliance can perform. Galanz, a Chinese company bringing its brand to the US for the first time this year as Galanz Americas, showcased a four-in-one appliance called the ToastWave that can microwave, convection bake, air fry and toast your food.

It's not just the heating element. Gourmia recently announced a new CoolCooker line that includes a pressure cooker and a multicooker with built-in refrigeration to keep foods cool until scheduled cooking begins. 

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The Black & Decker Sous Vide Slow Cooker performs both functions and includes a temperature probe. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

Is it great to have fewer small appliances cluttering up your countertop? Yes. Is it cost-effective (in most cases) to buy a combo device rather than two separate appliances? Yes. Still, those perks aren't enough to convince me that a combination cooker is a smart buy. 

For these to really be the right choice for most homes, they need to work well. I don't mean a passing C- grade for adequately accomplishing the tasks they advertise. I mean really work well. That's what will make these options truly worth it. After all, I'd rather have a great air fryer making an extra crispy batch of snacks and a great toaster oven for my morning bagel than one below-average combination of the two.

If small appliance makers can master the all-in-one style appliance, how does that affect their bottom line? Are they hoping these multitaskers will sell well enough to offset the demise and discontinuation of all their single-function models? Clearly, I have questions.

For now, I'll keep my task-specific workhorses around until a worthy jack-of-all-trades comes around.