The Best Air Fryer for Tater Tot Parties and Lonely Batches of Fish Sticks

We put top-ranked air fryers to the test to find the best one.
Photo of the best air fryer in our product test The Philips Air Fryer. Alongside is a plate of airfryed chicken cutlet...
Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Food Styling by Simon Andrews

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The best air fryer will reheat leftovers with aplomb and turn out pub-worthy frozen french fries, crispy chickpeas, silky-tender caramelized eggplant, and, if you want, an impressive whole air-fried chicken. So it makes sense that, over the last few years, even the most coldhearted cynics have warmed up to this compact kitchen appliance.

For better or worse, the air frying boom has resulted in dozens of brands releasing their own take on the air fryer, hoping to cash in on the gadget’s popularity. And while it’s always nice to have choices, at this point the options are downright overwhelming—which is why we continue to test popular and highly-rated basket-style air fryers.

After testing 14 models, we recommend the 4.1-quart Philips Premium Digital Air Fryer for most home cooks. It’s spacious and efficient with an intuitive interface, and it performed well enough that it deserves a semi-permanent space on the counter.

Find our full review of the Philips air fryer below, along with recommendations for a more compact model and a budget-friendly option. To learn more about air fryers, how we tested them, and what you can cook in yours, keep reading.

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Philips Premium Digital Airfryer

Jump to a section:

What is an air fryer?
Basket style vs. oven-style air fryer
The best air fryer overall
The best budget air fryer
The best compact air fryer
How we tested air fryers
Factors we evaluated
Other air fryers we tested
What to cook in your air fryer
The takeaway

What is an air fryer?

An air fryer is a countertop kitchen appliance that makes your food crispier. It can also make your life easier by streamlining dinner prep. The whole “deep-frying with less oil” thing is a bit of a marketing gimmick though—air fryers work by moving a lot of hot air around a compact space so technically, they’re just really small convection ovens.

Basket style vs. oven-style air fryer

When looking at different air fryer models, you may notice that they typically fall into one of two categories: basket-style and countertop oven-style. If you have the counter space to spare and want a gadget that can toast, bake, broil, air fry, and possibly more you might want to consider opting for an air fryer toaster oven or a smart oven air fryer (our favorite in both of those categories is the Breville Joule Oven Air Fryer Pro, it even has a “rotisserie” setting for cooking a whole chicken).

On the other hand, if you have a small kitchen, you can still get incredibly crispy food with a smaller basket-style air fryer. Many models don’t take up much more counter space than a Vitamix blender and they typically don’t require-preheating, either.

Because this is an air fryer review, here we’ve focused exclusively on the straight-forward basket-style type because we think of products like the Joule Oven as appliances that have an air fryer setting rather than actual air fryers. Some of the models we tested can also do things like dehydrate or broil, but those weren’t features we used. Instead, we looked for features that provide lots of versatility in the kitchen, as well as those that make it easy to follow air-frying directions on food packing.

The best air fryer overall: Philips Premium Digital Air Fryer

Sometimes when you spend more, you get more. The latest model of our original winner from Philips is four times more expensive than some competitors. But it has the most intuitive control panel of all that we tested, with a single dial for the time and temperature. When tested with smaller amounts of food—and most air fryers, we should note, work best with small batches of two to three servings—it performed admirably, more or less the same as some of the much cheaper options. But it distinguished itself with panache when filled up with fries: It cooked a pound and a half of them with uncanny consistency. Other air fryers that claim a large capacity had nothing on the Philips. And while not a compact air fryer, when it came to counter space, it did have a smaller and tidier profile than many of the other machines. 

The Philips also claims to have “fat removal” technology. We don’t love this particular branding (it plays into the whole “frying without frying” thing), but it may be part of the secret to how it cooks all those fries so evenly. Fitted with a two-piece draining plate in the base that looks a bit like a pinwheel, the hot air swirls, torpedo-like, throughout the air fryer, rather than just blasting in a single direction from the heating element. 

And it’s not just even-cooking and easy to use—it’s also efficient. Unlike the others, the Philips makes no mention of preheating. You certainly could preheat it by just running the machine for three minutes while empty if you wanted to. But for the foods we cooked, we didn’t, and had no issues suggesting an additional preheat would have improved the results. 

What we didn’t like about the Philips Premium Digital Air Fryer

It’s worth mentioning that the Philips weighed over 15 pounds, which was 50% heavier than most of the other air fryers we tested. This might make it difficult to move in and out of storage if you don’t plan for it to live on your countertop. Also, we hate to nitpick, but the price tag justifies it: We wish it had a one-piece fryer basket rather than a detachable insert. To toss food, we had to slide the basket fully out of the fryer, and then press a button on the handle to release the insert, at which point the instructions advised shaking the food over the sink. This was just clunkier than some of the other models and it created more individual parts to clean. But its superior results with larger volumes of food still made it stand out from the pack.

Size: 12”D X 10"W X 11”H
Capacity: 4.1 quarts

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Philips Premium Digital Airfryer

The best budget air fryer: Instant Vortex Plus 4-Quart Air Fryer

The makers of the Instant Pot have branched out far from the pressure cooker/slow cooker/multi-cooker space. They even do coffee makers and stand mixers now. And the brand’s medium-size entrant into the air-fryer market has displaced our previous budget winner, the Ninja AF101. We preferred the Vortex Plus mostly due to the shape of its basket. Though the Ninja air fryer has greater volume, the shallower, square shape of the Instant Vortex’s basket is significantly better for foods that need to be arranged in a single layer, like larger pieces of meat, for example, that can't be easily tossed around. Also, despite the Ninja’s greater volume, it couldn’t actually cook more fries than the Instant—no matter how many we added to the baskets, the results were the same for both machines. The Instant Vortex Plus also has a sleeker and shorter profile.

If you plan to use your air fryer primarily for foods like frozen tater tots, nuggets or blistered veggies, which you’ll need to shake periodically, the Ninja will work fine for you. But the Instant does that and it excels as a mini convection oven, doing the serious work of quickly cooking cuts of meat and fish.

We also liked how the Instant Vortex Plus has prompts and reminders for preheating and flipping, which can be a help if you’re prone to forgetting about your cooking time.

Lastly, both the Ninja and the Instant Vortex Plus have fryer baskets that we prefer even to our top pick, thanks to the fact that neither has a detachable basket insert. They come with a single perforated rack that easily tucks snugly in the base, and when you toss food, you can simply slide it out of the fryer and shake rather than needing to detach the basket insert and relocate to the sink.

What we didn’t like about the Instant Vortex Plus 4-Quart Air Fryer

Like most standard size air fryers, the Vortex Plus only really excels with small amounts of food, and you do need to shake them periodically. Compared to the Philips Premium, the Instant Vortex’s capacity for evenly crisped french fries and veggies is quite a bit less—the difference between four servings and two. Don’t get us wrong. We still ate the full 20 ounces of frozen sweet potato fries we cooked in the Instant Vortex Plus, but they weren’t as evenly crisped as the ones cooked in the Philips Premium.

Size: 10.2"D x 13.03"W x 11.02"H
What it can hold: 4 quarts (a 5.7-quart model is also available)

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Instant Vortex Plus 4QT Air Fryer

The best compact air fryer: Cosori Lite 2.1-Quart Mini Air Fryer

Maybe you’re keen on hopping on the air fryer bandwagon, but you’re low on kitchen storage or counter space and don’t have a family of four to feed. For you we put compact (or mini) air fryers head to head, judging them only against each other and the Cosori Lite 2.1-Quart Mini Air Fryer came out as our choice for households of one or two people. It was able to produce perfectly crisp double servings of sweet potato fries and tater tots (we tested with half the amount we cooked in the full-size models), put out beautifully browned zucchini, and (just barely) fit two frozen veggie burger patties in its square-shaped basket. The digital interface is easy to use, with four settings that can be custom-programmed if you so choose. The machine fully pauses when you take the basket out to shake or check its contents, but picks right up where it left off as soon as you insert the basket back into place.

It’s worth noting that the Instant Vortex Mini Air Fryer, a smaller version of our winning budget pick, was a close second here. Both the Cosori and the Instant performed similarly in each of our tests, and while the two have essentially the same capacity, we actually preferred the flatter shape of the Instant’s basket because it meant more surface area for browning, allowing food to crisp up a minute or two faster than it did in the Cosori. But the Cosori won out for three reasons: it’s smaller (an important factor in this dedicated compact category), lighter (under five pounds, as opposed to the Instant’s over seven) and much quieter.

What we didn’t like about the Cosori Lite 2.1-Quart Mini Air Fryer

Because of its size, the Cosori really only excels at cooking or reheating very small batches of food—we’re talking one, maybe two servings. It also won’t remind you to shake or flip your food, so you’ll have to keep an eye on the time yourself. Luckily, the display makes that relatively easy.

Size: 10.1"D x 8.3"W x 10.5"H
Capacity: 2.1 quarts

Cosori Lite 2.1-Quart Air Fryer

How we tested air fryers

In the search for the best air fryers, we cooked up slices of zucchini, cubes of marinated tofu, and a host of frozen foods: tater tots, a full 20-ounce package of frozen sweet potato fries, and as many single frozen veggie burgers as would fit in a single layer. Whenever possible, we relied on the manufacturer’s instructions in terms of time and temperature for each preparation—though the specs ended up being pretty similar across all machines.

Factors we evaluated

How well did the air fryer crisp food?

This was the paramount concern. No further explanation needed, except to say that we focused on foods that tested the machine’s ability to get foods crisper than they would in a traditional oven (even if they aren’t quite like deep-fried foods). Baking a small batch of cream puffs, which are featured in an air-fryer recipe book accompanying one of these devices, or being able to cram a whole chicken in, was considered more a perk than a testing requirement for us.

Did the air fryer cook food evenly?

With the stipulation that the user must shake the frying basket once or twice during cooking, did the design of the machine maximize the movement of air over all the food in the basket? Did the food end up evenly brown and crunchy, or did the air fryer cook it unevenly—too brown in parts and raw in others?

Was the control panel easy to use?

Many air fryers offer various presets for cooking foods like fries and pizza. And while those functions can provide some additional ease of use, more often than not, you’ll want the ability to set a specific time and temperature. So we ignored the presets and focused more on how easy it was to adjust the time and temp (this also made for a more apples-to-apples comparison of cooking outcomes).

Does the air fryer have a functional design?

Basket-style air fryers come in a variety of sizes, but models with square-shaped air-fryer baskets offer more surface area for arranging larger pieces of food. We also preferred the baskets that had as few interlocking parts as possible—they were not only easier to clean, but easier to maneuver when hot.

Was the air fryer easy to clean?

This wasn’t the most important factor because the design of so many air fryers is so similar that the cleaning process from fryer to fryer is similar as well—but the more separate parts an air fryer had, the more individual pieces we had to clean. And while all our recommended air fryers claim that their baskets and inserts are dishwasher-safe, it’s worth noting that when it comes to Teflon-style nonstick coatings, we recommend hand-washing if you want maximum longevity.

Was the air fryer easy to move and store?

Not everybody will want their air fryer to be on permanent display in the kitchen. So we wanted to find one that was easy to move around and store in the pantry or cupboard. That meant bonus points for lighter models with slim profiles.

Other air fryers we tested

Ninja AF101

The Ninja AF101 was a very close second-place for our budget pick. It was lightweight and easy to use, and it cooked food as well as most of the others. You won’t go wrong with this model if you plan to use your air fryer primarily for foods like fries and other things you pile in the fryer basket and toss around as they cook. But because of its round shape, we don’t find it to be as versatile as models that have square-shaped baskets.

Size: 8.5"D x 12.1"W x 11"H
Capacity: 4 quarts

Ninja AF101 4-Quart Air Fryer

Gowise USA Programmable 7-in-1 Air Fryer

In tests of smaller amounts of food, the Gowise USA Programmable 7-in-1 Air Fryer performed really well, and it’s definitely an affordable alternative if you’re dying for an air fryer but also need to pay your utility bills. (And if you don’t have a lot of food to cook, this one is great for single people making small, lonely batches of fish fingers!) It came with an easy to clean basket, was quieter than almost anything else we tested, and was also very intuitive to use. And the 3.7-quart 7-in-1 model is in the $60–$70 range from most retailers. (Gowise has also added an 8-in-1 machine for just a few more bucks. All of the above, plus it’ll mow your lawn and pick you up bagels on Sunday morning!). It remains a solid budget choice.

Size: 8.5"D x 9"W x 12"H
Capacity: 3.7 quarts

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GoWISE USA 3.7-Quart 7-in-1 Programmable Air Fryer

This inexpensive air fryer was a top performer in our product test. Its small size makes it perfect for making a batch of fish fingers for one.
Cosori 4-Quart Air Fryer

The larger Cosori air fryer performed a lot like the Gowise 7-in-1 air fryer above, though the Gowise was a little easier to use.

Size: 10.8"D x 10.8"W x 12.8"H
Capacity: 4 quarts (a 13-quart model is also available)

Cosori 4-Quart Air Fryer

NuWave Brio Digital

The NuWave Brio Digital had a confusing interface and a wire basket that was annoying to clean. (The others had nonstick-coated molded metal baskets with holes or slats cut into them.)

Size: 9"D x 9"W x 12.5"H
Capacity: 7 quarts

Nuwave Brio 7-in-1 Air Fryer Oven

Dash Tasti Crisp Electric Air Fryer + Oven Cooker 

No bells, no whistles, no additional cooking functions, but the Dash Tasti, a frequent guest star on #airfryerTikTok, is undeniably a bargain. Alas, it proved too good to be true, yielding greasy results that at best recalled mediocre dive bar fare.

Size: 8.7"D x 10.8"W x 11.3"H
Capacity: 2.6 quarts (a 6-quart model is also available)

Dash Tasti-Crisp Electric Air Fryer Oven

Ninja Foodi 6-in-1 8-Quart 2-Basket Air Fryer

The Ninja Foodi 6-in-1 was intriguing: It’s essentially two Ninja AF101 Air Fryers stuck together. It purports to cook two different foods at two different temperatures, theoretically allowing you to prepare a whole meal for the family at once. Sounds great! The problem, however, was that this model’s Quick Start Guide claimed the machine could handle two pounds of tater tots or sweet potato fries in each of its two cooking zones. It could not. No matter how many times we shook the baskets, the food was near-burnt at the top and soggy at the bottom. Perhaps hot air couldn’t circulate well enough in the overloaded baskets. When we cooked smaller batches, this Ninja behaved more like the Ninja AF101, so points given there. We still found it disappointing, though. It has twice the capacity of the AF101, but that’s arguably still not enough room to cook an entire family meal in one go.

Size: 13.86"D x 15.63"W x 12.4"H
Capacity: 8 quarts (a 10-quart size is also available)

Ninja Foodi 8 Quart 6-in-1 DualZone 2-Basket Air Fryer

Instant Vortex Mini 2-Quart Air Fryer

This mini version of our top budget pick was a close second choice in our compact air fryer category. It performed equally as well as the Cosori that won, and we even preferred the somewhat shallower shape of its basket as it was more conducive to laying food out in a single layer. In the end, the Instant mini lost out because it was louder, heavier, and slightly larger. The Vortex Mini is actually only an inch or so smaller on all sides than our winning 4-quart Vortex, so if you have the space for this model, you probably have the space for one that’ll give you twice the cooking capacity—we’d recommend going with that one instead if you’re able. This one is available in a variety of colors, if that matters to you.

Size: 11.26"D x 9.02"W x 11.73"H
Capacity: 2 quarts

Instant Vortex 2-Quart Mini Air Fryer

Dash 2-Quart Compact Air Fryer

The compact model from Dash is cute and retro-looking and it’s available in a handful of cute colors. We really liked that it has two easy-to-use dials for time and temperature. Unfortunately, it produced results that were similarly underwhelming to those we got from the full-size version. Sweet potato fries were greasy and soggy, our cubes of tofu were generally crisp but a bit uneven, and the basket could only fit one veggie burger at a time because of its round shape. The analog time and temperature dials mean you can’t be ultra-exact with your settings, and the machine was one of the loudest mini models we tested, with both a ticking noise and a strong whirring sound.

Size: 8.1"D x 10.2"W x 11.4"H
Capacity: 2 quarts

Dash 2-Quart Compact Air Fryer

Ninja AF080 Mini Air Fryer

We liked the look of the mini Ninja at first glance: It’s nearly identical in size and shape to the Cosori Mini, making it one of the smallest compact air fryers we tested. But its downfall was its lack of versatility. Like the compact Dash model, the machine’s dial-operated timer means you sacrifice some precision when it comes to cook time. But the real nail in the coffin was that it only has one temperature setting (400°F), making it unsuitable for certain foods that would benefit from a lower heat. We also didn’t love how the heating element and timer continue running when the basket is removed for a quick shake.

Size: 8.03"D x 10.39"W x 9.65"H
Capacity: 2 quarts (a 5.5-quart model is also available)

Ninja AF080 Mini Air Fryer

Gowise 4-Quart Air Fryer

This model from Gowise had a larger, square basket and a viewing window. While it turned out food that was as crispy as what we got from other models, it was the bulkiest and heaviest of the machines we tested. Also, while over time we expect we’d grow accustomed to its touchscreen interface, we found it to be significantly more complicated to navigate. It seemed to turn off completely when we’d stop to shake or flip the food. Its detachable frying basket insert also seemed prone to getting jammed.

As of June 2023, this product is no longer available.

Farberware 3.2-Quart Air Fryer

The Farberware 3.2 Quart Air Fryer had a timer that ticked loudly and—more importantly—the food it turned out was the worst of the lot. The air-fried zucchini, for instance, was practically jelly, cooked to death with scarcely a hint of browning on the outside.

As of June 2023, this product is no longer available.

The takeaway

While most of the basket-style air fryers we tested cooked with similar success, a few features made some models easier to use and more versatile in the kitchen. Square-shaped air-fryer baskets are better for cooking larger pieces of food, and fry baskets that have fewer interlocking parts are less clunky to use and easier to clean. The Philips air fryer is costly, but it bested the competitors when it came to larger volumes of food and had our favorite, most intuitive interface. And if you’re already set to spend the money and want a larger machine, the Philips’s sibling, the XXL (with a 7-quart capacity) could feed a family. For an option that’s almost as good but significantly cheaper, the Instant Vortex Plus 4QT Air Fryer–which only narrowly beat out last year’s budget pick, the Ninja AF101—satisfied all our criteria, turning out perfectly crisp air-fried snacks and worked great as a mini countertop convection oven too. And if you’re in the market for something more compact, the Cosori Lite 2.1-Quart Mini Air Fryer produced nicely crisped individual portions of food. It’s likely small enough to leave out on your counter, but light enough that stowing it away would be a breeze too.

What to cook in your air fryer

Yes, you can crisp up frozen tater tots and chicken tenders in your air fryer. But there's so much more you can do with it, too. In fact, there isn't much you can't cook in your air fryer as long as it fits in your model. Check out the gallery below to find recipes for air fryer chick peas, salmon, chicken wings, Brussels sprouts and more.