This is a simple, yet frustrating, story about how I wanted an air fryer and wound up with a very good one that also annoys the heck out of me. It all started a couple of years ago. Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect some cleaning tips we've gotten from commenters (though I still wish I'd gotten a different model).
I've been going through the laborious steps of making "oven-fried" chicken wings. It starts with a 24-hour process that takes up a whole rack in your fridge, and that's before you even turn the oven on. The results are "okay," if I'm honest. All the while I saw countless people online enjoying crispy air-fried wings with a low-effort process.
But in my household, counter-top space was at a premium. And I've been able to make do in other ways. Flash-forward to a month ago, when our oven became unreliable. After a couple weeks of frustration and odd mistakes I won't bore you with, we needed a new way to cook. So, a countertop was cleaned off, things were moved around the apartment, and voila: we had just the right space for an air fryer.
I looked around online and through our own list of the best air fryers, and asked my friends online if they had recommendations about air fryers they own and love. While our testing standards are impeccable at Tom's Guide, I love the added seal of approval known as "someone I know swears by this."
And that's where I made a mistake
Since we're still waiting for our oven situation to be sorted out, and because my roommates thought toaster oven-style air fryers were definitively better (for shallow reasons based around phrases like "those ugly black canister air fryers look cheap," I eventually settled on a Cuisinart Air Fryer Toaster Oven, specifically the Cuisinart TOA-70 ( $229 on Amazon). A friend said it's served her family well, so I thought, "well, time to jump into a years-old cooking trend!"
When I got it in, everything looked great. I was a little surprised by the number of different inserts for all the different kinds of cooking, but it's a multi-function device made to convection bake, convection broil, grill, roast, toast, reheat, defrost and more. Also, I did admire how nice and premium it looked and felt.
Then came the dishes.
As our Cuisinart Air Fryer Toaster Oven review says "This model didn’t score well for ease of cleaning — none of the accessories are coated with a nonstick finish and Cuisinart doesn’t recommend popping them in the dishwasher." I don't know what it is about the included baking pan / drip tray, but it is damn hard to clean.
And this is the specific line I shouldn't have not taken so lightly "It can take a bit of elbow grease to scrub off bits and pieces from the air fryer basket and burnt-on grease from the baking pan." This is 100% correct, as I learned when I made my own air fried wings. They tasted great, the crisp was perfect, but the air fryer basket seen below took way more effort than I expected. Mostly that's because of how tiny the holes in the wiring are, so it requires a detail-oriented attack.
UPDATE: One reply in this story's comments recommended using Easy Off to clean the basket. I'll look into that and report back.
It was around this time that I started to look at all the other models I considered. The words "non-stick coating" almost appeared to be in a larger font than when I'd read these listings the first time. And that's when I almost let out a big Homer Simpson-sized "d'oh!"
UPDATE: I originally complained about how it was hard to clean the insides of the Cuisinart Air Fryer Toaster Oven. But thankfully a couple of our commenters explained that there's a removable tray that I didn't see explained in the dense manual. You just slide it out from the front!
This is the air fryer I wish I bought
As noted above, I'm a victim of circumstance. We really need the Cuisinart AirFryer Toaster Oven as a makeshift oven right now. Were it not for that, I'd have filed for Amazon's return policy, as I'm within the 30 days. I'm gonna try and find new and faster ways to clean this thing, and I'll get used to it.
So, readers, learn from my mistake. If you want an air fryer, and you don't need it to be an oven? Don't get a toaster oven-style model. Check out our Cosori Smart Wifi Air Fryer review, and see why it's our top air fryer. I also wish my Cuisinart model had its digital timer. Using dials feels like I'm back in the 1990s. And not in a fun way, either.
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