Air fryers are one of the most popular kitchen appliances to date, and for good reason. These mini-convection ovens can cook and crisp ingredients in a matter of minutes, producing moist and tender results with ease. You can make all kinds of air fryer recipes once you have one, although you’ll want to make sure you have the best air fryer for the job.
These appliances come in all shapes and sizes, and can really range in price as well. So, it’s essential that you know what to look for when you start shopping. It’s also important that you consider how the air fryer is going to fit into your routine at home, and whether it’s going to live up to your expectations. We’ve rounded up 9 things to think about when buying an air fryer, so you can make sure you’re getting the best model for your needs.
1. What size do you want?
Each air fryer will come with a rated capacity, varying anywhere from 2-10 quarts. This translates to how much you can cook at once. So a single person or couple may only require 2-3 quarts, while a family of four will want 6 quarts plus. Remember, you will only be able to add enough food to cover the base of the basket — food usually can’t be stacked, so you’re somewhat restricted, even if the baskets appear deep.
If you’re regularly serving a particularly large family, even the most sizable of air fryers may prove unsuitable. In such cases, a toaster oven may be a better bet. These generally provide a larger capacity, given in pounds, slices of bread, or cubic feet. The first two refer to the size of bird, or the number of slices of bread it can fit, while the latter shows the actual capacity. You can use this to gauge what size you need, but most should at least suit a small family. Remember that there are often multiple shelf levels which can double the effective space too.
Two basket designs have also been introduced recently for standard air fryers, such as the Ninja Foodi 2 Basket Air Fryer. While you can cook two different things at once, the smaller baskets will limit the size of what you can cook. For instance, you’re unlikely to fit a full-size roast chicken in. This is worth bearing in mind if you want to use your air fryer for roast dinners.
2. Air fryer or toaster oven?
If you’re new to the air fryer market, you might have noticed that there are two types available. A smaller countertop design, which features a pull out basket, and a larger oven-like design with a drop down door. The latter is actually a toaster oven, and while it can indeed act as an air fryer, it can do much more too.
Toaster ovens are multifunctional — they can air fry, roast, toast, bake and broil. This makes them the more versatile of the two appliances. However, they’re also much larger, heavier, more costly and the performance of each function can really vary. That’s why finding the best toaster ovens was no easy feat.
To decide between the two, you need to consider which will best suit your circumstances. You need to think about what you need from the appliance, how much you’re happy to spend and whether you would make use of the additional functions on a toaster oven.
If air frying is all you need, we recommend sticking to a dedicated air fryer; these tend to offer a better performance because they’re explicitly designed for the task. However, should capacity and aesthetics mean more than anything, a toaster oven might be what you need. With all those extra settings, you’re really limitless on what you can cook, so long as you make use of them.
3. What settings do you need?
Whether you opt for an air fryer or a toaster oven, it’s a good idea to consider the settings on offer. The control panels on standard air fryers can vary quite a bit. Basic designs will offer a manual dial to adjust the time and temperature, and nothing else. While others can offer dedicated programs to suit different food types, such as chicken, fish and steak. These one touch programs can save you from trying to calculate the settings yourself, simplifying the process. However, there’s often cooking charts supplied in the manual for guidance should you need.
Some premium air fryers are growing more similar to toaster ovens as well, in that they can roast, bake, broil and dehydrate as well as air fry. Naturally the more functions you get, the steeper the price tag, so only opt for what you’re going to use.
Additional features crop up as well, such as smart connectivity. With this, you can access recipe ideas and program the air fryer or toaster oven remotely, although you usually can’t start it for safety reasons. It’s fun, but not entirely necessary. Some come with meat probes as well. Again, this is useful, but if you already own one of the best meat thermometers, it’s not needed.
4. How easy is it to clean?
Ease of cleaning may be the last thing on your mind when choosing an air fryer, but it’s an essential factor. If parts and accessories aren’t dishwasher safe, you could be scrubbing by hand on a daily basis. Most air fryers will come with dishwasher safe accessories, however some toaster ovens will not. For instance, the accessories for the Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro are recommended to wash by hand. Be sure to check the care and cleaning instructions before you buy, and save yourself some valuable time.
It helps to have a look at both the exterior and interior of the potential air fryer or toaster oven as well. Check for any potential dirt traps or crevices which would be hard to clean. See how easily the exterior marks from fingerprints as well. All of this will contribute to the upkeep of your air fryer. When you need to give your air fryer a full once over, here’s how to clean an air fryer.
5. Could it be a burning hazard?
The external temperature of the appliance should always be considered, especially if you’ve got young children or pets running around. Depending on the design and material, air fryers and toaster ovens can each get very hot in use. In our tests, we saw some models reach as high as 278°F on the surface — that’s a potential burning hazard.
Obviously, it’s hard to tell which models will get hot in use just by looking at them, but you can always look at our results for the best air fryers and best toaster ovens for guidance on those tested. We will also say that, during testing, toaster ovens with metal exteriors and glass doors tended to produce a high surface temperature. Whichever model you opt for, make sure it is supervised while in use at all times, to prevent burns and accidents.
6. How much do you want to spend?
Air fryers and toaster ovens can cost anywhere from $50 to $400. So you need to consider how much you’re prepared to spend before you start shopping. As our tests have proven, a higher price doesn’t necessarily mean a better performance, so your best bet is to consider what you need from your air fryer and then couple that with your decided budget. Refer to our best air fryers page for recommendations.
Generally speaking, if you’re shopping for a toaster oven, you’re going to spend more than you usually would on an air fryer. Having said that, you will get more functionality, so the value for money depends on whether you make use of the additional settings. Be sure to check the model you’re looking at comes with a warranty as well. Most brands tend to offer a three year warranty.
7. Where will you store it?
It sounds silly, but before you run out and buy the biggest toaster oven you can find, consider where you’re going to store it. Whether you plan to leave your air fryer out on display or store it in a cupboard, it’s going to require a sufficient amount of space. Check the dimensions and make sure you’re prepared with a close power point. Keep in mind that if kept on display, it’s going to need room to vent as well — refer to the manual for guidance on this. This is one of the ways to make an air fryer last longer.
If you’re going to store the air fryer, make sure it’s in an accessible position, so you can easily get it out when required. Remember, toaster ovens can be particularly heavy as well, so don’t store it somewhere awkward to reach. If it’s inaccessible, you’re unlikely to use it, and will just end up wasting precious storage space.
8. How often will you use it?
Following on from this, don’t just buy an air fryer or a toaster oven on a whim. These are bulky and often costly appliances, which will take up a lot of space in your kitchen. So, you should only make the investment if you’re prepared to use it. Consider what you’re likely to cook in it and how often you would incorporate it into your meals. If you can see one in action and try the food it cooks, that’s another good way to assess your likelihood of using it.
It also helps if you have a good understanding of how to use an air fryer. That way, you know exactly what you’re getting from this appliance, and can manage your expectations.
9. How much energy could you save?
With energy prices on the rise, you can save some money by switching from the oven to an air fryer, although this does depend on how much you’re cooking. If you’re comparing cooking a small amount of food in each, an air fryer will naturally cost less, and it will produce results at a faster rate too. This is because it’s smaller and requires less energy to power. However, for large scale batch cooking, the oven is naturally the better choice. Its larger capacity makes for a more efficient cooking space in this case.
The main thing to takeaway is this: an air fryer can save you money on your energy bill, however, it’s by no means a suitable replacement for your oven. Stick to the air fryer for smaller servings.
If you’re new to the world of air frying, check out how to use an air fryer, and avoid these common air fryer mistakes. More importantly, read about how to stop your air fryer from overheating since it could be a potential fire hazard, and here’s why our Homes Editor would buy an air fryer over a toaster oven any day.
Get the BEST of Tom’s Guide daily right in your inbox: Sign up now!
Upgrade your life with the Tom’s Guide newsletter. Subscribe now for a daily dose of the biggest tech news, lifestyle hacks and hottest deals. Elevate your everyday with our curated analysis and be the first to know about cutting-edge gadgets.
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.