As the Black Friday deals continue to come in thick and fast, one appliance in high demand at this time of year, as always, is air fryers. These countertop convection ovens are at the top of everyone’s wish list, and if you can save some money on the purchase, then that’s all the better. However, before you go jumping at a ‘lowest price ever’ deal, know that the best air fryer will vary from person to person. Depending on your circumstances and preferences, the most appropriate design will differ.
Plus, owning one of these convenient appliances might not provide the performance you expect. To help you understand what you’re getting from an air fryer, as well as what to look for, here are 7 things to consider before you buy an air fryer this Black Friday.
First of all, you need to make sure the air fryer is a suitable size for your needs. Air fryers’ capacities are listed in quarts. Compact designs are available with as little as two quarts of space, while larger designs can hold up to eight quarts. If you opt for a toaster oven with an air fryer feature, then those can hold even more. The capacity is usually listed in pounds, but it can also be written in terms of slices of bread or cubic inches.
For general guidance, a three quart air fryer will serve two people, while families of four should look for six quarts or more. While fries can be stacked to some extent, most foods will need to be laid flat across the basket surface, with room between each item to ventilate. So don’t just look at the basket and assume you’ve got ample space.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that most air fryers only come with one basket, which means you can only cook one type of food at a time. If you want to cook more than one ingredient at once, you can opt for a model with two baskets, such as the Ninja Foodi 2 Basket Air Fryer. Although, this will add to the size of the design and the price tag. The only alternative is to batch cook one ingredient after the other.
2. Care and cleaning
Convenience is one of the biggest attractions when it comes to air fryers. So, logically it should be easy to clean up after as well — look out for models with dishwasher safe accessories to make life a little easier. Most air fryers will come with this, although some toaster ovens can recommend hand washing instead — such is the case for the KitchenAid Digital Countertop Oven with Air Fryer.
Keep in mind that all air fryers will need deep cleaning on occasion as well. Over time, grease and food debris can build up both internally and externally, so it’s important that you take the time to do this if you want your air fryer to last longer. Here’s how to clean an air fryer for full instructions on how to do this.
3. Programs and settings
Some air fryers offer basic temperature and time analog controls, while others feature multiple programs and settings — particularly if you opt for a toaster oven. Extra settings don’t expand the versatility of an air fryer (unless it’s multifunctional), but they will make setting the air fryer more convenient. For instance, if you’re cooking French fries, and there’s a program for that, you can simply select that rather than referring to the cooking charts in the manual.
Extra functions are available on some models; toaster ovens, for example, can bake, roast and toast as well as air fry. However, you normally have to pay more to get these additional functions, so make sure you’re going to use them before making a purchase. It’s also worth flagging that, in our testing experience, models with multifunctional settings tend not to perform as well as those with dedicated settings. So if you only want to fry, buy an air fryer.
4. Air fryer vs toaster oven
There are some key differences between these appliances, even though they tend to fall under the same category in the sales. As mentioned earlier, toaster ovens are much more versatile and offer additional functions, meaning they can produce a wider range of recipes. They offer a much larger capacity as well, with some featuring a shelved design to help make best use of the space. They can even fit a whole roast chicken, which most air fryers cannot.
Toaster ovens appear more like mini ovens, with a drop-down door rather than a basket, and metal trim rather than plastic. These are generally heavier, bulkier and more expensive appliances. Toaster ovens will take up more space on the countertop, so make sure you only invest in one if you intend to use it to its full potential. Personally, I’d buy an air fryer over a toaster oven — here’s why. But, if you’ve got your heart set on a toaster oven, here are the best toaster ovens to date.
5. Space requirements
Whether you opt for an air fryer or a toaster oven, it’s going to take up some space on your kitchen counter. And if you decide to store it away between uses, space in your cupboards will still be required. If you only need to cook enough for one or two people, stick to a compact design to save yourself the space.
If you decide to invest in a two-basket air fryer, or a full-fledged toaster oven, make sure you check the dimensions before you buy and factor in space around the product to ventilate. People often forget the footprint of these appliances and the awkwardness of moving them around if you own a particularly heavy model.
6. Is it healthy?
Some people invest in air fryers because they’re under the apprehension that it’s a healthy method of cooking. But, are air fryers actually healthy? While it is indeed healthier versus deep frying, it still requires a small amount of oil. That means if you’re using your air fryer constantly, it’s not a particularly healthy method of cooking.
However, this also depends on what you’re cooking. Air fryers are renowned for crisping fried chicken and French fries, both of which are full of grease, but you can use them for healthier dishes as well, such as sprouts and salmon — see our best air fryer recipes for some guidance. Generally speaking, if you use the air fryer in moderation, and be selective of what you cook, you can better control how healthy your meals are.
7. Cheaper to run
That’s right, air fryers are more energy efficient versus using the oven. This is one of the reasons why these appliances have rocketed in popularity as of late — the energy saving can make a difference to your bills. It makes sense really when you consider the capacity difference and the time and power required to preheat the same space.
Of course, the oven is still the better option for cooking larger quantities, plus it’s much more versatile. But, air fryers can come in handy for cooking quick, small dishes. See our guide on air fryer vs oven for more info.