Like everyone else you know who has an air fryer, I won’t shut up about mine. I purchased what Cook’s Illustrated ranked the best air fryer—the Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer—several years ago and soon realized that this is not the type of kitchen appliance most people envision when they think of an air fryer. Mine looks like a toaster oven (because it is, but more on that later) while other air fryers look like dinosaur eggs with pull-out baskets that make the whole experience feel like a novelty. But I love my Breville. Unlike a basket-style air fryer, I can watch my food cooking inside, plus it’s also a conventional oven and dehydrator and like eight other things. But you’re here to find out whether or not you need an air fryer and which one you should get. Well, let me tell ya.
What is an air fryer anyway?
Air-frying is a rebrand of the stodgy old term “convection.” It’s essentially the same thing, but “air frying” just sounds so much lighter, doesn’t it? An air fryer is a mini countertop convection oven, which means it uses a fan to help circulate hot air around your food so that it cooks more evenly and efficiently than in a normal oven. It preheats in minutes and makes weeknight cooking convenient, mostly hands-off, and so, so crispy.
Which air fryer is the best air fryer?
The better question is which air fryer is the best air fryer for you. Stylistically, you have two options—a basket-style unit or a toaster oven-esque one—and each comes with pros and cons. Ask yourself: How much counter space are you working with? Do you usually cook for just yourself or a family of five? Will you primarily use it for heating up frozen French fries or for roasting chicken? Would you prefer to store your air fryer away in a cabinet when it’s not in use or leave it on the counter for convenience?
A basket-style air fryer takes up a lot less real estate, but a toaster oven-style air fryer can, well, double as a toaster oven. Because my Breville is so big, it lives on the counter, which is admittedly kind of an eyesore, whereas a basket-style model could be stashed away when not in use. That said, most air fryer devotees find they use their appliance so much that it stays out. If you’re cooking for larger groups, opt for either a toaster oven-air fryer or an XL (or XXL) basket model. Here are our top picks for both styles.
The best combo air fryer-toaster ovens
If counter space isn’t an issue and you’re seeking something that can essentially do everything your full-size oven can do and more, go for an air fryer-toaster oven combo. These are the big boys of the air fryer world, and Breville makes three of our top picks. While they’re all large, they range in size—from the Smart Oven Air Fryer that can fit six slices of toast and a whole chicken to the Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro, which can fit nine slices of toast and a 14-pound turkey.
As mentioned, this is an all-in-one air fryer and regular toaster oven, so if you’d like to make crispy sesame-coconut chicken tenders and cook a whole bird in the same appliance, this is one to consider.
The control panel has a variety of presets for specific foods like frozen pizza, bagels, and cookies, or you can choose cook modes like reheat, broil, bake, or roast. The air fry mode activates the “super convection” fan setting, which hits your sweet potato wedges with rapidly circulating air. The Breville is considerably roomy and front-loading, making it easy to cook large items. And the window means you can watch food as it cooks so you don’t have to open the oven to check that dinner isn’t burning, letting precious heat out in the process.