In a quest to find the best air fryer, we scoured the internet and talked to kitchen professionals; we then whittled our list down to the cream of the crop and purchased each model. Then we made copious amounts of onion rings, sweet potato fries, donuts, tater tots, and chicken breasts. 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, donuts, 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 donuts.
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.
For each recipe we air-fried sweet potato fries, onion rings, donuts, chicken, and tater tots. 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. 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 easily navigating through settings is a must. We evaluated how easily each fry basket slid in and out of each machine. Many recipes require taking the fry basket out mid-cook and shaking and spraying some oil onto the food. Thus, easily removing and replacing the fry basket with one hand is a huge plus.
We assessed the number of cooking options and temperature settings each model offered. Surprisingly, some of these devices are somewhat limiting in 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 degrees, 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 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.