This article was updated on the 6th of November 2023. It has been updated to reflect the changes in new air fryer and multi-cooker technology this year, as well as a video explainer on how to choose between an air fryer and a multi-cooker.
Are you debating whether to buy an air fryer vs a multi-cooker this Black Friday? It's a good question, as though both of these appliances are ultra-useful, there is a distinct difference in which user will suit each type.
Of course, the best air fryers are a genius buy; they're cheap to run, take a fraction of the time your oven does to cook the same foods and are energy efficient. The best multi-cookers share that value-for-money edge, as they often have the ability to slow cook, bake, steam and sometimes even air fry too - all in one unit.
Both of these buys will revolutionise your kitchen if you invest as part of Black Friday deals. But there are other factors to consider, including price, space and your keenness to explore all of the functions that multi-cookers have to offer. For a visual explainer, our Head of Reviews Millie Fender delves into detail on the pros and cons in the video below.
At Ideal Home, we've reviewed a wealth of air fryers and multi-cookers, so we're in a good place to advise you on what to buy.
If you're looking for a great value buy, then we'd recommend taking a look at all of the early Black Friday air fryer deals already running, which features air-frying multi-cookers too.
You might know Ninja for it's air fryers, but it's multi-cookers should be just as famed thanks to their value for money and functionality. This Foodi, which we awarded a solid 4-star rating, can air fry, pressure cook, steam, slow cook, make yoghurt, sear/saute, grill, bake/roast and dehydrate. It's a mega useful buy.
Our Ninja Foodi Max 9-in-1 Multicooker review has the full details.
This is a straightforwardly 5 star air fryer, which comes in at under £100 and is so easy to use. Our expert reviewer loved it thanks to the fact that it has an intuivie control panel, is dishwasher safe and has useful features, like a preheat and keep warm setting. It's simple and straightforward, encapsulating everything that's great about entry-level air fryers.
Our Instant 4 in 1 air fryer review has the full details.
What is an air fryer?
In essence, an air fryer is a mini convection oven that sits on your countertop. It uses circulating hot air to give the food inside an all-around cook and works wonders on a variety of foods, including chips, vegetables, meat and fish.
Air fryers can be multi-functional too. One of our favourite air fryers, the Ninja Foodi Max Dual Zone can air fry, crisp, roast, bake, reheat and dehydrate foods, meaning that you can cook anything from cake to beef jerky inside.
When we tested the Ninja Dual Zone in our test kitchen we found that it was incredible at crisping foods up, and legions of fans of the best Ninja appliances using it online have gotten creative with this appliance; I've seen everything from bread to lasagne cooked up inside.
The one thing air fryers aren't so great at? Foods covered in a sauce or a glaze, due to the way the heat in the oven works, and the design of the grill plate that you rest your food on (liquid just seeps through the gaps). That can make stews and sauced-based recipes a no-no.
In 2023, there's been an advacement with one recoccuring air fryer problem too – the fact that there's not a lot of space for larger foods, like a whole chicken, or a leg of lamb.
That's where this fantastic new generation of air fryers comes in, which can be switched from a large single-drawer model to a dual-zone air fryer thanks to clever designs. Ninja and Instant have released excellent examples, both of which are included in our guide to the best air fryers for a family of four, if you need more space.
What is a multi-cooker?
As you might have guessed from the name, a multi-cooker is an appliance that's capable of performing 6 or more functions in one machine (though the number of programs can rise to as high as 15 in certain models).
One of the most popular models is the Ninja Foodi 11-in1 SmartLid Multi-cooker which pairs up nicely with the Ninja Foodi Dual Zone air fryer we mentioned earlier. It can bake, pressure cook, slow cook, air fry, steam, and a lot more. It's great for all of those liquid-based dishes that air fryers can't cover, like stews or sauce-heavy foods.
Though we haven't tried the 11-in-1 model yet, we have tried out the Ninja Foodi 9-in-1 Multi-Cooker OP350UK and found it to be a very useful and versatile buy, with plenty of accompanying materials to help you figure out how to work it and what to cook.
Our reviewer Helen also found that it was great for using different cooking modes consecutively, and for cutting down on cooking times overall. In her testing process, she baked a cake, roasted a chicken, steamed vegetables and used the air fryer function to whip up chips.
Other users online love to use their multi-cooker to pressure cook and then air fry a large cut of meat - the perfect time saving main for Sunday dinners. If this sounds like something you'd love to use your multi-cooker to do, then bear in mind that not all multi-cookers can air fry, and you’ll often require an additional lid for one that can.
We covered one such multicooker in our Instant Pot Pro review. This model has a pretty hefty price tag (£169.99), but lacks an air fryer lid. We still rated it highly overall, thanks to the array of functions and ease of use, but upgrading to an air fryer lid with the Instant Pot Pro Crisp, will set you back even more, at £249.99. If you're on a budget, that extra expense is definitely something to factor in.
In 2023, Ninja has really been upping it's game when it comes to making multi-cookers more accessible. These appliances can still be a bit mystifying, but releases that we've covered, such as this first look at the Ninja Foodi Possible Slow Cooker show the brand is packing more functionality into well-priced products.
The Foodi Possible can slow cook, sear/sauté, steam, braise, simmer, bake, prove, and keep food warm. That means that while it's more expensive than most of the best slow cookers on the market, you'll secure value for money if you can afford to invest thanks to what else it can do too, and the countertop space it can save you.
Air fryer vs multi-cooker: Which is easier to use?
To put it simply, thanks to the fact they usually have fewer functions, air fryers win in the battle of being the easiest to use. With most models, even when they do have other presets on offer, if you do just want to air fry, it's just as simple as using your oven.
Multi-cookers on the whole can be a little trickier to get used to, and you might be more dependent on having a solid manual from the manufacturer. If you're good at handling tech in general, it shouldn't be too much of a struggle, but it might mean a little more complication when it comes to trying to quickly cook up midweek meals.
If you're an enthusiastic cook, then you'll probably enjoy getting to grips with all of the settings that a multi-cooker can offer, and find that it exceeds your expectations.
Our reviewer Helen had some reservations about the safety of using the pressure cooking function of the Ninja 9-in-1 due to the steam that needs to be released, but found that it ultimately yielded excellent results and that she felt reassured by the easy-release feature.
Air fryer vs multi-cooker: Which is easier to clean?
As you might have guessed from our comparisons, a lot of top-rated multi-cookers and air fryers are produced by the same big-name brands, with Instant and Ninja at the forefront of the market for both of these appliances.
Luckily for busy homes, both of these brands make a range of dishwasher-safe inserts, which makes them super easy to clean up if you have the ability to chuck things into the dishwasher.
If not, because air fryers and multi-cooker components often have non-stick coatings, they are also easy to clean by hand using soapy water too. The main thing to remember is that if you have a preference for either handwashing or using a dishwasher, just be sure to check the specifications of any model you're thinking of buying.
The other thing that might put air fryers ahead when it comes to cleaning is related to their size. Air fryers tend to be a little less bulky than multi-cookers, as there are less functions needed to be squeezed in, meaning that you can probably wash up the basket in quicker time and find space more easily on your drying rack.
Air fryer vs multi-cooker: Which is easier to store?
On that note, it is important to discuss space when it comes to deciding between an air fryer and a multi-cooker, especially if you're not in possession of a huge, sprawling kitchen.
As you can see from our test centre photos, multi-cookers can take up a lot of space, with most having a cooking capacity of at least six litres. Even the most compact pick on our round-up, which we cover in our Magimix Perfect Cook review, has a 3.6 litre bowl and weighs 11.14kg.
By comparison, air fryers have a much wider size range. Some of the smallest we've tested, such as in our Lakeland Digital Compact air fryer review, are as compact as 1.6 litres, making air fryers on the whole, a better buy for small homes. If you have more mouths to feed, there's plenty of space on the other end of the spectrum too with up to nearly 10 litres available in larger dual zone models.
With either of these appliances, before you buy, you need to establish where you're going to store them. An air fryer, especially a compact one, is probably fine to sit on your kitchen counter, but multi-cookers tend to be more difficult to make work with decor, and you might need a free cupboard to store it in instead.
If you opt for a multi-cooker with lots of functions, you might also need to factor in storing separate lids and inserts, and might want to factor in other ways to keep those neat, like this rack from Amazon.
In defence of multi-cookers, there is an argument that they are actually more space-saving than any other appliance, thanks to the fact that one machine can do so much. If you do buy an all-in-one air fryer, steamer, pressure cooker and more, you won't need to take up space on your countertop with a million other appliances.
Which is more affordable?
There are two things to consider when it comes to affordability here: initial cost and long-term price to run.
Comparing purchase prices, it's fair to say that there isn't too much difference depending on the level of appliance you want to buy. A quality entry-level multi-cooker can be secured from around £80, with some prices as low as £50. The same lower price bracket applies to smaller, less advanced air fryers.
If you want to secure a top-rated multi-cooker or air fryer from brands such as Ninja and Instant, you'll be looking at an up-front cost of around £100 and over. Sales events like Black Friday can massively help to bring this price down, but on the whole, a more capable model will be more expensive.
In the cost of living crisis, knowing the cost to run these appliances is hugely important to factor in. To compare, we can take the wattage of the Ninja Foodi Max Multi-Cooker 9-in-1 with 1760 watts, and the ever-popular Ninja Foodi Dual Zone air fryer, with a wattage of 2400.
Naturally, as the multi-cooker has a lower wattage here, with the current energy prices, it'll cost less to run. The Ninja air fryer will cost you more per hour comparatively - but it is one of the biggest models available on the market. With air fryers, it's also rare that you'll need hours to cook anything at all - as these appliances are so unbelievably efficient.
A smaller air fryer will of course be cheaper to run, and if cost is your principal concern, be sure to check the wattage where you can. Overall, your cost to run will depend on what you cook and how long you're cooking for - with both of these appliances being star buys when it comes to efficiency.
Air fryer vs multi-cooker - which should you pick?
So, which should you pick? It depends, on quite a few factors. While many multi-cookers do air fry pretty well, they don’t come with that handy drawer that makes it easy to check on your food while it cooks, and lack those dedicated features that can take your cooking further. However, the circular air frying basket of a multi-cooker could be a good choice for those who want to air fry seriously large quantities of food.
On the whole though, if air frying is your number one priority, I would personally just go for the air fryer. It’s a smaller and less complicated machine, and it fits well under kitchen cabinets.
Alternatively, if you think you’d get a lot of use out of all the features a multi-cooker has to offer, they are really smart and handy appliances that can be used to cook just about any meal. They'll save you the space needed long term if you're going to invest in other kitchen appliances, and they have the seal of approval from us when it comes to usefulness.
Overall, our top tips before you buy would be to think about the number of functions you'll actually use with either an air fryer or a multi-cooker and to envision exactly the kind of foods you hope to cook in your purchase before splashing any cash.
How we compared these products
At Ideal Home, we know that how we test products is really important, as it enables you to trust the opinions we give. That's why we've included links here to reviews of various air fryers and multi-cookers, so you can read up for yourself on what makes them so great (and not so great, sometimes).
We test as many air fryers and multi-cookers as we can at home or at our test centre in Reading. Often, we will test products out for a number of weeks or even months before we come to a verdict. Below, you can read more about who tested the products featured here.
Molly is the Ecommerce Editor for Ideal Home and writes about all things air fryer-related for the site. She regularly visits Future's Test Facility in Reading to thoroughly put products through their paces, as well as testing products out at home.
Millie was previously the Head of Reviews for Ideal Home, working to ensure that the products we feature have been thoroughly tested before we recommend them to you.
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After writing for all of Future's Homes titles, Molly is now an Ecommerce Editor at Ideal Home, working across a range of shopping content to find the best buys for your space. Previously, she was the Staff Writer at TopTenReviews, another Future site, where she covered home content, which to a US audience is anything from turkey fryers to ride-on lawn mowers. Now, she spends her time writing reviews of appliances she’s tested at home and at our testing facility (we're talking air fryers, vacuums, dehumidifiers and more!), as well as curating buying guides. She's a certified Consumer Expert for several product categories after passing a five-step program including hands-on experience, consumer interviews and extensive research into her specialist areas including kitchen appliances and vacuums.
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