Instant Pot vs air fryer: which should you buy?

An Instant Pot next to an air fryer ready to compare Instant Pot vs air fryer
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Instant Pot vs air fryer is a question that many novice chefs have asked over the years. At face value, the two appear quite similar — both are bulky kitchen countertop appliances designed to cook food quickly and conveniently. But, the functionality between these actually differs quite a lot, making them independent categories of machine in their own right. 

Here, we will talk you through some of the essential differences between the best Instant Pots and the best air fryers. We will cover what you can expect in terms of design, performance as well as price, so you can decide which would best suit your circumstances. That way we can finally put the question to bed — which is better for you: Instant Pot vs air fryer.  But steer clear of these 10 things you should never cook in an Instant Pot.

Instant Pot vs air fryer: Appearance 

As mentioned earlier, these two appliances appear quite similar at first if you’ve not had previous experience with them. Both are boxy kitchen appliances which can have a large surface footprint depending on the model. Each will also advertise the ability to produce quick and delicious recipes which can save you effort in the kitchen. But, if you take a closer look, you will find that there are key differences which can help you tell these appliances apart. 

best instant pot: Instant Pot Duo Plus

(Image credit: Instant Pot)

Instant Pot is actually from the brand Instant, although it’s had such success over the years that many now view these machines as a product category in itself. As the name suggests, an Instant Pot will feature a large removable cooking pot with a lockable lid on top. A control panel is located on the front, showing several functions and settings to choose from. Once you switch it on and start cooking, a large timer will appear on the display to countdown what remains. 

These machines mostly come with a 6-quart capacity, although there are larger 8-quart options and even a mini 3-quart model. The majority of the models are quite sizable considering this — about the size of a basketball — so they take a significant amount of storage or display space. Accessories tend to include a steam rack.

Air fryers, not to be confused with the best toaster ovens, generally feature a basket which you pull out via a handle from the front to load the food. The design is usually more square in appearance rather than pot-shaped, although this can vary. Control panels are usually located on the front or the top of the machine, and these can really differ in appearance. Some may look as complicated as what you would see on an Instant Pot, with multiple settings and choices. Others can go back to basics, with two simple dials to control the temperature and time, much like the Dash Compact Air Fryer.

Air fryer on kitchen countertopAir fryer on kitchen countertop

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Capacity and size of an air fryer can really vary once again. Some are as small as 2-quarts, and others as big as 7-quarts. They can be a similar size to Instant Pots for that reason. Accessories are more limited and less likely with air fryers, but crisper plates are sometimes provided. 

Instant Pot vs air fryer: Price 

In terms of price, Instant Pots tend to cost from $80 up to $200 depending on the size and features. Air fryers on the other hand start from as little as $30 and can range up to $300. The price is much more diverse for air fryers as there are such a huge range of brands in this market. Even Instant offers its own air fryer design, called the Instant Vortex.   

Generally speaking, air fryers are a little cheaper vs Instant Pots, but this largely depends on the model and brand you choose. 

Instant Pot vs air fryer: Design and functionality

best instant pot: Instant Pot Ultra

Instant Pot Ultra (Image credit: Instant Pot)

Now the important part — the difference in design and functionality. Instant Pots are designed to offer several functions in one appliance, usually including pressure cook, soup, sauté, slow cook, steam, rice, porridge, yogurt, poultry and more. This makes them incredibly versatile machines which can cook all sorts of recipes with varying methods. This versatility in design is one of the reasons for Instant Pot’s popularity — while it’s bulky, it arguably replaces several appliances. 

Certain Instant Pot models can even be used as air fryers, so long as you’ve got the right attachments. The Instant Pot Duo Crisp and Pro Crisp range come with a dedicated air fryer lid which gives you access to this functionality, as well as options such as roast, bake, broil and dehydrate. There is one model which offers everything under one lid — the Instant Pot Duo Crisp with Ultimate Lid, although it comes at a steep price of $229. 

An Instant Pot is predominantly a pressure cooker though. That means when you select one of the standard settings, it will start by heating internally, slowly building up pressure. It will then maintain this for the programmed time, before slowly releasing the pressure at the end of the cycle. 

Ninja Foodi 2 Basket Air Fryer review

(Image credit: Ninja)

Air fryers on the other hand can be seen as mini convection ovens. With temperature and timer controls, they essentially circulate hot air within the cavity to cook food quickly and evenly. Using this method, air fryers can also broil and roast, so they’re not a one trick pony. In fact, here are 7 foods you never knew you could cook in an air fryer.

Both Instant Pots and air fryers can come with advanced features, such as smart connectivity, which lets you control and monitor the progress from your phone. Certain air fryers also have two baskets rather than one, so that you can cook at two different temperatures at the same time, such as the Ninja Foodi Two Basket Air Fryer.   

Instant Pot vs air fryer: Performance 

In our experience, when it comes to performance, each appliance is best at what it’s designed to do. That means, of the two, air fryers are generally better at air-frying foods. The food comes out crispier, crunchier and more appealing on the whole.  That said, here are 9 things you should never put in an air fryer.

Instant Pot Duo Nova on kitchen counter

(Image credit: Instant Home)

However, Instant Pots are popular for a reason — the pressure cooking and slow cooking functions are second to none. That means these are great for cooking stews, meats and all kinds of recipes to a professional standard, with moist and even results. However, be warned that we have found that alternative dedicated appliances, such as rice cookers, tend to do a better job than the equivalent setting on an Instant Pot. So while the versatility is indeed a selling point, it’s no guarantee of the performance across each setting. 

Instant Pots and air fryers are often similar in size, but there are more compact air fryer designs out there which can help you save surface space. Plus, if you opt for an Instant Pot with the ability to air fry, bear in mind that you will need to store the additional lid as well. Air fryers tend to weigh less than Instant Pots on top of this, making them more maneuverable.

Both appliances usually come with dishwasher-safe parts for ease of cleaning, although the Instant’s pot will generally take up more room in the dishwasher than an air fryer’s basket.  (Be sure to follow our tips on how to clean an air fryer to keep your unit looking and performing like new.)

Instant Pot vs air fryer: Verdict 

Pouring out foods from air fryer

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

On the whole, you should choose between the two depending on what you want to cook and how you want to cook it. If you want crispy and crunchy results, stick with an air fryer. If you want this and more, you can opt for an Instant Pot that does it all, but odds are the air-fried results won’t be quite so impressive. 

If you’re tight on space, and the versatility of several appliances in one means more to you than anything, an Instant Pot could be the way to go. It arguably provides more value for the money, and the pressure cooking and slow cooking capabilities won’t disappoint. Personally, I would opt for both and use each for different recipes and cooking methods, but I can appreciate that countertop space is limited.  

Also see:

How to use an air fryer | 11 air fryer mistakes you're probably making — and how to avoid them | I've owned an air fryer for a month — here's what I've learned

Katie Mortram
Homes Editor

Katie looks after everything homes-related, from kitchen appliances to gardening tools. She also covers smart home products too, so is the best point of contact for any household advice! She has tested and reviewed appliances for over 6 years, so she knows what to look for when finding the best. Her favorite thing to test has to be air purifiers, as the information provided and the difference between performances is extensive.