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Instant Vortex Plus review: This 7-in-1 air fryer feels undercooked

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The Good The Vortex Plus has seven unique functions, and handy accessories like a rotisserie spit and air-fry basket.

The Bad It will take some trial and error to get times and temperatures just right for your foods, and there are some design dilemmas.

The Bottom Line We're hoping the Vortex Plus will get a second generation or rerelease, as this model from the maker of the Instant Pot doesn't feel ready for prime time.

6.8 Overall
  • Performance 6
  • Usability 7
  • Features 8
  • Maintenance 7

The Instant Pot has a devoted fan base and its maker, Instant Brands, has a line of small kitchen appliances that's expanded over the years to include more than just pressure cookers. We've seen the company release an immersion circulator, a blender and multicookers.

Now, Instant Brands is getting into the air fryer game with the $119 Instant Vortex Plus. I dubbed 2019 the year of the air fryer back in March, and this is proving my point. However, in true Instant fashion, it's not just an air fryer. No, no, my friends. This is a 7-in-1 countertop cooker that can bake, broil, reheat, air fry, dehydrate, roast and rotate for rotisserie-style recipes. 

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Chris Monroe/CNET

This combination air fryer dreams big and gets a lot of things right, but it's not without its flaws, and my testing experience left me hoping Instant will make improvements and rerelease it. Should you buy the Vortex Plus? For now, I'd hold off and hang on to your old air fryer. Here's why.

Design

The Instant Vortex Plus looks good. It has a compact design, a stainless-steel front and an easy-to-navigate touchscreen panel up top. The door feels wobbly, but that's because it's removable. Release a latch inside the frame, and you can remove the door for cleaning. That's great for cleaning up crumbs. 

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Speaking of cleanup, all the attachments included (air fryer basket, trays, rotisserie spit parts) are dishwasher-safe. Points to Instant for making my after-dinner routine shorter in that regard. 

My first gripe has to do with the digital display. Plug in the air fryer, and the display reads OFF. Set the mode and temperature, and the display reads ON while preheating the oven. I would much prefer to see PRE or a real-time count up to the requested temperature. This isn't a dealbreaker, I just found the display a bit uninformative for a product that heats up to 400 degrees.

That leads me to my second complaint. That 400-degree temperature limit is a bit disappointing, given that more than a few frozen foods recommend heating your oven to 425. Several other countertop ovens, like the Panasonic FlashXpress, heat up to 500 degrees. 

The folks at Instant told me that the decision to stop at 400 degrees was based on customer feedback and research.

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The digital display on the Instant Vortex Plus shows the temperature once it's preheated. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

While you're cooking, the display alternates between temperature and time, and includes a helpful beep in air fry and roast mode with the corresponding message "Turn food" so you can flip what you're cooking or swap the top and bottom trays.

You'll also need to be careful when you remove the air fry basket or rotisserie accessories as they get very hot while cooking. That can be frustrating if you take out your food only to realize it needs to go back in for a few more minutes (because you couldn't cook it at 425). 

Cooking modes

Truth be told, the Instant Vortex Plus feels less like an air fryer and more like a toaster oven, thanks to the shape and the abundance of cooking modes. It has seven options: bake, broil, roast, reheat, air fry, dehydrate and rotate. All but one are adjustable by time and temperature. A feature called Smart Programs saves your last used time and temperature for each mode.

Admittedly, we're not huge fans of toaster ovens, but like this Vortex Plus they tend to offer different cooking modes while air fryers normally don't. Higher-end models like the $250 Breville Smart Oven and even budget models like the $90 Bialetti 35047 offer modes for specific foods like pizza, cookies and toast, as well as standard options like bake and broil. The Instant Vortex Plus feels more in direct competition with these than your countertop air fryer. 

Air fry

Multiple modes aside, the Vortex Plus is marketed as an air fryer first and foremost. It comes with slotted baking sheets as well as an air fry basket that clips into the fryer's interior chamber. All the equipment is there for a good air frying experience. 

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Molly Price/CNET

Bacon cooked on air fry was one of my favorite results in testing. It was crispy and the design of the slotted baking tray allows grease to drip through to a foil-lined crumb tray below, making cleanup nice and easy.

Air frying didn't always deliver such great results. Our first attempt at air-frying french fries by package directions in the fryer basket delivered soggy, undercooked crinkles. We added some time and put the fries back in for a nice golden finish.  

It's interesting that Instant chooses to market this as an air fryer, when it feels more like a toaster oven that can also air-fry. Standard air fryers with only that function look nothing like the Vortex Plus, and its air-frying functionality didn't yield the consistent crispy results of dedicated air fryers like the T-Fal Actifry FZ7002 and the SimpleChef HF-898

Dehydrate

This is perhaps the most interesting feature of the Vortex Plus. Not a common capability for your typical toaster oven or air fryer, this mode means you can make your own beef jerky, apple or banana chips and even homemade fruit rollups. 

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