Air fryers are fairly new kitchen gadgets. Debuting in 2010, they’ve become beloved as a healthier alternative to the deep-fryer while retaining a lot of the taste and crispness that people look for in deep-fried foods.
We find that foods made in an air fryer, and chips in particular, do have a fried quality. But if you're used to deep-fried food, then you won't be fooled: most people can taste the difference.
If you're thinking of buying one of these cool new kitchen gadgets, these are some of the important factors you should consider:
Capacity Most air fryers can cook around 800g (around four portions) of chips. Some can manage up to twice as much. If you've got lots of people to cater for opt for a larger capacity, or a model with double-level cooking.
Worktop and storage space Air fryer designs differ but some are huge and heavy. The Ninja OP450UK for example is 36cm high and 42cm wide, and weighs 10kg out of the box. Some also come with lots of extra accessories that you'll need to find storage for. If you're short on space, it's worth looking at more compact models.
Power cable length We always list this in our reviews because it can determine how close you'll need to site your air fryer to the mains.
Digital or manual controls Digital models can make it easier to see how much cooking time is left. Some even come with smartphone control via an app.
Dishwasher-proof parts This can help save on cleaning time.
Air fryer types explained
The model you pick affects how much space you have to cook with, and how much effort you have to put in. These are the main types:
Air fryers with a pull-out tray (e.g. Philips Airfryer) These have a tray or basket you add food to and slot in, you usually can't check progress without pulling out your food.
Air fryers with a bowl (e.g. Tefal Actifry) These have a wider bowl with a viewing window in the lid so you can check on the food without disturbing the process. They sometimes have a stirring paddle too, though we’ve found this doesn't always make for better results.
Air fryers vs deep fat fryers
Despite both having 'fryer' in their name, air fryers and deep fat fryers work quite differently. Air fryers are often referred to by manufacturers as healthy or low-fat fryers, as they use hot air and a small amount of oil to cook the chips by convection. The results are more akin to oven chips than traditional chip-shop chips. Deep fat fryers submerge chips in hot oil to cook them, giving a crispier but fattier result.
We've broken down the differences between the two, including how they work, what their chips taste like and how to choose, in our guide to how to buy the best deep fat fryer.
Air fryers vs multicookers
The home appliance market changes over time and new trends emerge. Right now, countertop cooking appliances are becoming bigger, bulkier and more feature-laden as they take on a multitude of cooking tasks, from air frying and pressure cooking, to steaming and slow cooking.
We’ve tested pressure cookers and multicookers that also work as air fryers, like the Ninja OP350UK and the Instant Pot Duo Crisp & Air Fryer. These have separate lids for pressure cooking and air frying, and do a number of other jobs, too. All this versatility comes at a premium though, so if you’re tempted by fancy features, consider whether you’ll really use them all. If you just want batches of chips and the odd chicken drumstick cooked, a simpler, cheaper air fryer will do the job just as well.
Best air fryer features to consider
What are the best air fryer features to consider? Here are a few useful options:
Some air fryers come with a paddle that automatically moves the food around as it cooks. This should save you from having to stir and turn it over yourself and ensures that your food cooks evenly - provided it works. We've found that some air fryers that stir your food for you don't do a very good job of it, so while a stirring paddle does make it more likely that your food will be evenly cooked, it's not guaranteed.
Air fryers with a stirring paddle can usually also be used without the paddle in, so you can cook more delicate foods in the air fryer without the paddle breaking them up into pieces.
Some air fryers can be set to work at a tilted angle. This tilt, combined with the rotating bowl, is designed to have a similar effect to the paddle, ensuring chips get tumbled around for even cooking.
Digital vs manual timers
All air fryers have timers that allow you to set how long you want your food to cook for, and show you how much cooking time is left. Some, such as the Philips Viva Airfryer and Russell Hobbs Purifry, have manual dials that you turn to set the time, but most other air fryers, including the Tefal Actifry, have digital timers instead. A digital timer can make it easier to see at a glance how much time is left on the clock.
With the Philips Viva Airfryer, and a few other air fryers, you can set the temperature you want the food to cook at. Typically, you can choose anything from 80°C to 200°C.
This could be handy if you want more control over your cooking. However, we've found that temperature controls don't necessarily mean your food will cook better; some air fryers without temperature controls did much better in our tests than some of those that had them.
A 'smart' air fryer is one you can control from your phone or tablet. You select the recipe you want to use from the app, which then sends instructions to the air fryer to cook the food to a particular temperature and length of time.
You can keep an eye on the cooking time using the app on your phone, and it will let you know once cooking is finished.
This is a fairly uncommon feature and products with smart capabilities that we've tested have come and gone from the market. But when we come across any more, we'll be sure to flag them.
Some air fryers, like the Ninja Foodi MAX AG551UK, give you the option of grilling your food instead of air frying it, which could come in particularly handy for cooking meat or fish.
Extra cooking rack
Some models, like the Tefal Actifry 2-in-1 and the Ninja Foodi Dual Zone, have a second compartment that allows you to cook two different types of food at once, so you could make steak and chips without having to mix them together.
This could either be an extra level - as on the Actifry 2-in-1, a smaller basket that fits within the main cooking bowl, or a second compartment of even dimensions.
You need to wash your air fryer every time you use it, so you might appreciate being able to put the various parts in the dishwasher and let it do the work. Ideally, the basket/bowl, lid and stirring paddle should all be dishwasher safe, although this isn't always the case.
Our reviews also tell you how easy each fryer is to clean by hand, so you know which fryers are more trouble than they're worth.
It depends on how many people you're cooking for and how much space you have. The smallest air fryers we've tested can hold up to 800g of food - that's about four portions of chips. It's roughly equivalent to what you can fit on two baking trays in the oven.
Most air fryers can cook at least four portions in one go. If you typically only cook for four people or less, any of the air fryers we've tested should be big enough. But if you want the option of using the air fryer to cook for more people - or you just have a particularly hungry family - air fryers such as the Tefal Actifry 2 in 1 or Tefal Actifry Express XL can fit almost twice as much (1.5kg).
Air fryers vary quite a lot in size and shape, and can take up quite a lot of worktop space. We list the dimensions and any useful storage features, such as a retractable cord, as part of our reviews.
How much do I need to spend to get a good air fryer?
Air fryers start from around £60, but models with extra features - such as control via an app on your phone or multiple compartments that let you cook two foods at once - will set you back well over £200. The cheapest models will usually have a smaller capacity too.
The average cost of the air fryers we've tested was £142 in July 2022.
We’ve tested one air fryer that scored 70% or over in our tests which cost under £100.
In the 70%+ score range, two air fryers cost over £200.
Don't Buy air fryers
There is a correlation between price and quality with air fryers, but this does not mean that all expensive air fryers are good, nor the opposite. In our tests, some cheaper air fryers were so poor we named them Don't Buys. We also found some pricier models that gave disappointing results - including soggy, limp or tasteless chips.
The hallmarks of a bad air fryer include:
Uneven cooking, with parts of the food burnt and other parts undercooked
Programmes consistently giving poor results, an issue that’s compounded when there’s no visibility into the air fryer
A poor user experience, with complicated and unclear controls, parts that aren’t dishwasher-safe, and issues with the construction of the appliance
Poor temperature accuracy, with massive differences between settings and actual cooking results
High energy consumption
We’ve tested 11 air fryers that have low scores. One of them, a Don’t Buy, cooked up such a bad batch of chips, that our expert remarked that they couldn’t eat a whole serving.
Looking for a cheap air fryer? Visit our air fryer reviews and use the Price (low to high) (Best Buys only) filter.
What can I cook in my air fryer?
Air fryers are essentially countertop fan ovens and are just as versatile. They can be used to prepare a huge variety of foods. Any food that does well when roasted, baked or fried will do well in your air fryer.
As well as chicken and chips, other popular choices include potatoes, roasted vegetables, falafel, fish, pizza and even baked goods such as cookies and cakes.
Air fryers can also be useful for quickly cooking and crisping up frozen foods and snacks such as fish fingers, chicken nuggets, spring rolls and pies.
Things you should avoid putting in your air fryer include fresh greens, cheese and any food covered in wet batter. Cooking whole roasts such as roast chicken can also be problematic, so joint your bird first before frying.
If you're out of warranty then getting your air fryer replaced can be very expensive, so much so that it's worthwhile wondering if you should even bother. Air fryers have fairly short guarantees, usually one or two years, so you'll only be covered for a brief period of time after purchase.
Some manufacturers sell spare parts for air fryers but for the most part, you can only buy parts that are readily accessible and easily exchanged. Buying spare racks and baskets is easy, but internal components are generally too hard to access and not sold separately.
Ninja sells parts like baskets and racks for their air fryers, though no internal components.
Philips sells dials, handles, baskets, racks and more.
Tefal has a fairly extensive spare parts shop, though for air fryers, you're only likely to be able to get spare paddles, baskets, drawers, components that are readily accessible.
Tower sell pots, lids, baskets, thermometers, pressure regulators and more.
As a general rule, if you've broken something detachable from your air fryer then you might be in luck. If something more complicated has gone wrong, like an internal component has stopped working or if performance has nosedived because of the heating element or the fan, then you'll need to fix it yourself or take it in for repair.
Air fryers have only been around for a decade, and it's only recently that they've seriously grown in popularity. As they become more of a kitchen mainstay, we'll have a better idea of how long they last, and which models have proven to be the most durable in the UK's kitchens.
How should I dispose of an old air fryer?
According to Recycle Now, around one million tonnes of electrical and electronic waste are generated every year. Every item that has either a plug, a charger, batteries or carries a crossed-out wheelie bin logo can be recycled, and that includes air fryers.
Some shops, such as Currys, will collect and recycle old appliances when delivering new ones – check the store website for details.
You can arrange for an electrical waste collection through your local council.
Take the appliance to your local council recycling/reuse centre.
Appliances that are still working can be reused. If your old blender is still working, donate it to charity (many offer collections), sell it, or take it to your local council recycling/reuse centre. You can find your nearest recycling location (including stores and council sites) using Recycle Now’s recycling locator.
We leave no stone unturned in finding the air fryers that will cook to perfection and be simple to use when you get them home. Here's a quick summary of our tests:
Quality of cooking
We challenge air fryers to cook batches of chips and a chicken, to ensure they can turn out tasty fried treats and keep meat succulent and tender. Our expert tasters rate the chips on taste, and we also scrutinise them to assess how evenly cooked they are. Some models will leave you with poorly cooked, even raw chips, or burnt ends.
As well as cooking performance, we check each air fryer heats and cooks quickly, so you aren't left waiting an age for your dinner. We also check if the surfaces are cool to touch - some models get very hot during cooking. Finally, we rate how noisy each model is, to catch any particularly noisy or annoying ones.
Overall ease of use
Air frying should be a simple way to prepare food, but some models can trip you up with confusing instructions and awkward food containers. If you hate clearing up after dinner time, make sure to choose one that’s easy to clean and fits tidily into your cupboards.