The best air fryer should consistently produce the familiar crunch of deep-fried foods, while still being easier to maintain and use than a traditional deep fryer. We tested seven air fryers, cooking more than 20 pounds of fries, chicken strips, and veggies. Most of the models disappointed, but our top two came close to giving us deep-fried results.
The T-fal Actifry’s unique, self-stirring mechanism gave us crispy fries and tender chicken in a simple, easy-to-use machine. This is the closest you can come to deep-fried food in an air fryer.
With a simple design, consistent food quality, and customizable time and temperature, the Philips Avance is a good choice for anyone who wants to customize their cooking.
The Best Air Fryer
Air fryers are marketed as a healthier alternative to deep frying your food without dipping the food in oil, but the truth is they essentially bake the food instead. Rather than being a comparable alternative to deep frying, air fryers are more similar to convection ovens in both technology and results. But we still found two models that impressed us for being easy to use and coming close to the deep-fried taste and texture we were looking for.
The T-fal Actifry won us over with its self-stirring design that produced the most even cooking of any air fryer we tested. French fries came out crispy without being dehydrated, and the chicken was cooked to a nice, tender texture. The self-stirring also frees you up to focus on other things while waiting for your food instead of babysitting your air fryer. The T-fal is a little bigger than the other fryers we tested, but it makes up for its size by producing food that was crisped to perfection. And at only $150, the T-fal is one of the cheapest fryers we tested.
The Philips Avance HD9641 outperformed the remaining competition by a long shot. At $300, it’s about twice the price of our top pick, but it does have some valuable qualities we just didn’t find in the T-fal. The Avance boasts adjustable temperature settings ranging from 150-400 degrees, plus presets for commonly air-fried foods. If you like to tinker with your cooking settings, this is the air fryer for you. We also found that the Philips Avance was easier to clean up after cooking — without the hassle of taking apart basket pieces and scrubbing all those nooks and crannies, we were able to simply wipe down the Avance’s basket with a little warm water.
How We Found the Best Air Fryer
Air fryers claim to give you deep-fried food without the deep-frying hassle. We wanted to see if they stood up to those claims — could they make our favorite fried foods better than our home ovens? We started by compiling a list of popular brand names and models, drawing from retailer websites and online best-of sources. First and foremost, we were looking for products that were ETL certified. This certification shows that the product has been tested and approved in accordance with national safety standards determined by the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and is safe for home use. We also looked for fryers that could cook enough food for an average family — roughly 2 pounds.
We soon found that the majority of air fryer brands on the market carry essentially the same internal cooking technology — circulating hot air around the food — only really differing in their external designs and features. Philips and T-fal were the exceptions, and we discovered that both companies hold patents on air-frying technology. From there, we narrowed down our search by researching the technology, reading cooking blogs, and sifting through customer reviews to find top-performing brands and top air fryer models. That left us with a list of seven products. Philips dominated the list, but we brought in a few other recommended brands to see if anything could stand up to Philips’ models.
We cooked until we could cook no more
In order to get a feel for the effectiveness and versatility of our air fryers, we ran them through a series of tests. We wanted to see if our finalists could cook our favorite fried foods: french fries (fresh and frozen), chicken strips, and healthier options like zucchini and broccoli. In addition to being commonly fried fare, these foods allowed us to see how the air fryers handled different textures, densities, and tastes. Since french fries are supposed to be the easiest food for an air fryer to handle, we tested fresh and frozen fries across all models, seeing which ones got closest to that deep-fried crunch. Three of our air fryers couldn't even give us decent french fries, so we knocked them out of testing. We took the four top performers through additional testing to see which could cook the crispiest chicken strips (two of our models) and the juiciest grilled veggies (none of the models).
Preparation was pretty minimal for each of the foods: Set the air fryers to the appropriate temperature; toss some food into the machines; add a tiny amount of oil; and press start. One of the stranger aspects of air fryers is that they recommend shaking the basket a few times during cooking to make sure the results are even. With the added weight of the foods we were cooking, this turned into something of an arm workout. The T-fal was the exception here, with a self-stirring mechanism that we greatly appreciated for saving us that step.
Certain types of foods were more work than others. French fries, especially the homemade ones, required more periodic stirring than the chicken strips or veggies (which we found needed essentially no stirring at all), probably because of the density of the raw potato.
Our taste testers tried each food one by one, looking primarily for texture — how well did these things match up to our beloved fried foods? Did the fries have that familiar crunch? Were the chicken strips satisfyingly crispy? We also asked our taste testers to look for the variation of taste and texture between each model. In some fryers, like the Simply Ming Ceramic, even after following the suggested stirring amount, we couldn’t get the food to cook evenly— some fries were burned to black while others were still barely browned. Our top pick, the T-fal, was the only air fryer that consistently cooked everything evenly, thanks in large part to that self-stirring tech.
Our testers noted the lack of grease across all the finished foods — especially in the chicken strips. It was easily the biggest benefit we found with these products. We knew that air fryers only need a single tablespoon of oil to cook with, but we underestimated how favorable the results would be. Aside from that, though, none of the food really blew us out of the water. As our research had warned us, a lot of the air-fried foods were comparable to oven-cooked foods. The zucchini and broccoli were the major exceptions — they came out so dehydrated, they were nearly inedible.
Convenience was key
The best air fryer should be more convenient to use than a conventional oven or deep fryer, without completely sacrificing that deep-fried taste. These air fryers aren’t cheap, and in order to really feel confident about recommending them, we had to be certain about their convenience. We compared the basket weight of the products, how easy the controls were to operate, and whether the machine got hot to the touch on the outside.
The air-frying process was measurably less messy than deep frying. We didn’t have an oily pool to clean up afterward; the components were smaller than deep fryer parts; and the total cook time was pretty short. These things only need three minutes to preheat as opposed to the 10 to 15 minutes most conventional ovens need, so you don’t have to waste all that time waiting. The controls are all pretty intuitive and simple to use: You can choose from the presets or go rogue and set your own temperature and time.
Time SaversAir fryers have a much smaller space to heat up than a conventional oven, which is why they’re so much faster to heat up.
One thing we didn’t like: With the exception of the T-fal and Philips XL, the basket isn’t designed to rest anywhere on the air fryer when the food is being taken out. Since the bottom of the basket gets too hot to simply set on the counter surface, we found ourselves struggling to balance the weighty basket of food in one hand and scooping out the food onto a plate with the other — not a pleasant experience.
That said, cleaning the air fryers was actually much easier than we expected. Most of the time, the baskets only needed a quick wipe down to get the crumbs out. The non-stick surface let us easily gather all the remains onto one napkin, although the veggie crumbs required some good scrubbing after burning onto the surface. The biggest problem with cleanup was the air fryers’ bulk: Their baskets are actually quite large compared to other kitchenware, and the awkward shape doesn’t allow for very easy positioning on a counter scattered with other dishes. The baskets can fit into an empty sink, but be prepared to juggle counter space when taking them apart for cleaning.
Can anything compare to that fried food we all love?
As we mentioned, air frying is much more similar to baking in an oven than deep frying (the Avalon Bay air fryer actually advertises itself as a mini convection oven). And although most air fryers say you can cook without any oil at all, we found the best results with a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Even then, our top picks produced food that tasted closer to baked fries and chicken than deep-fried food. Instead of the comforting crunch of a fry, we were met with a tough, sometimes chewy exterior. We found the air-fried insides were thicker and more substantial than the almost puffy, creamy texture one gets from a traditional fryer. The chicken strips most closely imitated the deep-fried, crispy texture we were looking for.
Our Picks for the Best Air Fryer
At $150, the T-fal Actifry is half the price of our runner-up while still producing the best air fried food we tested. The T-fal came out on top for having some of the best and most consistent cooking across all of our tests, at half the price of its closest competition. Instead of the usual rapid air-circulation tech that keeps hot air constantly moving around the food, the T-fal uses pulsating heat technology to pump hot air periodically throughout the food, maintaining the temperature without drying things out. We initially thought the pulsating-heat tech was marketing nonsense, but we couldn’t argue with the results.
During our french fry cook-off, the Actifry excelled with homemade fries, getting closest to the crispy outside coating we were craving from deep frying. Other air fryers we tested could eventually produce a crispy outer layer, but not before the inside had begun to dry up. And although air frying vegetables was a flop across the board, we could actually stomach the T-fal’s broccoli and zucchini. The veggies tasted like they had been grilled and seemed almost like a mid-day, on-the-go snack — but they were still too dried up for any of our testers’ liking. The chicken strips were “light and fluffy” and pleasantly less oily than deep-fried chicken; however, the constant movement of the self-stirring mechanism slowly stripped some of the chicken of its breading, leaving pieces of bare chicken that were lacking their crunchy outer layer. But our testers still noted that the chicken “was cooked more evenly than in an oven.”
Even though the chicken and the self-stirring didn’t mix well together, we still think the T-fal’s unique self-stirrer makes for a better air fryer. Unlike the other models that required us to take the basket out and shake every few minutes, we were able to leave the T-fal alone for the allotted cook time and carry on with our day. It was a win-win for convenience: We were spared an arm workout, and we didn’t have to babysit our air fryer. And at the end of it all, the T-fal still cooked the most evenly of all our products.
The one downside: T-fal doesn’t provide an automatic shut-off component for when the timer goes off, which means you have to remember to actually shut it off when you’re done — other air fryers did that automatically.
The T-fal was the only model we tested that stayed room-temperature across the entire surface, which helps keep children’s curious hands safe. It also requires two steps to open: Instead of simply pulling the handle to access the cooking bowl, we had to push and lift the handle and then press another side button to release the top. It wasn’t a complex maneuver, but it gave us a little more peace of mind when thinking about young ones trying to get to their fries early.
We were initially hesitant about the T-fal only having a single temperature setting: 338 degrees. We worried things might come out undercooked, but it turned out not to be a problem. Its unique pulsating heat technology and constant rotating of the food kept the results consistent. In fact, the preset temperature made using the T-fal slightly simpler to use. There was no fiddling with different temperatures — all we had to worry about was how long to cook our food.
The Philips Avance HD9641/96 soared through our first round of testing, cooking the frozen fries just as well as the T-fal Actifry. We loved how simple it was to operate: We could use one of the four preset options or just set our own temperature and time. And the Philips Avance offers much more customization with your cooking settings: Where the T-fal is set unwaveringly to 338 degrees, this air fryer can go anywhere from 150 to 400 degrees. If you’re the kind of person who likes to tinker with your settings to get things just right, we recommend the Philips Avance over the T-fal.
Accessorize your air fryer If you want to expand your air-frying horizons, Philips offers different kinds of baskets for specific food types or cooking purposes for a wider variety of cooking possibilities, including baked goods like muffins and cupcakes.
The Avance didn’t outperform our top pick with homemade fries, but it was still significantly better than our other air fryers, which either overcooked the fries or didn’t brown them enough to have much of any texture or taste. The Avance aced our chicken strip testing and was the overall favorite among our testers, with one saying they would even order them in a restaurant. We also appreciated the fact that we didn’t have to stir the strips at all during cooking: They came out perfectly crispy on the outside, yet tender on the inside.
Although the Avance didn’t do well with veggies — none of our air fryers did — the Avance’s broccoli still fared better than the Philips XL, probably because of the 300-watt difference in power between the two. The XL drastically overcooked our veggies, even after following the manual's guidelines. Instead of coming out grilled or roasted as advertised, the XL produced dehydrated and shriveled little veggie trees.
The Philips Avance employs the same rapid air-circulation technology that most other air fryers do, but the swirling, starfish-like arms that cover the bottom of the bowl set it apart from the competition. These thick, raised wedges force the air to first spread out and then rise back up to the top, helping move the air more evenly around the bowl rather than simply blowing hot air into it. This technology may seem gimmicky at first glance, but we found it actually cooked the food more evenly than other air fryers. All our fries came out nice and crispy, unlike what we got from the Avalon Bay or GoWise USA: a layer of burned fries on top of undercooked ones.
Another handy element we found in the starfish design is that oil and food fragments gather in neat little piles at the bottom of the basket, allowing us to simply wipe it all down in a flash for quick cleaning.
The Philips Avance was a breeze to operate and handle. With its removable grill bottom and a detachable basket, we were able to hand clean the entire contraption with very little effort and time. Like the T-fal, this Philips’ surface area also stayed the coolest out of our finalists. We were able to easily pick it up and bring it over to the sink after cooking, feeling only the slightest warmth from the sides of the machine.
Did You Know?
Fluoropolymers get a bad rap, but they’re not always dangerous.
In the beginning of our research, we were concerned with fluoropolymer non-stick material (aka Teflon), which has the potential to be hazardous if it melts and gets into the air where it can be inhaled. But with a little digging, we found that these non-stick materials actually have a seriously high melting point of 620 degrees Fahrenheit — a temperature far higher than any of our air fryers can reach. And as the American Cancer Society explains: “Other than the possible risk of flu-like symptoms from breathing in fumes from an overheated Teflon-coated pan, there are no known risks to humans from using Teflon-coated cookware.”
Even oil-free air fryers need a little greasing up.
Some air fryers claim to be oil-free, meaning you don’t need to use any oil while cooking as opposed to the commonly suggested 1 tablespoon. While you don’t technically have to use oil in these products for functionality purposes, we recommend using some oil if you’re going for the traditional fried food texture. Some sources we read suggested using a spray-on oil instead of just drizzling it directly on the food. This can help spread the oil over a larger area more evenly, crisping up the food more effectively.
Putting some extra time into cleaning will pay off over time.
Although all the air fryers we tested are technically dishwasher safe, our research suggested washing any non-stick surface by hand with warm, soapy water. A dishwasher’s high water heat combined with the abrasive chemicals found in detergent can wear down the non-stick coating over time. You should also avoid using a harsh material like steel wool, which will have the same effect — ultimately ruining the surface of your cookware.