Air Fryer Buying Guide

Crispy fried food made with little or no oil is a deliciously tempting offer.

That’s the golden promise of air fryers, and it helps explain why sales for these countertop convection ovens continue to rise year over year. According to the market research firm NPD Group, air fryers remain one of the hottest countertop appliances.

And here’s the thing: Air fryers don’t fry food. Instead, a fan circulates hot air to quickly cook and crisp the food in the basket or tray. This small kitchen appliance can also bake and reheat food in a fraction of the time it would take your oven or cooktop stove, offering a convenient solution for daily meals. Over the past decade, roughly the amount of time air fryers have been on the market, the products’ functionality has evolved. Once considered a great kitchen gadget for making fries, nuggets, and wings, the air fryer has proved capable of doing so much more.

How CR Tests Air Fryers

Consumer Reports buys and tests air fryers from a wide range of brands, including Cuisinart, Gourmia, GoWise, Hamilton Beach, Ninja, and Philips, to find out whether they’re worth making room for on your counter. Each air fryer is evaluated and rated based on its controls, how quiet it is while operating, and how easy it is to clean.

Controls: Our engineers judge the model based on the buttons and/or dials and the size and clarity of the lettering on the unit. Many air fryers come with preset buttons that help guide users on cooking times and temps, while others have an analog dial that sets the temperature and counts down the time.

Noise: Our testers place each air fryer on a butcher block counter in the lab. They then use a sound-level meter to take multiple measurements of how loud each air fryer gets during operation, noting the noise at its peak. Check out the quietest air fryers from our tests.

Cleaning: No matter how well an air fryer does at cooking or reheating your food, if cleanup is a hassle, we want you to know. That’s why our testers judge how easy it is to clean each model’s interior and exterior. We also tell you how best to clean an air fryer.

Types of Air Fryers

There are two primary types of air fryers on the market today. The conventional design has a drawerlike basket where you place food to cook, while newer iterations come outfitted with a mesh tray or rack. Choosing the right design comes down to your particular needs.

Basket Air Fryers

Air fryers with baskets (or drawers) dominate the market. After all, it’s the original air fryer design. For these models, the basket, where food is placed, typically has a handle that locks the basket into place and activates the cooking element. The handle also comes in handy when tossing the food to ensure even cooking. 

Basket air fryers are available in digital and manual forms. Digital models allow you to control the cooking time and temperature with the press of a button. More often than not, these models, equipped with digital touchpads, also have presets for common foods and indicators to let you know when the basket has reached its intended temperature.

Manual types often cost less, but they don’t come with a lot of the advanced features that digital models offer. Instead, these units are controlled by analog dials that set the temperature and the amount of time. While food is cooking, the dial ticks down and sounds a ding when the food is ready, automatically shutting off the air fryer.

CR does not currently test paddle air fryers, which are basket-style auto-stir models. Paddle air fryers allow users to “set it and forget it” as the paddle moves food around to ensure even heating.

Tray Air Fryers

Air fryers with mesh trays (or racks) are steadily increasing in popularity. Unlike air fryers with baskets, these units cook food in a flat or shallow receptacle, much like a countertop toaster oven. While the Cuisinart in our ratings is designed for just one tray, there are several models on the market that have multiple racks, and a small number even come with attachments for rotisserie cooking, dehydrating, and grilling.

These models, much like their basket counterparts, have the option of manual or digital control, with functions that work in a similar fashion.

Unlike most basket air fryers, the tray models allow users to monitor the food while it’s being cooked. Thanks to the viewing window, the cooking process doesn’t have to stop when you check to see how far your food has come. 

Another advantage to these air fryers is the amount of food you can cook at once. Models with multiple racks allow you to cook vegetables, meats, and sides—a full meal—simultaneously, and often take up the same amount of counter space as models with a basket.

How to Pick an Air Fryer

Our air fryer ratings tell you about the controls, noise, and ease of cleaning for each model. Here are some other factors to consider when you’re shopping for an air fryer.

Price: The air fryers in our ratings sell for $50 to $230, and we’ve seen models for as much as $400.

Capacity: Air fryers are designed to neatly fit on your counter. Most aren’t big enough to cook for a crowd, unless you cook in batches. We measure the usable capacities of the air fryers we test (despite their claimed capacity) and find that they can handle between 1.3 and 8.9 quarts. 

Advanced features: There are a ton of appliances vying to occupy precious countertop space, so it’s advantageous to purchase an air fryer that can do more than one thing—if you’ll use the other features. Modes such as dehydration, baking, grilling, and rotisserie cooking combine the functionality of five-plus machines into one device. Additional presets for particular foods, and indicators to let you know when to check on your food, can also be helpful. We’ve even seen models with a “keep warm” function, so your food should stay hot and crispy, regardless of when you get to it. 

Warranty: The shortest warranty of the air fryers we tested is 60 days—not exactly a confidence booster. Others in the air fryer ratings have a 1- or 2-year warranty, but you’ll run across some, like the Cuisinart, that covers up to 3 years. We note these specifics on the summary page of each air fryer we’ve rated.