Even if don't yet have one, there's a good chance you have heard about the air fryer this year—home cooks can create crispy snacks and meals with a mere fraction of the oil thanks to this gadget.
The idea of better-for-you fried foods is propelling sales of air fryers, with upwards of 4 million units sold in 2017: a tenfold increase over the last two years, according to research firm NPD group.
Air fryers are best used to make many foods deliciously crispy (some more so than others) due to circulating hot air—such as potatoes, chicken, fish, even sweet treats like churros. But each model varies: from size (most models range between 2 and 6 quarts) to actual cooking features, each air fryer is different from the next. Which is why the team of retail experts at Consumer Reports conducted in-depth tests of many of the air fryers released in stores this year.
Consumer Reports released their definitive ranking of air fryers after an in-depth review of 14 different models. They evaluated each air fryer for how much food it can actually hold, the functionality of the cooking controls, noise levels, and the cost and effort needed to clean the machine.
It's important to note that each air fryer comes with different instructions for cooking times and ranges of temperatures—so it's important to not overload the basket, as this could slow down cooking and keep air from reaching all of the food inside.
"Even when we held cooking times and temperatures constant, the results were very similar—with no discernible differences in taste," said Consumer Reports' lead test engineer, Larry Ciufo. "The real difference among air fryers comes down to convenience, so we designed our tests around that."
Looking for recipes for your new air fryer? Read on:
Here are three top air fryers you should buy, according to the experts—and why each ended up being better than most:
1) Elite Platinum 3.5-Quart Digital Model, 3.4 Quarts
Shoppers may be concerned about the bulkiness of this machine's circular shape, but tests reveal that its handle folds down, making it easier to store in a cabinet. Experts said this model—which retails for just $71—stays relatively quietly during operation and comes equipped with pre-programmed cooking settings that are very easy to use. Apparently, cleaning the basket isn't as smooth as other models, however.
Shop Now: Elite Platinum Air Fryer, Amazon.com.
2) Ninja Air Fryer, 3 Quarts
Tests of Ninja's air fryer found that it is among the easiest to use: controls on this model earned an "Excellent" for usability and range. Cleaning this $99 model is easier thanks to its rectangular, upright build, which is a big departure from other oddly shaped models. But reviewers noted that it is quite loud—equal to that of a countertop microwave—which can be disruptive in already hectic kitchens.
Shop Now: Ninja Air Fryer, Amazon.com.
3) Nu-Wave Brio Air Fryer, 5.8 Quarts
This is the largest model on this list, which makes it better for a larger family or the home cook who doesn't want to fry meals in multiple batches. Similarly to a smaller Brio model, this air fryer's controls are easy to use, and its basket and interior also earned top marks for being so easy to clean. This air fryer is one of the noiser models on this list, which is most likely due to its size. This larger model is Prime eligible and is currently sold on Amazon for just $99.
Shop Now: Nu-Wave Brio Air Fryer, Amazon.com.