The best air fryers were a fairly niche kitchen appliance a few years ago, but now it seems everyone is keen to get their hands on these healthier alternatives to the traditional deep fat fryer. Air fryers can be used to make chips, breaded fish and healthy fried chicken, but they’re evolving fast, and some of the best air fryers in our guide also work as countertop ovens, roasting and baking as well as air frying. They are also incredibly easy to use, and far easier to clean than a traditional fryer.
For more expert opinion on the right appliances to buy, check out our buying guides
We put the top air fryers to the test in order to find the very best, making chips, chicken, and other air fried goodies in a delicious range of reviews. Common among the best air fryers is just how little oil you need to get that crisp fried texture. A spritz of cooking spray or drop of oil really is all you need, so if you’re hoping to cut back on your oil consumption, buying an air fryer is a must.
How do air fryers work?
Air fryers work like a fan oven to circulate air around your food and cook it evenly from every angle. That means any fat you add to the air fryer will circulate around your fries, chicken or fish as it cooks, making it crisp and crunchy.
Air fryers typically come with an in-built basket that has space for air to get underneath your food, as well as cooking it from above and the side. In the Ninja Dual Zone for example, you can remove this and use the tray like a regular oven tray to add a crisp cheesy top to a pasta bake or roast vegetables and potatoes for convenient mealtimes. Check out the best microwaves for more easy meal prep appliances.
How much is an air fryer?
Air fryers can cost as little as £50, but the best air fryers we reviewed cost around £80 at a minimum. Considering how much use you’ll get out of your fryer, it’s definitely worth splashing out for one with the right functions and capacity for you.
If you want something that will cook frozen food and homemade fries for two, a small air fryer will fit the bill perfectly. If you want an air fryer to feed the whole family, with settings to grill, bake and roast as well as fry, you will end up spending a bit more.
How do we test our air fryers?
Each fryer was selected for test by our kitchen expert Ysanne. With decades of experience, Ysanne picked models from well-known air fryer brands at a range of price points and capacities, and has included the best here. These choices were made and products sourced completely independently, and we weren’t swayed to pick any particular manufacturer for commercial reasons.
To test, Ysanne cooked – at the very least – hand-made chips and chicken goujons (or, if that wasn’t advised, skinless chicken breast) in each fryer and compared the results, taking into account crispness versus sogginess, taste, cooking time, any noise the appliance made and general ease of use and cleaning.
What is the best air fryer in 2021?
At the end of our tests, we decided that the Tefal ActiFry Genius XL was the best air fryer. We also loved the Ninja AF300UK Foodi Dual Zone Air Fryer because it allows you to cook various elements of a meal in one go.
1. Tefal AH960840 Actifry Genius XL Air Fryer
Best air fryer overall
This machine has a huge footprint – measuring 47.6 x 32.8 x 26.3cm. So if you’re after a compact air fryer you can pop in a cupboard when you’re not using it then you might want to think again. That said, it’s so technologically advanced, we probably wouldn’t hide its considerable light under a bushel.
It has several things that separate it out from the rest of the air fryer crowd, including nine intelligent cooking modes and a My ActiFry app that features around 300 recipes. However, it’s the integral paddle with dual-motion technology, which stirs the food giving it an even, crisp coating that we think is the game changer. Not only does it mean you can just leave the ActiFry alone to do its magic, it also allows you to cook dishes such as stir-fries and curries in it, too, using one of the two 1-meal-in-1-go programmes.
It hands-down produced the best chips we tried, with just half a teaspoon of oil and the chicken was well-cooked and juicy inside, although still dryer on the outside than normal frying would produce. It’s a generous size, too, producing main meals for up to five and starter portions for eight. It comes in a choice of black or white, although at the time of testing the white version (a little less stylish we felt) was actually more expensive than the black model on Amazon.
Ideal Home rating: 5 out of 5 stars
2. Ninja AF300UK Foodi Dual Zone Air Fryer
What’s better than one air fryer? Two, in one. The Ninja AF300UK Foodi Dual Zone Air Fryer comes with two distinct air frying zones that allow you to air fry your fish and chips individually, or bake a side dish such as mac and cheese while you air fry chicken. You can match or sync these two drawers to make sure all elements of your meal are complete at the same time.
The Ninja Foodi Dual Zone Air Fryer also comes settings to reheat, dehydrate, roast, and bake. Its Max Crisp setting is designed for frozen food and we found that it gave us next-level frozen chips, fish fingers, and other freezer staples. It also cooks food in record time, because there’s no preheat time and its temperature can be easily adjusted. This air fryer gave us crispy chips and wedges every time, and always cooked our meat through completely. We even used it to make cauliflower wings, which were an unexpected triumph. The trays can be a little deep to reach into, so make sure you use non-stick cookware to take your food out when it’s done. The exterior stays cool though, even when it’s cooking at 240 degrees.
The instructions come with a recipe test with fun hints and tips for ideas to try in your air fryer. This included ideas we’d never considered before, such as brownies or fajitas. It is on the large side at 35 x 37.5 x 31.5 centimetres, but if you can spare the space, it’s a game-changer.
Ideal Home rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
3. Morphy Richards Health Fryer
Best air fryer for preset functions
The sleek look of this machine appealed to one of our testers who declared it ‘pleasingly sci-fi’. While we’re not sure air fryers are a mainstay on board the USS Enterprise, this machine with its easy-to-navigate touchscreen display certainly had some star quality.
It produced some of the best chips (outside one stand-out machine, the Tefal) that we tried and the chicken was pretty tasty, too. As before, we preferred drizzling the half-teaspoon of oil on the chips then stirring before popping in the machine but spraying the chicken with oil to get a more even coating for the chicken.
As well as seven preset functions for common food choices such as chips in varying amounts, chicken and pizza slices (yup, you read right, it cooks home-made pizza, too) it also has a delay start and preheat and defrost functions, and we really liked the detachable, cool-touch handle. The instructions have some useful hits and tips – for example, it only takes a little more time to cook a full basket as opposed to a half-filled one – and a few recipes, too. It measures 33.7 x 27.9 x 31.3cm.
Ideal Home rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
4. Swan Retro Air Fryer
Best-looking air fryer
Unlike pretty much all the other air fryers we tested, which, to paraphrase Henry Ford ‘you can have in any colour as long as it’s black’, this 5 litre machine was a pleasingly cheerful bright cherry red. It also comes in cream and black so would work well in pretty much any scheme if you wanted to leave it out on the worktop.
The manual dials mean it’s as easy as pie to operate – just set the required temperature with one dial and the cooking time with the other and off you go. Our first set of chips were surprisingly disappointing, until we realized we’d made the cardinal mistake of using one-calorie cooking fat to spray the potatoes.
The next load, sprayed with groundnut oil, which is great for chips, was much better, although we’d recommend regular stirring if you’re cooking bigger portions. At 34.8 x 24 x 33.7cm it’s a relatively compact machine compared to a few others we tried, although it still manages to accommodate enough fries for a family of four in one go.
The tray and non-stick basket can both be popped in the dishwasher, too.
Ideal Home rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
5. Ninja Foodi Multi-Cooker
Best multi-cooker air fryer
Another big machine, this one isn’t for the faint-hearted as its dual crisper and pressure cooking lids make it feel a little complicated at first. More worryingly it reminded us of a Cyberman helmet, so once it was out of the box we had to reassure ourselves it was safe to come out from behind the sofa! However, once we’d got the hang of it with the help of the very clear instructions, we felt this machine was a great multi-cooker option for those that wanted more than just an air fryer for their money.
Of course, all those clever bells and whistles cost and this was the most expensive machine on our test. However, if all you’re after is an air fryer, Ninja do produce one of those, too, for a more reasonable £99.99.
So, to the food. This machine cooks in so many ways – pressure, slow, air frying and a combination Ninja call TenderCrisp – we weren’t sure where to start, so we took a look at the accompanying recipe book. Should we try a whole chicken, ready in just 40 minutes with a succulent inside and crisp outer or a one-pot dish of salmon, bok choi and rice? In the end we went for, yep you guessed it, chicken and chips! Because if a machine this big and expensive can’t get that right, there’s no hope.
Well, the chips were very good. Not quite fried but not far off. We stirred them a lot, but it was easier to do in this top opening machine and we could use a whole teaspoon of oil (and up to three) if we liked. While we wouldn’t suggest buying this if all you want is an air fryer, the part pressure-cook, part TenderCrisp-ed chicken was amazing, if small (it only fits an up-to 2.5kg bird). Juicy with crisp skin, it took less than an hour to cook.
Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Looking for an alternative? READ Best slow cookers – the top models for making effortless stews, curries and more
How to buy the right air fryer for you
Check the air fryer features and programmes
Look for easy-to-use controls for both temperature and time, as these are the most important features on any air fryer. Auto-stop and keep warm functions can be useful but chips, if left for any amount of time will soon loose their crispness. More expensive machines will feature touch-screens rather than dial controls, which will help with accuracy.
All, aside from the Tefal machine, which has an integral paddle that keeps the food moving, require smaller foods such as fries to be shaken and some meats such as steak and pork chops to be turned, so they’re not go-away-and-leave-it solutions. Many get quite hot on the outside, as you’d expect, so make sure you keep well away from inquisitive little hands.
What else should I look for?
The bigger the basket capacity, the more people you’ll be able to cook for. So if you’ve got a family, then a 5ltr machine (which usually provides a chip capacity of around 800g to 1kg) is probably a must.
A loud beep to signal the end of cooking time is a good idea if you’re using the time to wander off and do something else. Most air-fryers will only cook one food group at a time (ie meat or veg) but some will cook a whole meal in one go if you’re after a one-pot solution.
How much oil do I need to use in my air fryer?
While most recipes call for a teaspoon or half a teaspoon of oil, we found we got a more even coating on some foods by decanting our choice of oil into a small spray bottle and using that. Never use one-calorie oil spray, which is a step too far in the diet stakes we found, producing nasty, chewy fries.
Most of the machines we tested couldn’t be used with fattier meats such as sausages or chicken or duck with the skin on, which sometimes resulting in meats being drier on the outside. This was where a spray oil came in handy and definitely improved results if not making them as good as if they’d been fried.
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How to make perfect chips in an air fryer
If you’re making fresh chipped potatoes, leave the cut chips immersed in cold water for about half an hour then rinse well to get rid of starch as this will improve the texture once cooked. Place chips in your air fryer and start to cook as soon as you’ve coated them in the half-teaspoon or so of oil for best results and don’t leave to sit in the fryer once cooked.