We Tried All of the Instant Pot Air Fryers — Here’s Which One You Should Buy

updated Mar 25, 2021
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Credit: From Left to Right: Courtesy of Amazon, Instant Appliances, Amazon, Instant Appliances

As someone who reviews kitchen equipment for a living, I get asked the same set of questions over and over again: Do air fryers actually work, should I get one, and which one should I buy? The short answer to these questions is yes, maybe, and I’ll tell you!

I usually answer with a brief explanation of how air fryers “fry”: Air fryers are basically small convection ovens. Inside, they have a heating element and a fan that blows hot air around its small cooking chamber, circulating air very quickly. This, coupled with its perforated basket, means food comes into contact with hot air at a more rapid rate, “frying” it. No, it won’t produce deep-fried results (for that, you still need a whole lot of oil), but an air fryer does brown and crisp food exceptionally well, making it a great way to cook things like french fries, broccoli, and even proteins like salmon.

But should you get one? I think it really comes down to space: Air fryers are not usually small, so you’re going to need some serious cabinet or otherwise storage space, unless you plan on having it live on your countertop.

And, lastly, which one should you get? That’s where I’m especially helpful. And today I’m here to talk about air fryers from a specific brand you’ve probably heard of: Instant Brands, as in, the makers on the Instant Pot.

They actually make several different air fryer models, so I decided to put them all to the test. I wanted to see how well they all did — and find out which one, if any, you should buy.

Credit: Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm

How I Tested the Instant Pot Air Fryers

To see how the air fryers compared to one another, I headed to Trader Joe’s and went straight to the freezer aisle. I grabbed bags of frozen french fries, orange chicken, and cauliflower gnocchi. Frozen food created a level playing field — plus, if any of the air fryers didn’t work well for frozen fries, that would be a huge strike against them. I tested the fries first, then the chicken, and, lastly, the cauliflower gnocchi — air-frying everything according to the package instructions. I also evaluated how easy the air fryers were to use and clean, and if there were any other glaring differences, like if one was much louder than the others. Here’s what I found out.

A gnocchi note: While its package instructions do not say to bake or air fry, I like to cook gnocchi at 400°F for 15 to 20 minutes in my air fryer.

Credit: Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm

Instant Brands Vortex Mini 2-Quart Air Fryer Review

The box of this air fryer had the words “Lil’ Crispy” printed on the top, which is what I’ll be calling all air fryers from now on. But, really, this air fryer is cute. I got the aqua color (even though it looks white!), but it also comes in white and red.

Not to put form over function, it worked well, too. This air fryer has a much smaller capacity, as it’s only meant to serve two, but it fit half a bag of fries (about 12 ounces) and a full bag of orange chicken and cauliflower gnocchi (which, despite their nutrition labels, are absolutely two servings). It made crispy, golden fries, chicken, and gnocchi. And it had a responsive touchscreen and dial that made setting the time and temperature a cinch.

My only gripe is that this air fryer (and all of the Instant air fryers, actually) needed to be pre-heated prior to adding food, which is not the case with many other models out there. However, I think, especially for $50, this air fryer is great for one or two people and the perfect, compact size for smaller kitchens.

Credit: Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm
The air fryer lid had a sizeable handle that made it super easy to put on and take off.

Instant Pot Air Fryer Duo Crisp Review

This air fryer set comes with an Instant Pot Duo, an air fryer basket, and an air fryer lid. Using the air fryer lid is easy: Just insert the air fryer basket into the cooker’s pot, swap out the Instant Pot’s standard lid for the air fryer lid, and choose the air fry setting.

How well did it work? In short, great. Fries turned out browned all over, chicken was nice and crispy, and gnocchi was golden, too. I liked that the air fryer lid had a handle, which made it easy to put on and lift off the cooker base. While this air fryer had to preheat, it took minutes less than the other models to do so.

My one complaint is about the air fryer basket’s handles, which are a little small and hard to grasp with bulky oven mitts on. And while Duo is not my favorite Instant Pot, I think this set is still a great value. However, you can also buy an air fryer lid separately (although it looks slightly different than the model I tried), but note it’s not compatible with Smart WiFi 60, Duo Evo Plus 6, Duo Evo Plus 60, Duo SV 60, or Max 60 Instant Pot models.

Credit: Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm
The trays of this air fryer didn't have the large capacity I expected.

Instant Vortex Plus Air Fryer Oven Review

This was by no means a bad air fryer, but it was my least favorite of the bunch. While the oven was substantially larger than the other models, the air fryer trays were quite small, so it fit just as many fries as the Duo Crisp. And because the trays were stacked in close proximity to one another, this caused some of the food to steam rather than crisp.

I also found the touchscreen to be less responsive, and the door sometimes came out of alignment, making it hard to close. However, if you want an air fryer oven, this is not a bad option (although I think Breville makes a standout one), as it can also toast, bake, roast, broil, and dehydrate. It also comes with a rotisserie basket, spit, and forks, which would work great for, say, cooking a whole chicken. And I know that my coworker, Meghan Splawn, loves this thing for its rotisserie feature.

Credit: Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm
Fries in the Vortex Air Fryer.

Instant Pot 6-Quart Vortex Air Fryer Review

This was my absolute favorite of the bunch. It had an extra-large basket, which meant it could easily hold way more than the 1 1/2 pounds of fries I loaded it with. Everything I made in it turned out crispy and nicely browned all over, and it had a responsive touchscreen and dial that made it simple to adjust the time and temperature.

It did have a couple of cons, if I have to list some: It had to pre-heat and it was a little noisier than the others. However, for about $100, this is a fantastic air fryer. Again, it was my favorite! It’s easy to use, holds a lot of food, and cooks well, too.

So, Which One Should I Buy?

If you most often cook for one or two people or live in an apartment or a house with a small kitchen, the Mini will suit your needs well. If you’re looking for an Instant Pot and an air fryer, the Duo Crisp is a great option. And if you’re cooking for three-plus people and want a standalone air fryer, you should absolutely get the Instant Pot 6-Quart Vortex Air Fryer.

Do you have an Instant Pot air fryer you love? Tell us about it in the comments!