Which Ninja Foodi should you buy? We put the Ninja multi-cooker vs air fryer head-to-head

Ninja appliances are some of the best, but if you’re struggling to decide between the Ninja Foodi air fryer and Ninja Foodi multicooker, then our deep dive is here to help

Ninja FlexDrawer Air Fryer in copper colour
(Image credit: Future)

If you can only have one, then deciding which Ninja Foodi is best to buy can be a tricky decision due to the sheer volume of options available. Plus, you might have noticed that virtually all Ninja appliances are multi-functional, so there’s a lot of crossover between their multi-cookers and air fryers. While this is great, it can make it even more confusing to figure out which will suit you best.

Ninja is a brand that always features in our best air fryer guide, right at the top of our rankings. We love Ninja appliances for their excellent performance and ease of use. But they’re not the cheapest around, so if you’re making the investment, it pays to buy the one that you’ll get the best use from.

I’ve reviewed a lot of Ninja products for Ideal Home as their expert product tester, including several of their air fryers and multi-cookers. Most recently I’ve reviewed the Ninja Foodi FlexDrawer air fryer, which is their biggest and best air fryer to date. So I feel well placed to give you the lowdown on the brand's multi-cookers vs air fryers, to help you decide which one to buy.

If you want to learn more about the difference between these sorts of appliances on the whole, then our dedicated feature on air fryers vs multi-cookers has more detail.

How do Ninja Foodi air fryers work?

At its core, an air fryer is a mini fan oven. And like an ordinary fan oven, it uses a heating element combined with a fan. But the difference is that the small air fryer cooking zone means the high-powered fan and element work together incredibly efficiently to heat up fast and cook food much quicker than your regular oven.

Testing the Ninja FlexDrawer air fryer at home

Testing the Ninja FlexDrawer air fryer at home.

(Image credit: Future/Helen McCue)

Furthermore, all Ninja air fryers come with multiple cooking modes so they can do more than simply air fry. Depending on the model you choose, these additional cooking functions could include, roast, bake, dehydrate, reheat, or prove.

How do Ninja multi-cookers work?

As the name suggests, a multi cooker is a cooking appliance that can perform multiple different cooking functions. Virtually all Ninja multi-cookers currently on sale include an air fry mode, which works in the same way as I explained above.

And while there are usually crossover cooking functions between the two, such as bake, roast, grill, prove, and air fry, the multi-cookers offer additional options. You see, multi-cookers, unlike standalone air fryers, also include a heating element in the base of the appliance. And crucially, it’s this that really opens up the possibilities.

Image of multicooker used to cook chicken

Testing the Ninja Foodi multi-cooker at home.

(Image credit: Future/Helen McCUe)

Cooking modes vary depending on the specific model you choose, but in general you can expect it to have the ability to slow cook, pressure cook, steam, sear and saute. Some also double as a dehydrator, or even yogurt maker.

The newer and more expensive Ninja multi-cookers like the 11-in-1 SmartLid and the 15-in-1 SmartLid can do everything with one lid. However the earlier models, at the cheaper end of the scale, come with two lids and you have to switch between the lids depending on the cooking function you’re using.

What are the biggest differences between the different Ninja Foodi appliances?

I’ve already covered the fact that a multi-cooker can do more than an air fryer in terms of the number and variety of cooking functions. And exactly what functions are available is something you can easily read in the product details online, depending on the model you’re looking at.

But I think it is worth pointing out the differences that you may not have considered. Firstly, the shape of each of these appliances. The vast majority of Ninja multi-cookers are round with a hinged flip-up lid on the top. So they need to be placed somewhere with enough space above that will allow the lid on top to flip open.

Image of Ninja 13 in 1 multicooker

Testing the Ninja 13-in-1 multi-cooker at the Future test facility.

(Image credit: Future Studios)

Ninja air fryers however are accessed via pull-out drawers at the front. Their selection of the best dual zone air fryers have two drawers, while their single drawer model (which I tested in my Ninja AF100UK review) has just one.

The drawers make it easier to see, as well as turn or shake the food you’re cooking. The downside is that the mid to large capacity air fryers have a much bigger footprint than even the largest multi-cooker. So they take up more space on your worktop, despite being able to perform fewer functions.

The largest multi-cooker you can buy from Ninja is 7.5 litres, whereas the air fryers go up to a roomy 10.4 litre capacity. But it’s not just capacity or the exterior shape and size you should consider, the shape of the cooking zone is worth thinking about too.

The multi-cookers have a round cooking pot, which is ideal for lots of foods. But it might not be big enough to air fry a long piece of breaded fish or roast a larger joint of meat. Conversely, the air fryer range offers far more choice in terms of the size and shape of cooking zones, with single zone, dual zone and flexible zone models. So no matter what you’re looking to cook, there will be an air fryer that’ll fit the bill.

What are the benefits of each?

One huge benefit of the multi-cooker is that it replaces several other kitchen appliances. By combining them all in one, you can ditch your standalone slow cooker, pressure cooker pan, air fryer, steamer and yogurt maker to create more space. That is of course, unless you usually use several at once, in which case, combining them won’t work.

Another benefit of buying a multi-cooker over an air fryer, is that you can seriously geek out on the joy and efficiency of one-pot cooking. For example, if you’re making a shepherd's pie, you can use it to pressure cook the potatoes for the mash. Next saute the onions and meat, then switch it to slow cook to develop the flavours into a tasty sauce, before adding the mash back on top and switching to air fry or bake for crisp topping - all in one pot. It’s so clever and if you really get into using it to its fullest, it can revolutionise the way you cook.

Image of Ninja Speedi during testing at Battersea Shark HQ office

The Ninja Speedi multi-cooker.

(Image credit: Future)

If you choose one of the Ninja SmartLid models, you can go a step further because they have additional steam combi cook functions. For example the steam air fry mode that’ll keep your food moist while browning and crisping it on top. And as if that’s not enough, the Ninja 15-in-1 SmartLid multi-cooker even comes with a meat probe that works with a Smart Cook System to cook your piece of meat or steak exactly to your liking. I've tried it and it works!

Ninja multi-cookers are good air fryers, but in my opinion they’re not quite as good as Ninja standalone air fryers. They don’t offer as much space, which can be limiting in terms of the amount and type of food you can cook. On that basis, if you’re considering a multi-cooker but you’re not likely to get all that much use from the ‘wet cook’ functions like slow cook, pressure cook, steam, sear and saute, then I'd advise going for an air fryer.

Testing the Ninja FlexDrawer air fryer at home

Testing the Ninja FlexDrawer air fryer at home with a leg of lamb.

(Image credit: Future/Helen McCue)

With a Ninja air fryer you’ll barely need to turn your big oven on again. And you can still cook meals like the aforementioned shepherd's pie in your air fryer, but you’ll have to pre-cook the mince and potatoes on the hob, before putting it all in a dish that’ll fit in your air fryer for the final cook. Granted, you miss out on the joys of one pot cooking. But you’ll be able to make better use of the air fryer as a mini oven than you would if it’s just an option on your multi-cooker.

Which is easiest to use and clean?

Well, since we’re talking about Ninja appliances, there’s very little difference in the usability. In my experience, all Ninja appliances feature straightforward controls and come with plenty of useful guidance, cook times, and recipes to get you started.

Front of Ninja Foodi multicooker

(Image credit: Future/Thea Babington-Stitt)

Arguably, a multi-cooker is a little more complicated, purely due to the number of different cooking modes and options, but Ninja makes the interface very clear and simple to use.

Both Ninja multi-cookers and Ninja air fryers have non-stick, removable dishwasher safe pots or baskets. So cleaning will be a breeze no matter which one you choose.

Which is cheaper?

At the time of writing, Ninja air fryers start at £149.99 for the entry level Ninja AF100UK and go up to £269.99 for the large capacity top-of-the-range Ninja Foodi Flexdrawer. There are currently six air fryers in the Ninja air fryer range, with various capacity options including single and dual drawer models. For a breakdown between two of the brand's most popular model, our feature on the Ninja Double Stack vs Dual Zone has more details.

The Ninja multi-cooker range is more expensive than the air fryer range, which is understandable given the extra cooking modes and multi-functional nature of these appliances. The range starts at £179.99 for the Ninja Foodi Mini OP100UK and goes up to £319.99 for the Ninja Foodi Max 15-in-1 SmartLid multi-cooker.

There are six multi-cookers to choose from, if you include the Ninja Speedi. Plus there’s a slow cooker called the Ninja Food Possible Cooker, which is still technically a multi-functional cooker, but doesn’t include an air fry or pressure cook function, and hence it’s cheaper at £149.99.

Which one should you buy?

Both have their benefits, so ultimately it comes down to what you’d like to cook in it as well as the amount of food you need to cook. For example you can roast a whole leg of lamb in the largest Ninja air fryer, or cook up to 3 kg of chips. This simply isn’t possible in even the largest of the multi-cooker range. That being said, with the air fryer you won’t have the option to slow cook a winter casserole or enjoy the speed and efficiency of pressure cooking.

Multi-cookers offer endless possibilities and if you’re the type of cook who will use all the functions, then go for it. If however, you’re most likely to use it to reheat frozen chicken nuggets, roast meats and vegetables or make chips then the space and layout of an air fryer will meet your needs better.

In a nutshell, if you’re an air fryer fan, thinking of switching to a multi-cooker because it can do more, then you might end up missing the bigger capacity and squarer shape of a traditional air fryer. But if you’re a slow cooker or pressure cooker fan, who wants to add more functionality to your appliance, then a Ninja multi-cooker will blow your mind!

Helen McCue
Freelance Reviewer

 After completing a Home Economics degree, Helen went on to work for the Good Housekeeping Institute and has been reviewing home appliances ever since. She lives in a small village in Buckinghamshire in the UK.