We thoroughly researched more than 40 air fryers before buying the 10 best of 2020. We then cooked more than 200 meals to find the absolute best of the bunch. Air fryers are somewhat mysterious machines and, without actually using one, it can be very difficult to know if one would actually be useful in your kitchen. Our testing results won't only answer that question, if you decide an air fryer would be a worthy addition to your kitchen they can lead you to the perfect model. Read on to learn exactly what these devices can and can't do, and which ones do it best.
The Best Air Fryers of 2020
Best Overall Air Fryer
Ninja 1550 Watt
If you've decided an air fryer would up your food prep game, we think the Ninja 1550 Watt is your best bet. In our testing it was able to produce a pleasant crispy texture more frequently and reliably than any other model. Given that cooking performance, it's not surprising that the Ninja 1550 Watt also provided the best temperature accuracy in our tests, staying nearly spot on throughout many rounds of testing. That temperature accuracy can really come in handy as this device doubles as a food dehydrator, a process that is generally improved by controlled cooking temperatures. To top all of this off, the Ninja's price is actually towards the lower end of the spectrum despite its field-leading performance.
Our biggest complaint with the Ninja 1550 Watt is its cleaning process. While we find pretty much all air fryers at least somewhat annoying to clean, the Ninja's basket tends to accumulate more stuck-on food bits than most, and can be difficult to hold onto when cleaning. If you can deal with this small amount of extra cleaning labor, however, this cooker offers the best experience of all the models we tested.
Read review: Ninja 1550 Watt
Best Bang for the Buck
GoWISE USA 3.7 Quart Programmable
The GoWISE USA 3.7 Quart Programmable's streamlined fry basket tends to easily shed any grime or gunk, making it the easiest to clean of the bunch. In our opinion, that alone is reason enough to choose this model. But it backs that convenience up with above average cooking performance and an easily understandable interface. Plus, you get all of that for an impressively low price.
The major downside to the GoWISE 3.7 Quart is its lack of temperature accuracy, as its temperature regularly fluctuated in our testing, often dipping up to 15˚ below the set temperature. This generally didn't affect its cooking results (if anything you might have to leave the food in for an extra minute) but makes it a slightly less predictable machine than the Ninja 1550 Watt. It also feels slightly less sturdily built than the Ninja, but overall it provides a god air frying experience at a relatively low price.
Read review: GoWISE USA 3.7 Quart Programmable
Most Versatile Appliance
Breville Smart Oven Air
Air fryers are essentially just smaller, more efficient super convection ovens, so in many cases getting a small and efficient toaster oven with a powerful super convection setting can be both a better and more versatile alternative. If you'd like to go that route, we think the best option is the Breville Smart Oven Air. It can air fry right alongside the best of the dedicated devices, and offers all of the functionality of a conventional oven and then some. No need to be intimidated by such a complex, feature-laden product, as its well-designed interface makes navigating its nearly endless list of settings surprisingly easy.
The biggest roadblock to enjoying the Smart Oven Air is its sticker price, and that's quite a big roadblock. Its air frying temperature accuracy can also be a bit off in air frying mode, which is surprising as we found it to be one of the most accurate toaster ovens when used in more conventional cooking modes. If you're in the market for both a toaster oven and air fryer, however, and don't mind spending extra for something that will make your conventional oven all but obsolete, this is the machine for you.
Read review: Breville Smart Oven Air
Best Pressure Cooker Combo
For those interested in both an air fryer and a pressure cooker but that don't have much counter space to spare, the Ninja Foodi is a great solution. This single device can both pressure cook and air fry, which opens up opportunities for things like pressure cooking a chicken and then finishing it off with an air frying crisping cycle. Most importantly, we found it to be quite effective in both of its cooking attributes.
Combining two devices into one does create some issues. Namely, the large air frying lid can be difficult to clean, and the larger cooking chamber can make it challenging to remove the air frying basket. Additionally, the Foodi is quite expensive. In fact, it generally sells for more than the price of a top tier pressure cooker and a top tier air fryer combined. Therefore, the Foodi is really only compelling if you're looking to save space or like the idea of being able to quickly switch between cooking functions for a single recipe.
Read review: Ninja Foodi
Air fryers are having a bit of a moment right now, being hailed by many as the next great kitchen appliance. So what exactly are they? At their core, these machines are small, efficient, super convection ovens that use a fan to circulate hot air around food in order to get it crispy, all while using much less oil than a traditional deep fryer. However, these machines also generally fall well short of recreating the taste of deep fried food. Those thinking one of these devices will allow them to enjoy crispy and decadent fried chicken without the guilt will be sorely disappointed. That being said, these fryers can add a delightful crisp to many foods more easily and efficiently than most other cooking methods.So, does one of these machines deserve a place in your kitchen? If you like the approximation of frying that this cooking technique produces, and would like to incorporate it into your meal rotation 2+ times a week, we think it's worth investing in the speed and convenience of a dedicated air fryer. If you don't think you'll be air frying frequently, you might be better off using the convection or broil setting on your conventional or (better yet) toaster oven for those occasional dishes you want to get crispy.
Why You Should Trust Us
Michelle Powell brings over a decade of professional food service experience to the table in designing and implementing tests for kitchen appliances. She has a nuanced understanding of the way an appliance should perform and what the highest quality result should look like. Max Mutter has been testing kitchen appliances for the last 3 years, having now reviewed more than 100 toasters, toaster ovens, pressure cookers, espresso machines, coffee makers, and coffee grinders.
In completing this review we cooked dozens of batches of sweet potato fries, onion rings, tater tots, doughnuts, and chicken strips, using the exact same ingredients, recipes, and techniques in each one of our air fryers. After some side-by-side gluttonous taste tests, we carefully evaluated each model's general user-friendliness and ease of cleaning. Finally, we plopped two calibrated oven thermometers into each model and set them to four different temperatures to assess heating time and, more importantly, temperature accuracy.
Related: How We Tested Air Fryers
Analysis and Test Results
Air fryers are a somewhat niche kitchen appliance, but in some specific situations can be quite useful. Our testing results have parsed out the specific pros and cons of each model, and can help you decide whether or not each would be a worthwhile addition to your kitchen.
Related: Buying Advice for Air Fryers
When assessing the value of air fryers, it's important to remember that most of them tend to sell for well below their list price. That being said, we think the GoWISE USA 3.7 Quart Programmable offers the best overall performance to price ratio. If you can stand to spend a little bit more, the Ninja 1550 Watt offers high-end performance for quite a reasonable price. Though it's expensive, the Breville Smart Oven Air is a great air fryer and offers about every other function you could ever want from an oven, and thus is well worth its high price if you're looking for an incredibly versatile kitchen appliance.
Cooking performance was both our most heftily weighted metric, and where we spent the majority of our testing time. In order to find the best fryer for every dish, we made sweet potato fries, onion rings, doughnuts, chicken breast, and frozen tater tots. We prepped all of these foods in the same way with the same ingredients, then made them in each fryer all at the same time. This allowed us to compare freshly prepared treats from each model, one right after the other. We specifically scored each model on how well and evenly they were able to crisp the outsides of foods, and how well cooked the insides were. While all did a reasonable job, some were clearly better than others.
A number of different models share the top score of 8 out of 10 in this metric. In general, these models were able to reliably and consistently place a crispy veneer on foods in our testing while completely cooking the insides, though all have slightly different strong suits.
First off in the 8 out of 10 club is the Editors' Choice winner, the Ninja 1550 Watt. It prepared some of the best onion rings and doughnuts in our testing, getting the outside crispy without sacrificing too much moisture on the sides. It did quite a good job with chicken, tater tots, and sweet potato fries as well, but these items felt a little less crispy and slightly dryer on the inside.
Also earning an 8 out of 10, the Best Buy winning GoWISE 3.7 Quart produced some of the crispier sweet potato fries in our testing, and made the best overall onion rings. It struggled a bit with more substantial foods, particularly chicken, but in general was able to produce an appetizing dish no matter the contents.
The Cosori Smart CS158-AF also earned an 8 out of 10 in our cooking tests, largely due to its nearly perfect onion rings. It also did a better job of getting sweet potato fries somewhat crispy than most other models. This performance was rounded out by juicy and tender chicken breast and delightfully fluffy doughnuts.
Another 8 out of 10 scorer, the Dash Compact served us very crispy and evenly cooked onion rings. It also made some of the most tender chicken in our testing. It did struggle a bit to get sweet potato fries and donuts truly crispy, however.
Rounding out the 8 out of 10 group, the BLACK+DECKER Purifry's onion rings earned all of the superlatives on our score sheet. It also made the best chicken breast of all the machines, with the results getting about as close to perfectly roasted chicken as one could hope. It also excelled at getting tater tots crispy, but its results in our sweet potato fry and doughnut tests were somewhat lacking.
Again, multiple models share the second, 7 out of 10 step on our cooking performance podium, with the Philips HD9641/96 being the first. Its onion ring and tater tot offerings were on par with those of the top scorers, but it had a harder time getting doughnuts and specifically sweet potato fries crispy. Its chicken breast was also a bit on the chewy side.
Our tests proved that non-dedicated air fryers can also produce great air frying results, as both the Breville Smart Oven Air (toaster oven) and the Ninja Foodi (pressure cooker) earned 7 out of 10 in our cooking metric. The Smart Oven performed well across the board, falling just short of earning a "best of the best" moniker for everything from onion rings to chicken. The Foodi made excellent doughnuts and onion rings, and pulled more crispiness out of sweet potato fries than most other machines. However, it struggled a but with chicken breast, making things taste a bit dry and overdone.
Falling just out of the upper echelon of performers, the T-fal Actifry's forte is definitely onion rings, achieving a nice level of crispiness. However, outside of onion rings it never seemed to be able to get anything beyond a slightly crispy level, with sweet potato fries being a particular weak point.
The worst performer in our cooking tests, the Cuisinart TOA-60 (which is a convection toaster oven), can get foods crispy, but often suffers from consistency issues. Across the board we found parts of particular batches with nice, crispy outsides, while other parts still tasted a bit soggy or undercooked.
One of the main draws of getting a dedicated air frying device is that they can make what could be a complicated and time-consuming process much simpler and quicker. In testing user friendliness we paid attention to three specific things: the intuitiveness of the user interface, how easy it is to load, unload, and shake the frying basket, and how much each model can adjust to different types of food (essentially how many cooking settings are offered). After scoring each of these categories we came out with the models that can make meal prep easier, and the ones that may be a bit more trouble than they're worth.
The Ninja 1550 Watt provided the most intuitive user experience in our tests, largely thanks to simple and straightforward control panel adorned with an easy to read LCD screen. A frying basket that easily slides in and out using just one hand is the cherry on top.
Sharing the score of 8 out of 10 in this metric, both the GoWISE 3.7 Quart and the Breville Smart Oven offer well-designed interfaces and bevies of cooking and temperature settings. However, the GoWISE's fry basket tends to stick a bit when sliding it in and out, and the fry basket of the Breville requires you to grab hold of it with pot holders when you need to move it, something none of the dedicated devices necessitate.
Most of the models we tested fell into the 7 out of 10 range in our user friendliness testing. For the most part, these machines offer intuitive user experiences with just one or two minor annoyances that take a bit of getting used to.
Again bringing up the rear in this metric was the Cuisinart TOA-60. It actually offers a number of cooking settings, but its control dials feel flimsy and can be hard to position correctly, and its frying basket must be placed on a baking tray, which creates a rather precarious situation when trying to remove it.
Ease of Cleaning
When it comes to air fryers there are essentially two cleaning tasks: wiping any bits of food off of the fry baskets between batches so those bits don't become chunks of charcoal on the next go around, and actually washing the basket and machine when you're done cooking. We completed both of these tasks multiple times for each machine, taking careful notes each and every time and paying attention to how different types and textures of foods affected the cleanup process.
The GoWISE 3.7 Quart proved to be the easiest model to clean in our testing, earning a score of 9 out of 10. Both its fry basket and inner basket shed grease quite well and are thus easy to wipe down and clean. Our only minor complaint is that the texture on the inner basket can catch some fuzzies from your rag if you forget to wipe with the grain.
Falling just out of the top spot with a score of 8 out of 10, the T-fal Actifry also does a great job of shedding food and grease. However, it has a paddle in the center of the basket that moves the food around, and that paddle has some sharp points that make the cleaning process a bit more difficult.
Also earning an 8 out of 10 in our ease of cleaning metric, the BLACK+DECKER Purifry offers easy access for cleaning and generally wipes down easily. However, it can start to gunk up and hold on to grease a bit more if you cook a few batches in a row.
The Cosori Smart CS158-AF is also quite easy to clean, earning an 8 out of 10 in this metric. Its basket generally wipes clean without much fuss, though it does have a propensity to shred sponges if you find yourself needing to scrub off a stubborn bit of grease.
Dropping to score of 7 out of 10, the Ninja 1550 Watt doesn't tend to hold onto too much grease, but its frying basket has some more nooks and crannies that can be a bit difficult to get completely clean. The Dash Compact, which earned the same score, has a nearly identical basket design.
Also earning a 7 out of 10, the Breville Smart OVen Air's frying basket is one of the few that can easily go in the dishwasher. However, if grease or food drips down into its heating elements, that requires a bit more effort to clean.
The Philips HD9641/96 earned a fairly average 6 out of 10 after our ease of cleaning tests where complete. While the fry basket is quite easy to wipe clean after normal use, there are some sharp points that can tear sponges and even scrape hands if you need to scrub a bit more aggressively. It also easy to have water shoot out the sides of the basket when you run it under a faucet if you're not careful.
The Ninja Foodi put enough obstacles in the way of cleaning in our testing to warrant the relatively low score of 5 out of 10. While its basket is relatively easy to clean, you need a screwdriver to remove the almost comically large lid, so if you get that dirty you've got a bit of a kerfuffle on your hands.
Again earning the lowest score in this metric was the Cuisinart TOA-60. Its air frying tray tends to latch onto grease and grime more than any other, and the texture makes it act as a borderline cheese-grater when wiping it with sponges or rags.
When frying foods with minimal oil and convection heating, as these devices do, a temperature that is even 10-20˚ too low can make your food taste chewy instead of crispy, and even just 10-20˚ too hot can push beyond crispy and right into burnt territory. To test temperature accuracy we allowed each model 20 minutes to preheat to 300˚, then checked the temperature using 2 different calibrated oven thermometers, we then consecutively upped the temperature to setting to 350˚, 375˚ and 400˚, allowing 5 minutes to settle into each new temperature, and checked the thermometers again. The closer each model got to the set temperature, the higher the score.
Both Ninja models we tested were the clear kings of our temperature accuracy test, locking in nearly exactly to every single temperature we set.
Outside of the Ninja models, we found most models to be at least somewhat inaccurate. The best of the rest was the BLACK+DECKER Purifry. It ran about 20˚ hot at lower temperatures, but at anything 350˚ and above it was fairly locked in.
The Philips HD9641/96 has the opposite problem. It is quite accurate at lower temperatures, but once you get past 350˚it runs 5-10˚ hot.
The GoWISE 3.7 Quart consistently ran cold, with the problem getting slightly worse at higher temperatures. When set to 300˚ it ran 10˚ lower, and at 400˚ that gap widened to 15˚.
The T-fal Actifry was almost perfectly accurate in our tests. However, it only has a single temperature setting (350˚), so the simple lack of any sort of temperature range lost it some points in this metric.
We found the Dash Compact to run quite hot, particularly at higher temperatures. For example, it settled in at 425˚ when we set it to 400˚.
The Cosori Smart CS158-AF also runs a bit hot. On average no matter what temperature we set it to in our tests our thermometers read 15-20 degrees hotter.
The Breville Smart Oven which was one of the stars in our toaster oven temperature accuracy tests, surprisingly struggled a bit in this regard when using its air fry setting. In general it ran 15˚ to 20˚ hot in our tests. This inaccuracy didn't have any negative impacts in our cooking tests, but could be an annoyance for those that want to experiment with their air frying recipes.
The Cuisinart TOA-60 struggled more than any other model in our temperature accuracy testing. In fact, when we set it on high (400˚) our testing thermometers registered a whopping 485˚. Inside of that high setting its temperature discrepancy was slightly less egregious, generally producing temps that were around 25˚ hotter than the set temperature. Still, based on our experience you have to be quite careful with this machine lest you overcook your food.
Dedicated air fryers are quite specialized machines. Therefore, in our opinion, it's only worth getting one of these appliances if you plan to air fry frequently, as the quicker heat-up times and easier to clean designs of these single-task devices can make a big difference for frequent users. Otherwise, most people will likely be better off with a slightly less efficient but much more versatile toaster oven that has a convection or air fry setting. We hope that our testing results have cleared up some of the mystery and intrigue currently surrounding these machines, and helped you decide which, or if, one of these devices deserves a spot on your countertop.
— Max Mutter and Michelle Powell