In a quest to find the best air fryer, we scoured the internet and talked to kitchen professionals, and then whittled our list down to the cream of the crop. Then we made copious amounts of onions rings, sweet potato fries, doughnuts, tater tots, and chicken breast. After gorging on what felt like 10 Thanksgivings worth of food, and all the cooking and cleaning that bookended said feast, we were able to rank each fryer based on performance in four separate metrics.
We focused on five different foods: sweet potato fries, onion rings, doughnuts, chicken breast, and frozen tater tots. This lineup covers all the bases with two deep-frying staples, meat, frozen items, and a slightly unique challenge with the doughnuts.
We made these foods assembly-line style, doing a single batch in one fryer and then moving onto the next. This ensured that all of the ingredients were in the exact same condition when they went into each cooker. To the same end, we prepped each recipe in a single large batch, then cooked parts of it in each model. We generally cooked each item using the same settings in each fryer, unless the manufacturer had any special recommendations for prepping a certain food type. In those cases we followed the manufacturer's recommendation. We'd like to note that we used a small amount of spray cooking oil for each recipe, none were completely oil-free.
After the food was cooked we had a panel of seven testers taste each item, rating each on its relative crispiness, evenness, overall texture, and general yumminess.
We focused on three major things. First, we assessed how intuitive and easy to understand each model's interface was. Many of these devices double as dehydrators or have multiple cooking modes, so being able to easily navigate through settings is a must. Second, we assessed how easily each fry basket slid in and out of each machine. Many recipes require that you take the fry basket out mid-cook and shake and/or spray some oil onto the food. Thus, being able to easily remove and replace the fry basket with one hand is a huge plus. Finally, we assessed the number of cooking options and temperature settings each model offered. Surprisingly some of these devices are somewhat limiting when it comes to their adjustability, which can be frustrating when searching for recipes.
Ease of Cleaning
This was an easy one to test. After making so much food, we had a lot of messes to clean up, which turned into sessions of diligent note-taking. We specifically paid attention to how easy it was to scrub each fry basket, whether or not there were any grooves or holes that would allow gunk to buildup, and what shape our sponges were in after cleaning (some fry baskets have a surprisingly cheese-grater like quality to them).
In determining temperature accuracy we used two calibrated cooking thermometers. For each test, we placed both of those thermometers into the fryer, set it to 300˚ and allowed a healthy 20 minutes to preheat. We then checked the temperature on both thermometers (they always matched, ensuring both were correctly calibrated). We then repeated the process setting the temperature at 350˚, 375˚, and 400˚, allowing five minutes for the cooker to get up to each new temperature. The bigger the discrepancy between our thermometers and the set temperature on the cooker, the lower the score. The closer together those two numbers were, the higher the score.