I just bought an air fryer — don't make the same mistake I did [Update]

The Cuisinart Air Fryer Toaster Oven on a counter next to avocado oil and duck fat oil.
(Image credit: Henry T. Casey for Tom's Guide)

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) (opens in new tab). 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.

Detritus on the Cuisinart Air Fryer Toaster Oven's baking pan

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey / Tom's Guide)

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.

The air fryer basket for the Cuisinart Air Fryer Toaster Oven

Cleaning this air fryer basket is a frustrating experience. (Image credit: Henry T. Casey / Tom's Guide)

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.

Next: Check out the one Prime Day TV deal we're waiting for.

Henry T. Casey
Senior Editor

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.

  • DH47
    I'd suggest that this senior editor read the instructions of the products he reviews. The bottom DOES slide out for easy cleaning. Just grab the bottom beneath the glass door and pull. With respect to cleaning, the issue is the same with any oven or appliance that reaches a high temperature. With the Cuisinart as needed I just take the wire rack, the drip tray, and the bottom tray out, spray them with Easy Off, and let the Easy Off sit for ten minutes. Voila, like new.
    Reply
  • MongoCaver
    We have used this exact fryer for years. Wings, pork chops, turnovers, etc. No problem.
    For cleanup we run a little water in the kitchen sink and drop the parts into it for a while, then a kitchen sink brush is used to remove anything still sticking on. It is not rocket science.
    We always grab a paper towel and wipe out the inside. Again, simple and easy.
    I think the author makes a mountain out of a mole hill.
    Reply
  • Halsver
    You had me worried, I have this oven and it's been great. Some may consider less fried Teflon in their food a feature, not a bug!
    Reply
  • Adrienne Boswell
    I have had a 12.7-quart GoWise rotisserie roaster air fryer for two years. It's a similar type. I use parchment paper that I poke holes in with a toothpick for things I think might stick to the rack. Even when things do stick, it's simply a matter of putting the rack and/or bottom tray in hot water and soap to soak for a few minutes then washing it with a kitchen brush.

    Mine has a drum that can hold food to rotate. I was stupid and forgot to soak raw fries in water before cooking them. Even with a ton of seasoned starch gunk all over the drum, it still wasn't that bad and my fries were perfect

    Besides, you can't fit an 8-inch casserole in a basket style air fryer. I love being able to cook a casserole in the blazing heat of summer without turning my kitchen into an inferno.
    Reply
  • lance_rl
    I am not convinced the author actually wanted to write an honest review on this device. Echoing the other comments, the Cuisinart air fryer is fantastic and clean up simply takes a little extra thought. The review is simply quite wrong. The crumbs inside are easily dispatched by sliding the tray out for a quick wipe down over the sink (the same as every other toaster oven I've owned, not really a mystery feature). The cook trays clean up fine after a bit of a soak, the gripe is actually confusing. Buy the Cuisinart and revel in the ability to cook so many ways with one little device.
    Reply
  • henrytcasey
    DH47 said:
    I'd suggest that this senior editor read the instructions of the products he reviews. The bottom DOES slide out for easy cleaning. Just grab the bottom beneath the glass door and pull. With respect to cleaning, the issue is the same with any oven or appliance that reaches a high temperature. With the Cuisinart as needed I just take the wire rack, the drip tray, and the bottom tray out, spray them with Easy Off, and let the Easy Off sit for ten minutes. Voila, like new.
    re: the tray (which I didn't notice)
    Holy moly! You're right! Updating the story now. I wish that had been more visually obvious!
    Thank you!

    Also, I'll look into Easy Off!
    Reply
  • henrytcasey
    lance_rl said:
    I am not convinced the author actually wanted to write an honest review on this device. Echoing the other comments, the Cuisinart air fryer is fantastic and clean up simply takes a little extra thought. The review is simply quite wrong. The crumbs inside are easily dispatched by sliding the tray out for a quick wipe down over the sink (the same as every other toaster oven I've owned, not really a mystery feature). The cook trays clean up fine after a bit of a soak, the gripe is actually confusing. Buy the Cuisinart and revel in the ability to cook so many ways with one little device.
    As noted above, I had no idea that the tray was removable because there wasn't any visual cue to it. I've now learned it and will update the story. The wire-basket though is just maddening. I'm going to look into EasyOff, though!
    Reply
  • henrytcasey
    MongoCaver said:
    We have used this exact fryer for years. Wings, pork chops, turnovers, etc. No problem.
    For cleanup we run a little water in the kitchen sink and drop the parts into it for a while, then a kitchen sink brush is used to remove anything still sticking on. It is not rocket science.
    We always grab a paper towel and wipe out the inside. Again, simple and easy.
    I think the author makes a mountain out of a mole hill.
    I'm wishing y'all had written the manual for this and not cuisinart!
    Reply
  • Optiva10
    I think the editor also needs to consider that just returning products to Amazon is encouraging waste and further landfill . Amazon has an agreement % with supplier that they charge back to the supplier. That allows them to just trash any returned products to landfill . We can’t continue to have a disposable attitude to goods we purchase if we want to protect our environment
    Reply
  • Karinski
    I use the Ninja Foodie XL and it is much preferable to my mom's Cosori. It has a bunch of extra functions, holds more, cooks more evenly, and, in my experience, smokes less. For clean up we a) cover the drip tray with tinfoil/parchment paper* b) use a scrub brush that holds dishwashing soap to easily get between the holes in the grate tray. Absolute worst case, we soak the grate tray while we eat, but that's only for bacon grease. These easy tips that are all over Internet air fryer articles. Anyway, I hope you come to enjoy yours better.

    *Unless your food is extremely greasy, a tinfoil covering last quite a few cooking sessions!
    Reply