Best Air Fryer – The Best Air Fryer Is a Convection Toaster Oven

Best Air Fryer – The Best Air Fryer Is a Convection Toaster Oven

Best Air Fryer –

Why you should trust me

As a kitchen staff writer for Wirecutter, I’ve reviewed toasters, toaster ovens, and deep fryers, among other kitchen gear and gadgets. I’ve spent more than 100 hours over the past two years researching and testing air fryers for this guide.

An air fryer doesn’t actually fry food

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: Air frying isn’t the same thing as deep frying. Air fryers are really mini convection ovens that use a fan to rapidly circulate hot air, cooking food faster and more evenly than a conventional oven would. The fan also has a dehydrating effect, crisping your food on the outside in a way that mimics deep frying. But your tastebuds will tell you that the flavor and texture of air-fried food aren’t anything like those produced by traditionally deep-fried food. (For more on deep frying, check out our guide to the best deep fryer).

Why we don’t recommend pod-shaped air fryers

Best Air Fryer - Three of the appliances tested in this review of appliances with air frying capabilities.
Here are some of the different types of appliances you can use to “air fry”: the Cuisinart TOA-60 Air Fryer Toaster Oven (left), the Cuisinart Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven (middle), and the Philips HD9641/96 pod-shaped air fryer (right). Photo: Sarah Kobos

Air fryers fall mainly into two camps: small, pod-shaped models and larger models that look like a typical high-end convection toaster oven. There are also a few outliers with extra-gimmicky features, such as the Oster DuraCeramic Air Fryer (which looks like something out of an ’80s sci-fi movie), or the Ninja Foodi (a combination air fryer and pressure cooker).

Best Air Fryer - The Oster DuraCeramic Air Fryer shown on a countertop with its lid open.
The Oster DuraCeramic Air Fryer was one of the more unusual models we tested. Photo: Sarah Kobos

Pod-shaped air fryers have a single fan and heating element positioned on top of the oven cavity. Toaster-oven air fryers usually have heating elements on the top and the bottom, and a fan on the top or the side of the oven’s interior. How well the heating elements and fan work varies from model to model in both categories. Some air fryers ran so hot and had such powerful fans that they cooked unevenly and concentrated heat on top of the food, behaving more like convection broilers than convection ovens. Other models we tested ran so cool that it was hard to tell whether they were even on. But after testing six pod-shaped air fryers in 2017 and nine toaster-oven-style models in 2019, we’ve concluded that the pods aren’t worth getting.

We found that pod-shaped air fryers often had more-powerful fans, but this wasn’t necessarily a good thing, since they could produce dried-out foods and overcooked cakes. And the “fryer” baskets in pod-shaped models were too limited. Even filled to capacity, they could fit only a couple of servings of food at a time, which isn’t practical for larger households. In general, we found that pod-shaped air fryers didn’t cook as evenly as the toaster-oven models because their cramped interiors didn’t allow heat to fully circulate around the food, even when we shook the basket periodically.

  • Best Air Fryer - The fan element on the Philips HD9641/96.

    Pod-shaped air fryers, like the Philips HD9641/96 (above), have a single fan and heating element positioned on top of the oven cavity. Photo: Sarah Kobos

  • Best Air Fryer - The heating elements and fan of the Cuisinart model.

    The Cuisinart TOB-260N1 has heating elements on the top and the bottom, and a fan on the side of its interior. Photo: Sarah Kobos

  • Best Air Fryer - The upper fan on the Cuisinart TOA-60.

    Some toaster-oven air fryers, such as the Cuisinart TOA-60, have a fan positioned above heating elements on top of the oven cavity. Photo: Sarah Kobos

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Overall, the nine toaster-oven air fryers we tested performed far better than the pod-shaped air fryers. The toaster-oven air fryers had more space to spread food out so that it cooked evenly and browned better. And most offer more cooking options, such as pre-programmed settings for making toast, dehydrating fruit, or baking pizza. Some even have a rotisserie mechanism. Most toaster-oven air fryers come with better accessories, too, like a baking pan, an air fryer basket, or multiple oven racks. That said, even though the toaster-oven air fryers performed much better than the pod-shaped air fryers, none of them were better than our favorite toaster oven with convection, the Cuisinart Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven.

How we tested

Best Air Fryer - A photo of a person in a striped apron and beige shirt pouring Ore-Ida french fries into a black Philips air fryer.
Photo: Michael Hession

For our original guide, in 2017, we ran the air fryers through a series of tests: We cooked frozen and hand-cut french fries, frozen finger foods, and pork chops. For our 2019 update, we decided to begin testing the toaster-oven air fryers as we would regular toaster ovens. We filled each model with as many slices of white sandwich bread as they would allow and used the toasted results as a heat map: Uneven browning alerted us to any hot spots in each oven. We also made batches of frozen french fries and tasted them to see whether any pieces ended up under- or overcooked. We also baked frozen breaded chicken tenders and fish sticks to see whether they browned evenly or ended up with soggy bottoms. After eliminating several models, we baked a yellow cake (from a box mix) and roasted whole chickens in the finalist models. We also conducted all of the same tests in the Philips HD9641/96—the pod-shaped air fryer that in our 2017 tests performed the best (though still not great)—so that we could compare the results.

  • Best Air Fryer - Chicken tenders cooked in an air fryer, convection oven, and convection toaster oven shown side by side on a baking tray.

    In our tests, food prepared in a convection oven and a convection toaster oven turned out crispier and more flavorful than food cooked in a pod-shaped air fryer. Photo: Michael Hession

  • Best Air Fryer - French fries cooked in an air fryer, convection oven, and convection toaster oven shown side by side on a baking tray.

    In our tests, a convection oven and a convection toaster oven prepared frozen fries as well as an air fryer. Photo: Michael Hession

  • Best Air Fryer - Four chickens cooked in the air fryer and toaster appliances reviewed in this guide.

    The chickens we roasted in the finalist models (from left to right): the Oster Black Countertop Toaster Oven with Air Fryer, the Cuisinart TOB-260N1, the Farberware Air Fryer Toaster Oven, and the Philips HD9641/96. Note: We could fit only a 3-pound chicken in the Philips’s small oven cavity, but the other models could fit a 5-pound roaster. Photo: Sarah Kobos

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We stuck an air probe thermometer inside each oven to see how well each maintained a set temperature. We also used all of the controls to see how easy they were to navigate and how accurate the cooking guidelines were for preparing common foods like french fries and fish sticks. Additionally, we compared the cooking capacity of each model, and we took note of any egregiously noisy fans or annoying beeps. After testing, we washed all of the fryer components to see how easy they were to clean.

Our pick: Cuisinart Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven TOB-260N1

Best Air Fryer - The Cuisinart Chef's Convection Toaster Oven shown on a counter.
Photo: Michael Hession

Our pick

Though not specifically billed as an air fryer, the Cuisinart Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven TOB-260N1 remains the best appliance we’ve tested for air frying food. The Cuisinart’s two-speed fan, combined with its spacious interior, allowed it to cook food more evenly than the competition. It also has the best accessories of any model we’ve tested, including a 13-inch ceramic pizza stone, two oven racks, and an enamel-coated steel baking pan. On average, it took a few minutes longer to cook food in the Cuisinart than in most of the air fryers we tested, but the superior results (as well as the ability to cook more food at once) are well worth a little extra time.

The Cuisinart TOB-260N1 is better than other toaster-oven air fryers partly due to the size and speed of its fan: It’s not so powerful that its force disturbs cake batter (creating rippled, overcooked layers), but it’s also not so weak that you’re left with a mountain of soggy french fries. Unlike most air fryers, the Cuisinart has two fan speeds, giving you greater flexibility—regular convection for low speed and “speed convection” for high speed. The speed convection setting created cooking conditions that were the most comparable to those of the air fryers we tested, in terms of the time it took to cook and the results it yielded. We’d recommend using this setting anytime you want extra-crispy results, especially when preparing frozen finger foods and french fries. You can also turn the fan off entirely if you don’t want to use it, like when you’re making toast.

Best Air Fryer - The buttons on the Cuisinart TOB-260N1, featuring two convection speed settings.
The Cuisinart TOB-260N1 offers two convection speeds for greater control. Photo: Sarah Kobos

Unlike some toaster-oven air fryers we tested, such as the Cuisinart TOA-60, the Cuisinart Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven TOB-260N1 is large enough to bake a 13-inch pizza, roast a 5-pound chicken, and toast up to nine slices of bread at once. Also, the oven was one of the few that came with two racks instead of one (we’d recommend getting an extra standard quarter-sheet pan so you can cook multiple trays of food on each rack).

Best Air Fryer - An image of the pizza stone and oven racks that come with the Cuisinart TOB-206N1 toaster oven.
The Cuisinart TOB-206N1 comes with several useful accessories, including a pizza stone and two oven racks. Photo: Michael Hession

Though it took the Cuisinart a few minutes longer than most models to cook frozen french fries, the fries didn’t come out dry and dehydrated, like the ones we prepared in the Instant Vortex Plus Air Fryer Oven, or soggy, like the ones we made in the NuWave Bravo XL Air Fryer Smart Oven. There were a few limp fries in each batch, but overall the fries were crispy and evenly cooked, with a creamy center. Chicken fingers and fish sticks that were baked in the Cuisinart also turned out golden brown and crunchy on the outside. (We recommend flipping frozen finger foods halfway through the cooking time for best results, but even when food wasn’t flipped, the Cuisinart produced crispier fare than the competition.)

Even though many of the air fryers we tested cooked food faster than the Cuisinart, the results weren’t necessarily better. Some ran so hot and had such powerful (and not adjustable) fans that vegetables came out burned on the outside and still raw in the center. Cake layers rose unevenly and were overbaked, especially in the Instant Vortex Plus Air Fryer Oven, which produced a cake with a dark patch on top in the exact same shape as the fan. In contrast, the vegetables we roasted in the Cuisinart were caramelized and tender, and cake layers were golden and moist, which we think is well worth the slightly slower cooking time. Aside from air frying, the Cuisinart also made very even batches of toast (setting 3 made perfect golden-brown toast in our tests). And it roasted the most beautiful chicken, hands down, with a crispy, golden-brown skin.

  • Best Air Fryer - Nine slices of toast shown arranged in a square on a baking sheet.

    The Cuisinart TOB-206N1 heats quite evenly from edge to edge, as this toast heat map shows. Photo: Michael Hession

  • Best Air Fryer - A cake baked in the Phillips air fryer shown next to a cake baked in the Cuisinart toaster.

    You can see a difference in the small, 6-inch cake baked in the Philips air fryer (left) and the 9-inch cake baked in the Cuisinart (right). Photo: Sarah Kobos

  • Best Air Fryer - An image of a pizza baked on the Cuisinart's ceramic baking stone.

    The Cuisinart comes with a ceramic baking stone and can fit up to a 13-inch pizza in its spacious oven cavity. Photo: Sarah Kobos

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The Cuisinart comes with an impressive three-year limited warranty, whereas most air fryers come with only a one-year warranty. According to the representative we spoke to, Cuisinart recently updated its warranty service program, and the company will cover shipping costs to and from its service center if your model is defective under warranty. Some user manuals may not accurately reflect this change, so contact Cuisinart for details.

To read more about how the Cuisinart compares to the other toaster ovens we’ve tested, see our full guide on the subject.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Due to the Cuisinart’s large interior, it took this model about five minutes longer to cook frozen french fries (when using the speed convection setting) than it took some of the smaller air fryers we tested. That said, its slightly slower cooking time often produced more evenly cooked food that was better tasting. We think that’s a tradeoff well worth the few extra minutes of your time. And the Cuisinart is still small enough that it can preheat and cook faster than a conventional oven.

Since the Cuisinart isn’t marketed as an air fryer, it doesn’t come with a cooking chart for commonly air-fried foods. However, we found that the same temperatures you’d use to cook in a conventional oven can also be used in the Cuisinart, whereas smaller, pod-shaped air fryers require you to cook at lower temperatures. (Since cramped, pod-shaped air fryers heat up quickly and keep food so close to the heating element, things would overcook if you didn’t reduce the temperature.) We did find that when you’re air frying vegetables with lots of moisture, like eggplant and zucchini, it’s best to chop them into 1-inch or smaller pieces, to prevent them from getting mushy.

The Cuisinart’s baking pan may warp slightly when it’s roasting at high temperatures, but this in no way affects its cooking performance. The pan will return to its normal shape when it cools. If you want a better pan, we recommend that you get a Nordic Ware quarter-sheet pan, a smaller version of our favorite baking sheet, which fits perfectly inside the Cuisinart oven.

The pros to getting a small, pod-shaped air fryer

Best Air Fryer - A photo of the Philips HD9641/96 air fryer, which is black with a small digital display telling the temperature and time left, surrounded by pans of cooked fries and tenders, as well as other air fryers.
Photo: Michael Hession

Our pick

Over the past few years, we’ve received some strongly worded feedback about our decision not to recommend a pod-shaped air fryer in this guide. Though we stand behind this decision for the reasons outlined above, we do understand that there are a couple of reasons why someone may prefer getting a small, pod-shaped air fryer over a larger toaster oven. The most obvious reason is lack of space: The pod-shaped models hog less room on a kitchen counter. Smaller households that plan to make only one or two portions of food at a time may also find a larger machine to be superfluous.

If the pod-shaped air fryers are conducive to your space and lifestyle, by all means get one. The Philips Avance Collection HD9641/96 Airfryer was the best pod-shaped model we tested. It has a small footprint and an easy-to-use interface. When filled to capacity, it also cooked food more evenly than other models of the same style, though we still discovered a handful of underdone fries and some soggy patches on fish sticks and chicken fingers.

All of that said, we choose products based on what we think is best for most people, and we think most people will be happier with the size and versatility of our pick, the Cuisinart TOB-260N1—even in a small kitchen. (To learn more about how the pod-shaped air fryers compare to our pick, check out our blog post on the subject.)

What about using a full-size convection oven?

For the record, you can get similar “air fried” results when cooking food in a full-size oven with convection. But because a full-size oven is so much larger than a toaster oven or an air fryer, it takes much longer to preheat and can take longer to cook food. The Cuisinart TOB-260N1 toaster oven preheats almost immediately, making it the better choice if speed is part of what appeals to you about an air fryer.

What about air-fryer lids for your Instant Pot?

Instant Pot and Ninja offer electric pressure cookers with air-frying capabilities, such as the Instant Pot Duo Crisp and the Ninja Foodi. Instant Pot also makes a separate air-fryer lid that will fit many 6-quart Instant Pot models. We’ve tested both the Duo Crisp and the Foodi, and we’ve found their air-frying capabilities mostly acceptable but still not nearly as good as the Cuisinart TOB-260N1. They suffer from the same major pitfalls as pod-shaped air fryers: The cooking chambers tend to be pretty small, producing less evenly cooked and less browned foods. (We have yet to test an air-fryer lid on its own, and we will update with more information once we do.)

At this writing, such pressure-cooker/air-fryer combos are roughly $50 to $70 cheaper than the Cuisinart TOB-260N1, so if you’re interested in saving some money—as well as saving space with a single appliance rather than buying both an electric pressure cooker and a toaster oven—we recommend the Duo Crisp over the Foodi. (Or, if you already own an Instant Pot, you may want to try a compatible Instant Pot air-fryer lid.)

The competition

Toaster-oven air fryers

Instant Brands, manufacturer of the Instant Pot, recently made its foray into the world of air fryers with the Instant Vortex Plus Air Fryer Oven. Unfortunately, the Instant Vortex Plus browned toast unevenly and produced tough, dehydrated fries. In theory, the rotisserie basket (which rotates food automatically while cooking) is a good idea, but in practice it can hold only a couple of handfuls of fries at a time, and you can’t sample a fry for doneness without removing the entire basket from the oven. The rotisserie spit worked well and produced a nicely roasted chicken, but you have to know how to truss a bird in order for it to cook evenly. And afterward, we had to soak the spit overnight to get the gunk off. The cake we baked was too dark and rose unevenly because the lip on the oven rack tilted the pan. The cake also came out rippled on top, apparently from the force of the fan, which was incredibly loud while running.

Best Air Fryer - A chicken cooking on a rotisserie spit in the Instant Vortex Plus.
The rotisserie spit on the Instant Vortex Plus worked well, but you have to know how to truss a chicken in order for it to make a full rotation and cook evenly. Photo: Sarah Kobos

The Cuisinart TOA-60 Air Fryer Toaster Oven cooked fries quickly without drying them out, though some were slightly dark. But the chicken fingers and fish sticks we cooked were pale all over and had soggy undersides. The toast we made in the TOA-60 was also unevenly browned.

Like the larger model above, the Cuisinart AFR-25 Compact AirFryer was good at cooking fries quickly. The chicken fingers and fish sticks, however, had somewhat soggy undersides. Plus, the narrow interior can’t fit a whole chicken.

The rotisserie spit in the Emeril Lagasse Power AirFryer 360 struggled to make a full rotation while roasting a chicken. This model also had difficulty regulating its internal temperature, fluctuating between 330 °F and 371 °F when set to 400 °F. Needless to say, most food took longer to cook because the oven’s temperature was wildly off.

Best Air Fryer - A small chicken shown on a spit in the Emeril Lagasse oven.
The Emeril Lagasse Power AirFryer 360 struggled to make a full rotation while roasting a small, 3-pound chicken. Photo: Sarah Kobos

It was difficult to prevent fries from spilling out of the Black+Decker Crisp N’ Bake Air Fry Toaster Oven’s shallow basket while tossing them. And the fries came out predominantly undercooked with burned tips. Fish sticks and chicken fingers were also pale and soggy on the bottom after baking.

The NuWave Bravo XL Air Fryer Smart Oven has an overwhelming amount of buttons, which were confusing and overly complicated. One of the biggest issues with this model: the pre-programmed settings, which are egregiously wrong. For instance, the roast, toast, and bagel settings are all programmed to 310 °F, which is far too low. It took over 12 minutes to get any color on the toast we made. Also, the probe thermometer doesn’t indicate the internal temperature of the meat while it’s cooking on the digital interface; it beeps only once, when the set temperature is reached.

The Hamilton Beach Sure-Crisp Air Fry Toaster Oven had a weak fan that wasn’t able to circulate air through the oven as effectively as some of the other models we tested. Its shallow basket made tossing food without spilling more difficult. Fries were unevenly cooked, even with frequent tossing, and several of our testers said they tasted like plastic—even after we burned off the industrial coatings meant to protect the oven during shipping and ran the appliance several times.

Pod-shaped air fryers

Of all the pod-shaped air fryers we tested, the Philips Avance Collection HD9641/96 Airfryer had the smallest footprint and did the best job of cooking food evenly when the basket was filled to capacity. Although its interface is straightforward and easy to use, we still don’t recommend it for most people. It costs more than the Cuisinart TOB-260N1, and it can’t comfortably fit chickens weighing over 3 pounds. It can bake only a 6-inch cake, and since you can’t control the fan speed, the blast of hot air caused our cake to mushroom into what looked like a giant muffin top. (For an in-depth, side-by-side comparison with our pick, see our blog post.)

The Philips HD9240/94 XL Airfryer is basically a larger version of the Philips HD9641/96. In our tests, the two devices performed similarly, but we think the larger model is impractical for most people because it takes up a lot of counter space and is very expensive. If you’re looking for a larger air fryer, we recommend getting our pick, the Cuisinart TOB-260N1.

Although the analog Philips HD9220/28 Airfryer is a popular model on Amazon, we decided not to test it because the Philips representative we spoke with told us it’s being phased out.

The Black+Decker HF110SBD Purifry Air Fryer was the best budget pod-shaped model we tried, but it had the smallest max-fill capacity of all the fryers we tested. In most cases, we were able to successfully cook about only one serving of food at a time.

The Oster DuraCeramic Air Fryer, which looks straight out of a sci-fi movie, has a tilting mechanism and a rotating oven cavity so you don’t have to toss food manually. Unfortunately, fries took nearly 50 minutes to cook and still weren’t as crispy as we’d like.

The T-fal ActiFry FZ700251 is unique in that it has a paddle that rotates food during cooking. In our tests, however, the paddle mutilated and broke apart fish sticks and breaded chicken fingers. This model is also unnecessarily large and lacking in temperature controls.

Best Air Fryer - An image of fish sticks inside the T-fal air fryer, showing them noticeably broken.
The paddle on the T-fal ActiFry FZ700251 mutilated the frozen fish sticks we prepared. Photo: Michael Hession

The french fries we cooked in the GoWISE USA GW22621 turned out badly burned at the top of the cooker and undercooked at the bottom. Also, when you reinsert the basket, the air fryer slides across the counter, because it doesn’t have enough weight or grip to stay in place.

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