When trying to find a new appliance for your kitchen, you want to make sure that you buy something that can handle a wide array of dishes and food types. Although air fryers aren’t the oldest appliance available, they offer incredible cooking power and versatility. I’ve always loved fried food, but since I’ve gotten older, the idea of soaking my meals in hot oil is becoming less and less appealing, at least for everyday use.
Once I switched to air frying, it changed my life. I’ve almost stopped using my oven altogether unless I want to cook something that won’t work in my air fryer. However, as I’m discovering, the list of meals you can’t cook in these machines is pretty short. In this article, I’m going to be showing you the different types of air fryers, how they work, and which models are best in each category.
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What is an Air Fryer?
Technically speaking, we could call air fryers portable convection ovens. A traditional oven heats the air around your food, cooking it. A convection oven, however, moves the hot air around so that it cooks even faster.
An air fryer works the same way by blowing superheated air through and around your food, hence the name. The “frying” aspect comes from the fact that you use a little bit of oil in every batch, which helps create a crispy layer. While the results aren’t identical to a deep fryer, you get a similar mouthfeel, all without the insane amounts of grease.
Types of Air Fryers
Paddle-Type Air Fryer
One of the best things about deep frying is that the oil penetrates every nook and cranny of the food, meaning that you don’t have to worry about stirring anything during the cooking process. With an air fryer, however, it’s harder for the air to get between cracks and crevices. What can happen, then, is that one side of your dish might be more cooked than the other. To help alleviate this problem, most air fryers require you to pull the food out and stir it at some point during cooking.
If that sounds like too much work, you can invest in a paddle-type air fryer. These models save you the hassle of pulling your food out at just the right time to shake and stir it. Instead, a paddle inside the machine moves through the basket to help the air get through more easily.
To help make paddle-type air fryers even more functional and versatile, most of them allow you to remove the paddle while cooking. This way, you can make a wide array of dishes without having to worry about the paddle getting in the way. These fryers can often cook everything from french fries to risotto to mixed veggies.
Top Model: Actifry
When it comes to paddle-type air fryers, T-Fal has practically cornered the market with the Actifry series of products. Although I’m showing you the main model, there are many different variations of the Actifry. Some are bigger, some have different preset options, but they all provide excellent cooking results. I’ve always been a fan of T-Fal as a brand, and the Actifry delivers the same quality and reliability I’ve come to expect over the years. Not only is this air fryer easy to use, but it will last a long time.
Ceramic Nonstick Pan
One reason why I like T-Fal so much is that the company knows how to make nonstick products. I have multiple T-Fal cooking pans, and they deliver consistent results whenever I use them. Fortunately, that same nonstick technology is on display with the Actifry, which makes cleaning up afterward such a breeze. Also, you don’t have to worry about any chemicals leaching into your food – the Actifry uses a ceramic coating. As long as you don’t scrape your food out with a metal spatula or utensils, this coating will last for years.
One of the primary issues I have with deep-frying is that it can be quite dangerous. Since I have kids, I don’t want them accidentally burning themselves on hot oil. Fortunately, with air frying, that’s not a problem anymore. T-Fal takes this a step further with a stay-cool exterior. Not only does the built-in insulation protect wandering hands and fingers, but it helps cook the food even faster since heat isn’t escaping.
- Rugged construction
- Easy to use with intuitive controls
- Uses less than a tablespoon of oil
- Nonstick ceramic pan is easy to clean
- Cooking components are dishwasher safe
- Air filter traps any strong or unpleasant odors
- Pricier than other air fryer models
- Might not be big enough for families
Runner Up: Delonghi Multifry
If you’ve purchased kitchen appliances before, the name Delonghi should sound familiar. While the Multifry isn’t as ubiquitous as the Actifry, it does deliver a lot of the same results. I’ve had kind of a mixed bag of experiences with this brand. Delonghi makes some devices really well while lacking in others. Fortunately, when it comes to air fryers, the company seems to know what it’s doing. One primary selling point is the sloped paddle. I like the design of this unit more than the Actifry, as it moves through most dishes more easily.
Large 3.3-Pound Capacity
One thing you have to consider when shopping around for an air fryer is the amount of food it can hold. If you’re just cooking for yourself, you can get away with a compact model. However, if you have a spouse and kids (like I do), then you have to be sure that the fryer can keep up with demand. The Multifry has a massive 3.3-pound basket, which enables you to make hefty batches every time. This feature comes in handy even more if your children are entering their teenage years since teens can vacuum up pretty much everything.
Although this feature isn’t present on most basket-type air fryers, I do appreciate being able to see my food while it’s cooking. Since most air fryers don’t turn off automatically (unless you set a timer), a window helps you get the perfect amount of crispiness and flavor.
- Large capacity works well for families or leftovers
- Stirring paddle doesn’t disturb food as much as other models
- Intuitive control system
- See-through lid so you can monitor your food
- Exterior stays cool while cooking
- Can be used for baking and broiling as well as frying
- Does not provide a temperature reading
- Does not stop automatically once the food is cooked
Basket-Type Air Fryer
As the name implies, these air fryers cook your food in a basket. Since the basket has holes all around, it’s easier for air to get through your food, although you’ll still have to stir it at least once during the cooking process. One of the downsides of these models is that the holes prevent you from making anything too soupy or saucy.
Also, depending on the kinds of dishes you’re making, you’ll have more cleanup to do with the drain catch at the bottom. Overall, basket-type air fryers are excellent at cooking meats and vegetables but can be tricky to make anything else. The upside, however, is that they are cheaper than paddle-type units.
Top Model: Philips AirFryer
Like the Actifry, the Philips AirFryer (always one word) has many different options and models available. However, most of the variation lies in the size of the unit. There is the standard model, the XL, and the XXL, for when you need to make enough food for a party. Philips is the number one seller of air fryers in the U.S., so the company knows a thing or two about making a high-quality cooking machine.
Multiple Cooking Options
One of the main reasons I decided to buy an air fryer was the fact that I could cook much more than just chicken and fries. When I was shopping around, I was afraid that the machine would sit on my countertop, unused except for special occasions.
Fortunately, I purchased a multi-purpose unit like the Philips AirFryer, which enables you to cook a broad array of meals. This fryer even comes with a recipe booklet so you can see its potential. The model has multiple preset options, including dehydration, roasting, toasting, and baking.
Removes Fat From Foods
One of the primary selling points of Philips AirFryers is that they remove fat better than other brands. Air frying is already healthier than deep-frying, but if you want to take things a step further, I recommend buying one of these models. However, since the fat will drip out of the basket, be aware that your meats might be a little dry as a result.
- Easy to use machine
- Large capacity works well for families
- Drains fat better than other air fryers
- Faster than other models
- Multiple cooking options, including roasting and dehydrating
- Interior parts are removable and dishwasher-safe
- More expensive than other models
- No window to see your food while it cooks
Runner Up: Black + Decker Air Fryer
Normally, when I think of Black + Decker, I imagine power tools. However, the company does make some pretty decent kitchen appliances, including this air fryer. I would recommend this model if you’re not sure how often you’ll be using it. This fryer is a bit small for my tastes, and it doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as other models. However, it’s very fast and reliable, making it a perfect introduction to the world of air frying.
Dual Convection Fans
One of the reasons why this unit cooks so fast is that it has two fans instead of one. While you still have to pull the basket out to stir the food midway through, these fans can help you prepare your meal in a fraction of the time of a traditional oven. Even when compared to a regular deep fryer, this unit is more efficient.
Variable Temperature Control
Oddly enough, some air fryers don’t allow you to control the temperature setting while cooking. Instead, they bring the machine to a preset level (usually around 300 degrees). If you want more control over your cooking times and process, you can adjust the heat manually with this model. However, there is a bit of a learning curve to air frying, so I recommend practicing a few times to get it right.
- Decent two-liter capacity
- Intuitive controls
- Adjustable temperature setting
- Dual fans for faster cooking
- Nonstick surfaces require no cooking spray
- Size may be too small for families
- No window to see the cooking process
Countertop Convection Oven
Technically speaking, these ovens aren’t necessarily “air fryers.” However, because they heat food through convection cooking, they work similarly to a standard air fryer. Some of these units even have an “air fryer” setting so that you can get similar results. The primary advantage of buying a countertop convection oven is that you have more versatility with your meals.
Not only are these models larger, but they come with multiple cooking options so you can make a wider range of dishes. Also, they have wire racks in the center so that you can cook multiple items simultaneously. Overall, if you don’t want to limit your cooking creativity, a convection oven might be an ideal choice.
Top Model: Cuisinart TOA-65
I’ve always been a fan of Cuisinart, particularly when it comes to blenders and mixers. However, this convection oven makes cooking a breeze. When purchasing a countertop oven like this, be sure that you have enough space to allow for airflow around the whole machine. Some countertops aren’t deep enough, which can cause overheating problems.
Powerful 1800-Watt Motor and Fan
One of the best reasons to purchase a device like this instead of a standard air fryer is that the heating element is so much stronger. That being said, the interior is larger, so there is more surface area to cook, but you get more consistent results every time.
Multiple Cooking and Frying Settings
Although the control panel on this model is not as versatile as other ones I’ve seen, it does offer multiple cooking options. You can bake, broil, roast, air fry, and dehydrate in this machine, making it an ideal choice for most home kitchens.
- Large capacity oven
- High-speed cooking with an 1800-watt heating element
- Multiple cooking and frying options
- Large glass window for easy viewing
- Adjustable temperature settings
- Wireframe basket to expedite air frying
- Does require a lot of electricity – may overload your outlet
- The exterior can get quite hot while cooking
Runner Up: Breville BOV900BSS
If you have the budget for this model, I would highly recommend it. Unlike most other ovens and air fryers, this one comes with a digital control panel and built-in smart sensors. However, because the price point is so much higher than other air fryers, it might be too much for some people.
Element IQ Cooking
If you don’t like the idea of having to pull your food out to stir it halfway through, you’ll appreciate the smart sensors in this oven. These sensors can tell which spots are getting hotter than others, and it will compensate accordingly.
Dual Fan Settings – High and Ultra-High
Another component that makes this oven work more efficiently is that it has two fan speeds. This way, if you’re really in a rush (or you’re cooking from frozen), you can kick things up a notch and get your cooking done that much faster.
- Extra-large model
- Two fan speed settings for faster cooking
- Thirteen preset cooking options, including air frying
- Intuitive digital control panel
- A powerful 1800-watt heating element
- Built-in smart cooking sensor
- Much pricier than standard air fryer models
- In rare cases, the heating element may overheat and shut down