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Instant Pot vs. Air Fryer: Which Is Better?

By Lisa Freedman
January 28, 2021
Design by Zoe Burnett

Few kitchen appliances have ever reached the trendiness levels of the Instant Pot. The closest thing is really the countertop microwave, which took off around 50 years ago. And yet, a newcomer to the small appliance scene is looking to upstage the uber-popular multicooker. We’re talking about the air fryer. If you’ve been wondering which gadget delivers the best bang for your buck, helping you overcome quarantine cooking fatigue and get healthy meals on the table, pronto, you’ve come to the right place. Here, we take a look at the great Instant Pot vs. air fryer debate.

What is an air fryer and what is it good for?

Air fryers sound like magical machines: They fry food with little to no oil?! Well, sort of. Air frying is technically not frying at all because, in order to really fry food, you have to submerge it in oil. Instead, air fryers work more like small convection ovens. These machines have a heating element and a fan that blows the hot air around the cooking chamber. The air is swirled around super-quickly in a circular fashion, and the food usually sits in a perforated basket. Both of these factors work together to result in perfect crisping for all sorts of things — not just mozzarella sticks and chicken wings, either.

We’ve found that nearly every vegetable tastes better after a quick 15-minute sting in an air fryer. Brussels sprouts cook up the best — with a crispy exterior and the most tender insides you’ll ever have. We also recommend broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and more. You can even bake quick breads and cookies in your air fryer.

Air Fryer Recipes

Our Pick: Philips Twin TurboStar Airfryer XXL, $300

Yes, this machine is expensive, but it’s worth the price tag. For starters, it holds up to three pounds of food (other large machines max out at two pounds). And it crisps up foods better than other machines we’ve tested — especially sweet potatoes and butternut squash “fries.” If you want something that’s more budget-friendly, the Dash Compact Air Fryer is cheap and compact and comes in catchy colors like red and aqua.

What is an Instant Pot and what is it good for?

There are several different Instant Pot models, but they’re all electric multi-cookers with lots of functions. An Instant Pot can be used as a slow cooker, steamer, rice cooker, sauté pan, and more. The most popular function, however, is the electric pressure cooker feature.

What’s so great about pressure cooking? For one, it’s quick! A pressure cooker like the Instant Pot uses steam, which builds up inside the sealed pot, creating pressure that helps cook food faster than other methods. This high pressure also helps force liquid and moisture into food, so tough meat can get super tender in an Instant Pot.

Instant Pot Recipes

Our pick: Instant Pot Duo Evo Plus, $120

There are lots of Instant Pot models out there and there are just slight differences between most of them. This one has one of the best digital interfaces of all (meaning: it’s easy to use), it has a pressure release switch (instead of a valve, and the inner pot has silicone handles (for safe maneuvering). It also has a sous vide feature, if that’s something you want to play with.

Instant Pot vs. Air Fryer: Which should you get?

If you’re looking at your kitchen right now, wondering how you can possibly fit in two more new small appliances, we have some good news for you. Ditto if you’re working with a tight budget and only want to spend money on one thing. The folks at Instant Pot recently came out with an Instant Pot that’s also an air fryer.

The Instant Pot Duo Crisp does all the things that the other Instant Models do, but it also comes with an air fryer lid and a multi-level air fryer basket. We’ve tested out all the features and remain incredibly impressed. It does all the things well without sacrifice. You can make jammy hard-boiled eggs and crispy chicken with broccoli — in the same machine. It’s also quieter than other air fryers we’ve tested.

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