Air fryers: You’ve heard of them. You’ve scrolled past ads for them. You’ve seen Instagram fitspo people make just about everything in them. But the question remains, what in the world is an air fryer?
Well first off, it doesn’t fry the air. (We’re pretty sure.) And, it doesn’t necessarily “fry” anything, since it uses convection baking, not hot oil, to quickly cook and crisp pretty much whatever you put into its greedy little mouth-drawer. As Koh Ewe wrote for VICE earlier this year, “Air fryers are not exactly the latest kitchen invention but with more people exploring their culinary skills during the pandemic, the spaceship-like gadget has skyrocketed to popularity. They’re convenient, oil-free, and super versatile.”
But are they actually healthy? Well, that’s kind of like asking if ovens are healthy—it largely depends on what you put into them. “True to its name, the air fryer operates by circulating hot air around a basket of food,” Ewe writes, “basically heating up the food so that it tastes fried, but without using any oil.” So, yes, if you air fry some potatoes, they’ll theoretically be healthier than deep-fried French fries—as long as you don't slather them in mayo afterwards.
The real allure of air fryers, in our opinion, is that they roast food faster than an oven and reheat food to a crispier, less soggy texture than a microwave, whether it's a slice of pizza or wings and nugs. (Rec Room’s own Mary Frances Knapp—a self-described “technologically illiterate she-pigeon”—even gave the Ninja Foodi Air Fryer a shot in an elaborate review that involves cursed carnival food and fried balls of mayonnaise, which you should definitely check out.)
The only drawback: Air fryers can be very expensive. But, you lucky goose, that’s where we come in. These air fryers we picked out for you are all top-notch, and more importantly, all clock in at under 100 bones. While the best affordable air fryers (probably) won’t turn you into a fitness freak overnight, they are a worthy addition to your culinary toolbelt, especially if you’re trying to cut back on your oil intake. You are, after all, neither a squeaky door or a combustion engine.
The whole freakin’ bird
Yes, you can plop an entire chicken into one of these bad boys and crisp it to perfection. Plus, the non-stick metal frying basket detaches from the pan for easy cleaning in the dishwasher. (If you don’t have a dishwasher, here are more ways to make your life easier.)
The S’well of air fryers
Millennial teal isn’t the first color that comes to mind when I think of air fryers, but I have to say, this is doing it for me. (I mean, look at that digital screen.) This bad boy includes recipes for buttermilk fried chicken, fish tacos, doughnuts (???), and more.
Watch your vegetables burn for their sins
You’ve been a bad, bad carrot, haven’t you, Mr. Carrot? Well, with this Big Boss air fryer and its clear frying bowl, you can watch as your meats and veggies crisp to perfection. They had it coming, after all.
A black, oil-saving egg
With a large, 3.2-quart capacity and a flat basket, this Farberware air fryer is perfect for skipping the microwave (sorry, Chef Mike) and restoring soggy leftovers to their original, crispy texture.
Enter the vortex
We’re suckers for any vortex-based products (full buying guide coming soon), and this air fryer by the makers of the infamous Instant Pot is no exception. It has a super-simple display and gives all of your meats, veggies, and small enemies a crispy, golden finish.
All aboard the escape pod...
(Women, children, and Rec Room editors first, of course.) This futuristic Williams Sonoma option features eight preset menu options as well as manual time and temperature controls to air fry “everything from chicken to fresh vegetables to packaged frozen foods.”
Whip up a batch of small talk
“It's already become a conversation piece in my kitchen,” one reviewer wrote. “I put on a kitchen demo of sorts, and everyone stood around and watched.” (Sounds like a dope party.)
The affordable Ninja
Disclaimer: This is not a hitman service. It is, however, an Under a Hundo version of the model that we’ve previously reviewed, which we dug, big-time. Despite having fewer bells and whistles, this Ninja air fryer is still a great bang for your buck, with features including a smart processor that delivers a wide temperature range—all while powering the fan that automatically adjusts speeds based on your cooking function.
Not a fancy coffee machine
No, the Dreo Air Fryer isn’t going to make you a morning cup of mud, but it will air fry just about anything you can fit in its four-quart basket. It has nine different cooking functions, which is great if you’re trying to save space on your countertops. It also features a 100℉-450℉ wide temperature range and comes with 50 “chef-crafted” recipes. Plus, it’s on sale right now.
Don’t fry too close to the sun, friends.
The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story. Want more reviews, recommendations, and red-hot deals? Sign up for our newsletter.